The mission of the Chicago Food Museum is to bring together the rich and varied stories of how food has shaped Chicago and its region. At a fundamental level, food forms the basis for Chicago’s cultural and economic success. From its efficient grid system to its waterway access, the city provided the majority of grain and livestock to the rest of the country by rail, boat, and truck for much of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.
Called Chicagou by Native Americans for its wild onion smell, Chicago is the only major city in the world named after a food. From its name to its internationally acclaimed chefs today, Chicago is undeniably a food city. The Chicago Food Museum provides a space for people to immerse themselves in thinking about the plethora of ways that food has shaped the city itself, and how food knits us all together into communities and into deeper environmental awareness. The Chicago Food Museum provides a forum for the exchange of ideas about food, farming, land planning, food access, and regional sustainability. It explores the city’s food roots as they have shaped the evolution of the city through its many eras.
The museum also directs people back outside to explore the city itself as a living museum of food. Chicago’s tapestry of neighborhoods possesses a mixture of communities that span the globe in origin. The historic and modern inhabitants of these places brought their foodways to the city and created a place for old recipes to be cherished and new ones to emerge. These communities are the glue of the city, and they themselves are bound together by food.
The museum encourages the public to think about food as part of the essential character of the city. Food has defined Chicago, from the invention of the grain elevator to the most innovative in slaughterhouse technologies. One of the earliest catalyzing moments for Chicago as a food hub was at the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition, where Cracker Jack, Vienna hot dogs, and Aunt Jemima pancake mix were all introduced. The city has remained a hotbed of successful national and international food purveyors, such as M&M/Mars, Kraft Foods, Keebler, McDonalds, Wrigley Company, Oscar Meyer, Morton Salt, Quaker, Hostess, and others.
Food is our most fundamental relationship with the land, and our ways of producing it have markedly shaped civilization, culture, and geography. In the twenty-first century, new issues challenge our national and global food systems. Chicago, with its urban farms and many national distribution centers stationed here, is uniquely positioned to be at the forefront of innovation regarding the future of food.