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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