“This was a legitimate piece of our cereal past,” high-tech chef Dave Arnold tells me over the phone. We’re talking about his explosive new Kickstarter video highlighting a 3,200-pound cereal puffing gun, set to be used as part of the Museum of Food and Drink’s first traveling exhibit. “The interesting thing about ready to eat breakfast cereals is we go through almost 3 billion boxes of this stuff a year in the U.S., but very few people know how it’s made,” he says. “And even fewer people know the crazy history of it.”
Arnold, who’s been working towards a vision of the Museum of Food and Drink while cultivating his own career over the past nine years, wants to dedicate an entire museum exhibit to cereals, which have a particularly strange and fascinating culinary history. The puffing gun used to be the tool of choice to produce Kix and Cheerios in the ‘40s, but before that, the Kellogg brothers were producing dry cereals as a puritanical alternative to the “hedonistic” meat breakfasts of the day. The Battle Creek sanitarium in Michigan served as a health resort and haven for these beliefs—and patients would undergo a regimen of dieting and enemas.
“Then it was realized if you could add a boatload of sugar to [cereal], it would sell even better,” Arnold says.
The puffing gun is Arnold’s first step towards engaging the public in our collective food history. Down the line, he plans to open a real gallery space solely dedicated to food exhibits. “Food is such a huge subject that to try and tackle the whole megillah in one exhibit is absurd,” Arnold says.
Part of the reason MOFAD is going the Kickstarter route is because the museum wants to make its exhibits as authentic as possible–by seeking public funding, it can steer clear of food industry sponsorships that might taint the informational value of its work. “At this early stage it’s going to be about finding the believers,” Arnold says.
Puffing technology made its debut the 1904 World’s Fair, and MOFAD’s gun can spin up to 18 pounds of grains and rice and pressurize it into puffs. The finishing touches on the exhibit will be done by the end of the summer. Afterwards, Arnold wants to take it across the country.
“I really want people to say, ‘Wow, that was cool.’ And then they realize that they learned something later,” Arnold says. “One of [our goals] now is to make real experiences, non-virtual experiences, relevant,” Arnold added. Hence the exhibit’s very real, very sensory “Boom!”