NORMAN — The spicy scent of tandoori chicken mixed with the rich aroma of fresh mozzarella and decadent lemon cake greeted visitors to the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History for the opening of its newest exhibition, aptly titled “Hungry Planet: What the World Eats.”
Restaurants and caterers — including the Indian restaurant Himalayas and Legend’s Restaurant of Norman — provided the snacks for the opening reception Friday. The treats represented a variety of countries and regions.
“Hungry Planet: What the World Eats” features 40 color photographs from an award-winning book of the same name by Faith D’Alusio and Peter Menzel.
The exhibition looks at the weekly food intake of 10 families from different countries, as well as snapshots of food culture around the world, bringing the similarities and differences of what people eat to the table.
Lindsey Johnson, of Norman, and her husband, Jay, went to the opening with their daughters Nola, 9, and Lila, 7. Lindsey Johnson has owned a copy of the “Hungry Planet” book for years and was intrigued at the idea of seeing it as a full-scale exhibition.
“The extra information is really nice,” Johnson said. “It’s interesting to see what’s grown and eaten around the world. It was a little bit shocking to see the typical United States family and their food for the week compared to other countries.”
In the photo of the American family, pizzas and takeaways are prominent. In sharp contrast, a photo of an Ecuadorian family’s weekly diet of grains, root vegetables and plantains shows the food items laid out on the floor or in burlap bags.
The disparities between dietary habits were not lost on Catherine Hobbs and Mark Mills. Hobbs is an English professor at the University of Oklahoma, where she teaches writing courses with cultural and environmental emphasis. In the exhibition, she sees reflected some of the cultural norms her students might study in class.
One of the key differences is the ease with which food is acquired in each place. In countries like the United States and Germany, a supermarket is usually a quick drive away. But the families in Ecuador and Mali, for example, rely much more heavily on food they grow themselves.
Mills, an acupuncturist, said many people in countries where food is readily obtained may not be as mindful of what they consume.
“One of the things I talk to my patients about is what they eat and how they eat,” he said. “A lot of people are just unaware of it.”
The focus of “Hungry Planet” extends far beyond who’s eating what. The entire exhibition — from the images of shrink-wrapped produce in Japan to rice from the United Nations World Food Program being unloaded in Chad, and the street-wide open market of Somaliland — invites the audience to consider the lives and cultures of those in the pictures. It provides a thought-provoking analysis of a universal necessity.
The edibles may be gone, but “Hungry Planet” will remain on exhibit through Aug. 31. Visitors can feast their eyes on, or perhaps have them opened to, just what makes this planet hungry.
IF YOU GO
‘Hungry Planet’ exhibition
•Where: Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History, 2401 Chautauqua Ave., Norman.
•When: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 1 to 5 p.m. Sunday, through Aug. 31.
•Admission: $5 for adults; $4 for seniors; $3 for ages 6 to 17; free for children younger than 6 and OU students.