Alimentarium Food Museum

Martin R. Schärer


Alimentarium Food Museum

Alimentarium, BP 13 CH-1800 Vevey Switzerland

Fifteen years after its opening in 1985, the Alimentarium Food Museum underwent a complete transformation. Two year's of alterations resulted in a renovated and partially converted building with a new permanent exhibition, inaugurated in June 2002.

Visitors are now welcomed into a rotunda with a marble sculpture of a bitten apple in the centre of the room. This apple is the Alimentarium's distinctive trademark and illustrates the global theme of the museum: man and his food. The rotunda walls are decorated with hundreds of verbs related to food and nutrition, some of which can be found at the entrance to the various sections of the museum.

The distribution of the surface area remains unchanged: the permanent exhibition covers two floors (about 800 m2) and one floor is devoted to temporary exhibitions (about 450m2).

The first Alimentarium was a multidisciplinary museum, with three sections revolving around the corresponding disciplines: biology, ethnology and history. The revised version is more interdisciplinary. Built around themes, it follows the route food takes from agriculture to the body. In an attempt to be at one with visitors and their daily concerns, the trail starts in the middle of the food chain, with the ground floor covering transformation/preparation/cooking and what is in a meal. The first floor takes a step back in the chain to trade, production and agriculture and a step forward to the body and digestion. Each section highlights an alimentary process: PREPARATION, CONSUMPTION, PURCHASE and DIGESTION.

The NESTLE ROOM is the only historic room in the edifice, built immediately after the First World War as the first administrative office of Nestleacute;. The exhibition relates the history of the company which created the Alimentarium Foundation.

Each section of the museum covers a certain number of important themes to interest visitors. The entire exhibition upholds the principle of exemplification - showing by example. Processing and preservation are presented using meat, milk and cereals; eating habits by comparing the Romans, the Falis of North Cameroon, the Swiss from the canton of Vaud and the Mayas ; hunger by the 1816-1817 famine; the history of the provision of fresh supplies to towns by looking at the case of Geneva in the 18th century; the sense of touch by making various sorts of biscuits available to sample.

The expography is elaborated by five very distinct types of scenography, creating a unique atmosphere in each part of the museum: the stainless steel in the kitchen (with its mobile exhibition trolleys facilitating workshops, demonstrations and conferences), the dining tables, the supermarket, the active body and the historicity of a former office. Another strong point is the general approach comparable to that of a market, giving visitors great freedom of choice: one can wander at ease through the various sections without being obliged to follow a particular route. This impression is reinforced by the fact that there are no titles in the museum - instead certain words or phrases have been highlighted in the diverse texts. The museum is trilingual (French, German, English).

The most surprising addition to the new museum is the kitchen area, striking perhaps because the demonstration kitchen, nonetheless productive, is an integral part of the exhibition. The kitchen has diverse functions: the staff prepare lunches and snacks for the cafeteria, partially in front of visitors, while explaining the ingredients used and the historical, ethnological and scientific context of the meals. We do not offer a dish of the day, but rather a topical plate to sample and savour. Another important function of the kitchen is the presentation of short demonstrations and the animation of workshops on diverse themes.

All who are familiar with the Alimentarium know how much we appreciate museology - three of our thirty temporary exhibitions were devoted to this subject. They discussed the central points of museology: the relationship between man and objects as well as the exhibition in itself. Such inner reflection on our own expographical techniques was particularly important during the transition from the first museum to the new Alimentarium and will later be permanently exhibited with a specific element.


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