‘Food Glorious Food!’ at Portland Basin Museum
In 2021 the Sainsbury Archive worked with Michelle Hill, Curator from the Portland Basin Museum, Tameside, as part of the larger outreach project ‘Take One Ingredient’. In this guest blog Michelle talks through the different themes of the exhibition.
Portland Basin Museum has a broad range of food related items in the social history collections. There is equipment for preparing, cooking and presenting food, historic packaging and material relating to local food manufacture. It seemed the ideal subject for a temporary exhibition with so many potential themes to explore. The planned timing of the exhibition tied in perfectly with the ‘Take One Ingredient’ project with partners Interference Art and The Sainsbury Archive and it was decided to make the exhibition an integral part of the project. Funding from The Linbury Trust meant that items from The Sainsbury Archive could be loaned for the exhibition to complement and enhance the displays.
Building on an initial list of ideas, the exhibition themes were tweaked and expanded on through discussions with partners.
It was important to set the context for the exhibition by looking at agriculture in the area as a source of food. Farming was a popular occupation in pre-industrial Tameside and areas such as Ashton Moss, a 260 acre area of low lying peaty bog was drained to provide fertile land for farming and the growing of produce.
Changes in how we grow and shop for food was explored in the exhibition. From intensive farming of load and ‘grow your own’ to corner shops, busy high streets with independent food shops, markets and big supermarkets selling everything under one roof. It was an ideal opportunity to introduce Sainsbury’s at this point and talk about its’ origins and 150th anniversary celebrations (May 2019).
The two World Wars were discussed and their impact on the availability of food and therefore what people ate. The vital role of the Women’s Land Army was introduced and their contributions to the war effort as well as information about food rationing.
Included in the war theme was a display case about the Manchester Regiment whose collections are in the care of Tameside Museums & Galleries. Included on display was a mess tin belonging to a POW during WW2, a hardtack biscuit with a letter home written on and modern army rations.
Part of the display focussed on local delicacies such as tripe, Manchester Tart, and Black Pudding. A wonderful booklet from the archive entitled ‘This isn’t all Tripe!’ complimented the display perfectly. The history and products of local food manufacturers Hill Biscuits and Robertson’s Jam were also included here.
We wanted very much to reflect on how food tastes had changed over the last 60 years or so. The 1960s especially saw a wider range of cuisine being sampled as Indian and Chinese foods were introduced to the market. During this period, package holidays became popular and people developed a taste for Italian and Spanish food.
There is a huge range of food available from supermarkets and specialist stores, as well as takeaways and restaurants providing food to suit all tastes. This also reflects immigration trends and increasing ethnic diversity within the population. Food packaging loaned from the archive such as a sweet and sour rice and chicken box and Jamaican Red Tilapia was displayed here.
There are a growing number of people who follow a particular diet for a variety of reasons such as health or faith. This theme was explored through displays looking at veganism and ‘free from’ products which are gluten free. A ‘Eid-Al-Adha Mubarak’ offers leaflet from September 2015 from the archive pushed through the doors of customers in East London was amongst items on display here.
A number of timely food related issues were included in the display such as the use of foodbanks, Fareshare and Sainsbury’s involvement with the charity. Food sustainability was addressed and a number of ‘Feed Your Family for a Fiver’ and ‘Love your Leftovers’ recipe cards from the archive were displayed. Sainsbury’s commitment to environmental issues was highlighted through the introduction of carrier bag charges and the fact Sainsbury’s was the first supermarket to launch its own brand environmentally friendly range, ‘Greencare’ in 1989.
The final section of the exhibition explored technology relating to food and its preparation and cooking over the last 100 years. Included here was an array of items including a 1950s Baby Belling cooker, a large, heavy microwave dating from the 1970s and up to date ‘gadgets’ such as a spiralizer.