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In 2011, “What’s Cooking, Uncle Sam? The Government’s Effect on the American Diet” (WCUS) was exhibited at the Lawrence F. O’Brien Gallery of the National Archives Building in Washington, DC. Afterward, it toured the country, visiting the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) David J. Sencer Museum in Atlanta, the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia, and the Kansas Museum of History in Topeka. The exhibition website states that WCUS was “made possible” by candy corporation Mars, Incorporated. WCUS featured over a 100 artifacts tracing “the Government’s effect on what Americans eat.” Divided into four thematic sections (Farm, Factory, Kitchen, and Table), WCUS moves from agrarianism, through industrial food production and into mess halls, cafeterias, and individual kitchens. Photos, documents, news clippings, and colorful propaganda posters portray the government as a benevolent supporter of agriculture, feeder of soldiers and children, and protector of consumer health and safety. Visitors are positioned as citizens in an ideological mélange of paternalism and patriotism. In this rhetorical walk-through of the exhibition, we consider the display of archival materials for purposes of positioning, in consideration of past and present issues of diet and governance. Making explicit unstated assumptions, we claim that, although propagandistic artifacts take on different meanings to those viewing them decades later as memorabilia, they maintain their ideological flavor.


Petre, E. A., & Lee, D. H. (2021). The Dual Meanings of Artifacts: Public Culture, Food, and Government in the “What’s Cooking, Uncle Sam?” Exhibition. American Behavioral Scientist, Copyright © 2021, SAGE Publications. DOI:



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