New museum exhibit focuses on state’s culinary background

Published 9:20 am Wednesday, February 3, 2016

(Leader photo/TED YOAKUM)

(Leader photo/TED YOAKUM)

The newest addition to the Dowagiac Area History Museum’s collection of artifacts and history makes a compelling case for the claim, “we are what we eat.”

Entitled “Michigan Eats: Regional Culture Through Food,” the new temporary exhibit about the influence that food has played in Michigan’s history will be unveiled to the public Thursday, running through April 30. The museum will also host an open house for from 5 to 7 p.m. Thursday, with people invited to visit the new exhibit, located on the recently opened second floor, while enjoying famous Michigan refreshments such as cherry tarts, pasties and smoked salmon.

On loan from the Michigan State University Museum, the exhibit is a tour-de-force on the history of food in the state, covering
everything from the different types of cuisine enjoyed by various regions of the state to which major brands of food are produced in the state. Told through text and photos as well as physical artifacts, visitors will likely learn a whole lot about the role that food has played in shaping the region’s history, according to Museum Director Steve Arseneau.

“The exhibits help show how culture influences food — and how food influences culture,” Arseneau said.

On top of the materials provided by MSU, the local museum will also be supplementing the space will materials from its own collection to highlight the history of food in the Dowagiac and Cass County region. Visitors will be able to learn more about subjects such as the area’s former mint growing operations to popular Dowagiac dining destinations, such as the old Wigwam Restaurant and Caruso’s.

“Michigan Eats” is the first temporary exhibit to take up residence in the confines of the Railroad Street museum. The director felt the subject matter was a natural fit for the museum, and was impressed by the popularity it has seen while on tour in other state institutions, Arseneau said.

“Another good thing for us was that it tied in quite well with some of the items in our local collection,” he said.

Arseneau is looking to use the second-floor space for two to three temporary exhibits per year, using both materials on loan from other museums as well as artifacts from the Dowagiac archives, he said.

“It’s neat,” Arseneau said. “We’re now able to bring out more items that haven’t been displayed for a while, or may have never been displayed before.”

The next display the director is considering will focus on local military veterans and stories, and is looking to have the exhibit open during the summer.

Admission to the museum is free. The museum is located at the corner of Division and West Railroad Streets. For more information, contact the museum at (269) 783-2560 or visit