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Eating the Exotic

2012 Exhibition - Food on a voyage to Polynesia

Our 2012 exhibition, the second in our 'Fish & Ships' series, examined the foods of the South Seas.

Ships on long voyages were always dependent on getting fresh supplies from the places they visited. Being able to re-provision meant the difference between health and the onset of the dreaded scurvy.

What sorts of food were eaten in the islands that the voyagers visited? Many were completely unfamiliar, as were methods of cultivation or cooking. With the help of original Cook material generously loaned by the Pitt Rivers Museum, Oxford, we explored how food was gathered, cultivated and eaten in Polynesia. These were societies too that were dependent on the sea and its harvest, as surviving fishing equipment and images of fish show.

What did Cook and his companions think of the strange and exotic foods they ate, and what were some of the consequences of transplantation and the introduction of species, both to and from Polynesia?

Polynesian peoples considered some species, such as turtle, as high status and reserved for chiefs. British sailors however regarded them as a normal but welcome change to their diet.

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