20 April 2011

Alimentarium, Vevey

Yesterday I hopped on the trusty train that was heading to Geneva Airport and got off at Vevey, the home of Nestlé and the home of Musée de l'alimentation (museum of food). I timed my visit - not intentionally, with the bi-weekly markets that are held in the centre square. I had a quick wander around and admired the fresh fruits and vegetables available to purchase and pondered what I could create with all of that fresh, beautiful produce. The weather was perfect for a stroll by the lake. The mountains opposite were covered in a soft haze and the water in the lake was calm and clear. The best way to find the Alimentarium is to look for the fork in the lake.

I walked through the doors of the museum, purchased my ticket - a lot of people speak English in Vevey (because of Nestlé headquarters) so it was nice to have a small conversation with the lady at the ticket desk. I should have been practicing my French though... The Museum was nicely set out with fairly comprehensive exhibits that were suitable for adults and children. It explained the history of food, the nutrition or food and it also had very interactive exhibits for people to learn about their weight and energy expenditure and replenishment. My favourite exhibit though was a cluster of machines which tested your senses. I started with the machine that tests your sense of smell and taste. You insert a small, plastic cup and it dispenses a small amount of liquid for you to taste and identify one of three aromas.
Then I hit the jackpot... the machine to test your ability to discern textures of food. This machine dispensed little servings of Cailler (my favourite) chocolate and you had to identify if the chocolate was hard or soft. Another machine dispensed tiny cookies!! It's a good thing that the museum was quiet because I got a couple of turns on them 'to test my ability to identify the texture'.

The Nestlé room
The view from the Nestlé room

A vending machine
I learnt a few interesting facts whilst wandering through the exhibits. Firstly, there is a general rule in Switzerland when eating fondue - drink white wine, never cold beverages like beer or water. But apparently that's not really true - possibly a ploy to up-sell wine with dinner.  
"When we eat, the stomach contents quickly adapt to body temperature. The hydrochloric acid in the stomach breaks down the food. The process is unaffected by wine, tea, hot or cold. High-fat cheese and large helpings slow the digestion and a meal may therefore feel 'heavy'. What you drink with fondue is irrelevant."
Also, most stereotypical thoughts or pictures of St. Bernard dogs have a barrel of brandy around their necks, thought to give warmth to the victims that the dogs found.
"Alcohol dilates the surface blood vessels, inspiring the feeling of warmth. But it is a false sense of security: in reality, alcohol leads to a cooling of the body. Alcohol also dulls the senses; in cold climates, frostbite and a fall of temperature await  the unwise who think that alcohol will keep them warm. Fortunately, contrary to legend, the famous St. Bernard dogs brought succour (definition - help or assistance, esp in time of difficulty) but not a cask of brandy to lost travellers."
 I found this on wikipedia -
St. Bernards are often portrayed, especially in old live action comedies such as Swiss Miss, the TV series Topper, and classic cartoons, wearing small barrels of brandy around their necks. The brandy was supposedly used to warm the victims that the dogs found. The monks of the St. Bernard Hospice deny that any St. Bernard has ever carried casks or small barrels around their necks; they believe that the origin of the image is an early painting. The monks did keep casks around for photographs by tourists.
Another fact that I learnt -
"Today, throughout the world, 3600 cups of Nescafé are drunk every second."
That's a lot of coffee!

After I had learned all that I could learn in there about food and nutrition I went over to the fork and sat on one of the awesome chairs that are installed into the rocks on the shore of the lake and enjoyed the lovely views and a double-choc muffin that I packed in my bag for myself. Fantastic way to spend a bright, warm day.

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