EMU's "Hamburgers for Breakfast" exhibit examines history of food at the university

Much has changed at Eastern Michigan University in 100 years, but concerns about food access and food insecurity have been a constant. That's just one key takeaway from EMU's "Hamburgers for Breakfast: Food and the Student Experience" exhibit, currently on view at the McKenny Gallery at 878 Cross St. in Ypsilanti.

The exhibit grew out of a graduate-level historic preservation course at EMU, led by Professor Nancy Bryk. Bryk says the university allows students pursuing a concentration in museums and presentation to mount an exhibit in the McKenny Gallery every semester. Students spend about six weeks working in the archives, gathering information from primary sources and deciding what objects should go into an exhibit. They then install the exhibit, which stays open until the next class is due to put up a new one. Bryk assigned the topic of food history to her students last fall.

"We talked about what food means, what it reflects, [and] how it's embedded in culture and across cultures," she says. "How does the acquisition of food happen, and what does that say about the economy?"

For the exhibit, students narrowed down the topic to the food history of EMU.

"We talk about the culture and social nature of food at Eastern," Bryk says. "We had so much information, and students had a real challenge taking a large topic and making it interesting and digestible for a broad audience."

She says one of her students found the tidbit that led to the name of the exhibit, showing there were food insecurity issues at the university many decades ago. The student found an article in the university's student paper from the early 1930s, featuring a student complaining about food access and prices. The quoted student said, "So pardon us if we eat hamburgers for breakfast. It might be our only meal."

The exhibit also highlights local victory gardens, a protest by Latino students regarding the university buying non-union lettuce, the roots of the Ypsilanti Food Co-op, and how EMU's Black Student Union organized to feed breakfast to Ypsi elementary school pupils in the '70s.

The exhibit will remain open for tours by appointment until January. Appointments may be scheduled by contacting nbryk@emich.edu.

Sarah Rigg is a freelance writer and editor in Ypsilanti Township and the project manager of On the Ground Ypsilanti. She joined Concentrate as a news writer in early 2017 and is an occasional contributor to other Issue Media Group publications. You may reach her at sarahrigg1@gmail.com.

Photo courtesy of Nancy Bryk.
Enjoy this story? Sign up for free solutions-based reporting in your inbox each week.