We all eat. Most of us make eating a shared event. Perhaps it is our oldest social activity. From sitting around a campfire to opening up...
We all eat. Most of us make eating a shared event. Perhaps it is our oldest social activity. From sitting around a campfire to opening up one’s home for guests to going out to dinner, eating is a way to express oneself, impress others, share bounty and participate in community.
Eating is also undergoing significant change. Globalization has removed past barriers and made nontraditional, nonlocal foods available both throughout the entire year and in remote spots. More wealth has allowed people to buy these exotic foods, and easier worldwide travel has allowed people to take their foods farther and farther from home, thus introducing new and unusual foods to more and more people.
To understand and record the dynamics of food, photographer Peter Menzel and author Faith D’Aluisio traveled to 24 countries and visited 30 families to produce “Hungry Planet: What the World Eats” (Ten Speed Press, 288 pp., $40). They shopped with the families, cooked with them and ate with them. As they did previously in their best-selling “Material World,” Menzel and D’Aluisio then share the family’s stories through photographs and essays. Together they provide a wide-ranging, thought-provoking portrait of food and people.
Peter Menzel and Faith D’Aluisio discuss “Hungry Planet: What the World Eats,” 7:30 p.m. today, Elliott Bay Book Co., 101 S. Main St., Seattle; free (206-624-6600 or www.elliottbaybook.com).
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Menzel and D’Aluisio begin each family feature with a photograph of the family that displays one week’s food. They also list the food and its cost. Totals range from the $1.23 that the Aboubakars spent in the Darfur province of the Sudan to the Melander family in Bargteheide, Germany, which spent $500.07. Other photographs show the family buying and eating their food. An essay provides a vignette of the family, and each family also shares a recipe.
The families reveal both regional and worldwide food choices. In Okinawa, one of 75-year-old Keiko Matsuda’s favorite foods is tsuru murasaki, a sweet-potato relative with spinach-tasting leaves, which her grandchildren also like, when they aren’t eating at Kentucky Fried Chicken. In Greenland, the Madsens eat musk oxen, little auk, narwhal oil and Ritz crackers. In England, the Baintons eat a traditional British breakfast of fried eggs with toast, ham and mushrooms, but dinner may be a deep and crispy, five-cheese, pepperoni pizza taken from the freezer.
Choice of food has become ubiquitous in much of the world, creating dilemmas and changing expectations. “In the past, decisions were made for us, because there wasn’t much to choose from. Now, we stand there in the shop and scratch our heads,” says Marge Brown of Australia. “We are still trying to figure out what’s good for us.” (One common theme throughout the book is parents’ and grandparents’ amazement at what younger generations eat. Elders are also shocked by how much waste this variety and abundance creates.)
In addition to the family stories, “Hungry Planet” includes six essays, by writers such as Carl Safina and Michael Pollan, that explore food politics. They provide commentary and insight into the consequences of the changing food dynamic and show that change is not always good, particularly as it leads to obesity, increased diabetes and environmental problems.
To the credit of Menzel and D’Aluisio, they do not use their book as a soapbox or polemic. The portraits and essays are sympathetic. By presenting the information in a straightforward manner, they allow readers to make their own opinions about the complicated world of food.