It's an inspired idea--to better understand the human diet, explore what culturally diverse families eat for a week. That's what photographer Peter Menzel and author-journalist Faith D'Alusio, authors of the equally ambitious Material World
, do in Hungry Planet: What the World Eats
, a comparative photo-chronicle of their visits to 30 families in 24 countries for 600 meals in all. Their personal-is-political portraits feature pictures of each family with a week's worth of food purchases; weekly food-intake lists with costs noted; typical family recipes; and illuminating essays, such as "Diabesity," on the growing threat of obesity and diabetes. Among the families, we meet the Mellanders, a German household of five who enjoy cinnamon rolls, chocolate croissants, and beef roulades, and whose weekly food expenses amount to $500. We also encounter the Natomos of Mali, a family of one husband, his two wives, and their nine children, whose corn and millet-based diet costs $26.39 weekly.
We soon learn that diet is determined by largely uncontrollable forces like poverty, conflict and globalization, which can bring change with startling speed. Thus cultures can move--sometimes in a single jump--from traditional diets to the vexed plenty of global-food production. People have more to eat and, too often, eat more of nutritionally questionable food. Their health suffers.
Because the book makes many of its points through the eye, we see--and feel--more than we might otherwise. Issues that influence how the families are nourished (or not) are made more immediate. Quietly, the book reveals the intersection of nutrition and politics, of the particular and universal. It's a wonderful and worthy feat. --Arthur Boehm
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From Publishers Weekly
For their enormously successful Material World
, photojournalist Menzel and writer D'Aluisio traveled the world photographing average people's worldly possessions. In 2000, they began research for this book on the world's eating habits, visiting some 30 families in 24 countries. Each family was asked to purchase—at the authors' expense—a typical week's groceries, which were artfully arrayed—whether sacks of grain and potatoes and overripe bananas, or rows of packaged cereals, sodas and take-out pizzas—for a full-page family portrait. This is followed by a detailed listing of the goods, broken down by food groups and expenditures, then a more general discussion of how the food is raised and used, illustrated with a variety of photos and a family recipe. A sidebar of facts relevant to each country's eating habits (e.g., the cost of Big Macs, average cigarette use, obesity rates) invites armchair theorizing. While the photos are extraordinary—fine enough for a stand-alone volume—it's the questions these photos ask that make this volume so gripping. After considering the Darfur mother with five children living on $1.44 a week in a refugee camp in Chad, then the German family of four spending $494.19, and a host of families in between, we may think about food in a whole new light. This is a beautiful, quietly provocative volume. (Nov.)
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