25 July 2006
I’ve been reading Hungry Planet: What The World Eats by Peter Menzel and Faith D’Aluisio. The book is a series of photographs and descriptions of families around the globe photographed with the food they eat in a week. (The NPR site has an interview along with some photos and other highlights.) Some random observations of mine…
It’s quite intriguing to see the variety of food eaten in different countries. I was surprised at how many different families have watermelon! I was surprised by the sugar consumption in Ecuador – 106 lbs per capita (5th behind the US (158 lbs), Cuba (!!) (137), Mexico (109), and Australia (106)). I suppose this was most surprising because they show it in the context of a poor rural family that primarily eats potatoes and such, but also consumes a 5 kilo cake of brown sugar each week. I was startled to see that 70% of Egyptian females and 64% of males are overweight. But then I looked at the chart in the back and noticed that more than half the countries have more than half the population overweight (the US, Australia, and Kuwait lead the pack – or perhaps ‘bring up the rear’ is a better perspective on it!).
Many observations are not too surprising – more developed countries have more packaged foods. For some countries they profile multiple families (Australia, China, Japan, US), and in those cases it was interesting to see the contrast in food.
Another thing I’ve noticed is the countries where extended family are more commonly in the pictures – and where the text mentions how common it is for friends and neighbors to just drop by and share meals. It could also just be a selection bias – the more socially outgoing people might have ended up being the ones discovered for the photo shoot. And of course it’s really hard to tell the overall direction of the culture from these photos and short vignettes, it’s just something that struck me as I read the book.
In the Japan chapter, everything is laid out very artistically – almost like the bento box lunch for the younger daughter as described in the text. I’m sure that was intentional. This is halfway through the book but it looks the most ‘foreign’ to me. I think it’s because in many other countries, there’s a lot of fresh food, or readily identified basic staples (potatoes, corn, etc). But in this photo, so much of the food is packaged, and the packaging has very little western writing or pictures. This family eats more than a dozen types of seafood in a week – amazing! And the condiments: I’ve heard jokes about people whose refrigerators are stuffed with various sauces (mostly Asian) that get used once or twice a year. This family has 25 or so items in the condiments category, and I bet quite a lot of it is used weekly.
I’ve been trying to think through what would appear in a photo of our family. It would definitely differ based on the season (true of most families). Because of our CSA membership, this time of year the table would be overflowing with seasonal produce. But it would also have quite a bit of packaged crackers and other snack foods. And what would it look like in February? I have a pantry with jars of various grains and dried beans, but when do I use most of them?
Finally, I take heart from this book to learn that picky young eaters are found in cultures around the globe :^)
The book was due yesterday and I can’t renew it – indicating someone else has a hold request – and I’m trying to figure out if I should continue paying 25 cents a day until I can finish it (I need probably 4 more days) or if I should just return it and put in a new hold request of my own. The library system owns 5 copies and 6 holds are ahead of me, so it would be probably at least another month before I got it back – I think I’ll invest in the fine…
(update: the university library has a copy, so I plan to check out that copy and return the other to the public library pool.)