By Lesley Parilla, Field Book Project
|A little Paris in South America. Menu from restaurant at Paris Hotel in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Smithsonian Institution Archives. RU 007006, Box 140. SIA2015-000633.|
I came across a blog post recently that reminded me of one of my favorite early finds in the field books. Looking through our previous posts, I realized I never wrote about it! It puts a new spin on the value of eating seasonally.
In box 140 of Record Unit 007006, is a folder full of notes, correspondence, and ephemera that Alexander Wetmore accumulated during field work in South America, when he was investigating the distribution of life zones of North American migratory birds in southern South America for the USDA. In amongst these items was a small collection of menus from a French restaurant, with menu items marked. I took me a while to develop a decent theory as to the purpose of these items being saved. Wetmore was not generally one to save items that did not relate to his work.
On each menu which are appear to be printed daily, the section entitled "Gibier" or "Caza" is marked. "Gibier" translates roughly as "game animal", "Caza" in Spanish. The items that were marked on the menus were game birds that were seemingly only served when they were present in South America. Wetmore apparently saved and annotated these menus to document the migratory habits of the birds he was studying.
If you’re wondering how useful this method might be, Wetmore’s novel use of menus to document wildlife has been used several times in the last few years. In honor of Wetmore’s creativity, we’ve listed a few of the projects that have utilized menus for natural history study.
- Seafood menus reflect long-term ocean changes [Hawaii, 2013]
- KU Herpetologist Discovers Lizard New to Science -- on the Menu [Vietnam, 2010]
- Ancient art fills in Egypt's ecological history: Mammal populations shrank during three abrupt climate shifts over the past 6,000 years.
- Restaurant seafood prices since 1850s help plot marine harvests through history 
- Old menus reveal collapse of fish stocks [Maine, 2005]
Know of other projects that used menus for the study of wildlife? We’d love to hear! Curious to know what else one could order at the Paris Hotel restaurant? Check out the full menus below, by clicking on the images.
|Menu for July 2, 1920. SIA2015-000633.||Menu for November 19, 1920. SIA2015-000635.||Menu for October 16, 1920. SIA2015-000636.|