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Susan Evans
Program Director, American Food History Project
Smithsonian's National Museum of American History
January 07, 2014

A job like Susan's is one of the the most basic reasons that we created Good Food Jobs in the first place: to expand people's minds about what a job in food can be, for the one person who holds the job and for the many people who are affected by it. Susan's story is also about how her own mind was expanded at a young age, and it illustrates the true meaning of 'food culture'. 

When did you know that you wanted to work in food?

I have always loved food - growing it, eating it, making it - and I have always loved history, but it's really the endless possibilities that happen when you combine those two topics that makes me want to work in food. I get to spend my days working with incredible researchers, museum collections, and the public talking about big issues that have affected us all in the past and continue to affect us today.

I had a pretty major injury when I was in 8th grade and had to be healing at home for 3 straight weeks, which is a huge amount of time when you're 13. To pass the time, I read 5 years of back issues of Gourmet magazine and it blew my mind! In addition to being delicious, I saw that food was both storytelling and art, two big topics that I try to incorporate into everything we do at the Museum.

I was incredibly lucky to grow up in a rural area with a huge garden and a family that ate dinner together every night, often cooking food we grew ourselves. When food is such a central part of your life experience, it's hard to not want to share that with other people.

How did you get your current good food job?

Last year, the National Museum of American History made the decision to focus our museum programming on three dynamic avenues into learning history: music, theater, and food. The Museum has been doing ongoing research, collecting, and exhibitions about food for many years (we're the home of Julia Child's kitchen) and is making a public commitment to exploring American History through food. Before taking this job, I was working with the Museum's theater program, developing interactive experiences for visitors. The opportunity came up for me to use my food and brewery background to focus on food programming, and I jumped at it!

How did your previous work or life experience prepare you for a good food job?

Do you ever have one of those moments where you realize that every random job you've ever had really can fit together? That is my job at the National Museum of American History! After majoring in drama and history and working in the education department of Shelburne Museum, I took a job as a tour guide and bartender at Magic Hat Brewing Company. One thing led to another and after a few months, I was working in the marketing department at Magic Hat, planning events, working on branding, and developing the brewery's online presence. After a few really fun years and a brief stint opening a bakery at the Burlington Farmer's Market, I realized that my heart was in education, so I went to graduate school and found myself with a job at the National Museum of American History. With my theater, beer, and history education background, I often joke that this is truly the only job I'm actually qualified to do.

What was the greatest obstacle you had to overcome in pursuing your Good Food Job dream?

The biggest obstacle to overcome can be that there is so much to do and so many things to talk about and so many big ideas when it comes to food history... it can be terrifying to figure out how to focus our efforts and decide where the National Museum of American History can have the most impact. But that's a good problem to have!

The thing that makes me keep at this is that I know we're making a difference. If even one of the millions of visitors that come to the museum or visit online learns something that impacts his or her life, we're doing it right.

What can you identify as the greatest opportunities in food right now?

The greatest opportunity in food right now is that there are communities of very engaged people who want to be talking about big issues. At the Museum, we focus on learning about the past to shape a better future - the food community is the perfect group to be having that conversation with. Since I started this job, I have had so many fascinating conversations with informed people from all sorts of background who are untied by their passion for learning about, supporting, and protecting America's food history.

If you could be compensated for your work with something other than money, what would it be?

Time! I was going to say beer, cheese, bread, and chocolate cake - but if I had more time I would spend it making those delicious things myself.

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