Hungry Planet: What the World Eats

A few months back I heard a fascinating bit on NPR’s All Things Considered about a coffee table book that was recently published called, “Hungry Planet: What the World Eats,” by Peter Menzel and Faith D’Aluisio. I had been meaning to find it in the bookstore, but like most things in life the intention was lost. Then, earlier this week I stumbled upon the book sitting on a table in my sister’s living room and immediately immersed myself in its contents.

The premise of the book is fairly straightforward: Identify 30 average families from 24 countries around the globe and photograph the family with a week’s worth of food. The results, however, were astounding. For instance, the family in Bhutan eats meals made up entirely of fruits, vegetables, and rice, which by the looks of it barely appears to be enough for its 7 adults and 7 kids. In contrast, the family of four in the United States has a diet almost completely made from processed and packaged foods.

Each family is profiled with illustrations, a back story, as well as a catalog of food items and how much it costs to feed the family for a week. To give you just a sense of the stark contrast, the Bhutan family spends just $5 per week, whereas the family in the U.S. spends about $350 per week. In Chad, though, the situation is quite dire. A family of six (3 adults and 3 children) eat a diet of beans and rice with a small portion of veggies and fruits, spending a mere $1.25 per week.

This coffee table book is truly a fascinating look at what the world eats, and really demonstrates the difficulty for developing nations to provide a balanced diet for its people. Based on my own travels abroad, and my experience having difficulty striking the same healthy balance of eating abroad as I do at home, I found the book to be a very accurate portrayal of how average families can still struggle to eat nutritious meals.

What the World Eats

When I lived in Zambia, my neighbors frequently asked what the “staple food” in the US is. Considering their diet is based almost exclusively on one food (maize), they assumed Americans ate one thing at virtually every meal.

Initially, I explained that Americans eat a lot of corn, vegetables, meats, and dairy, but for a quick answer, I usually said, “potatoes.” This answer was convenient: it was short; they knew what potatoes were; and it didn’t make me appear especially privileged.

Of course, people eat lots of different kinds of food. Time is running an excellent photo essay called What the World Eats — excerpted from one of our favorite books, Hungry Planet — that profiles 16 different families; how much they spend each week on groceries; and detailing their favorite foods. This family in Chad survives on $1.23 a week; meanwhile, the German family spends upwards of $500 per week on food!

Sadly, after seeing the American family’s groceries, versus those of, say, the Sicilian family, it’s no wonder we’re a nation of overweight people. Where’s my banana?

[Via Vagabondish]