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Thursday, August 21, 2008

What the world eats each week...

What we eat speaks volumes about who we are and how we live. If you are anything like me, you often pass the time waiting in those grocery store lines peering into the lives of those around you as the evidence chugs by in carts and on checkout conveyors. Hot dogs, beer, frozen pizza? Bachelor. Diet muffins, diet soda, chips and kool-aid? Mom is trying to lose weight but the kids aren't having any of it. And one cannot peer into the lives of others so frequently without also wondering what my own cart is telling the world about me. If the whole world could see your food purchases for the week, would you be proud of what you ate? What would it say about you?

Because that is exactly what many families around the world did when they opened up their homes and pantries to the authors of Hungry Planet, a book that displays and discusses the food and eating habits of families around the world.

Germany: The Melander family of Bargteheide

Food expenditure for one week: 375.39 Euros or $500.07

I first became aware of this fascinating work of food journalism through the banal medium of an email forward. I found the photos and the layers of implicit stories behind them incredibly fascinating. I was fortunate to have a friend who researches the sociology of food who could point me towards the original published source of the forward. And finally I convinced myself that if the Today show could make a network news story out of a hugging lion that started as a low-fi email forward video, well, then I could bring these amazing photos, and the stories they suggest, to you all.

Hopefully this little taste will convince you to go out and buy the book, which would make a great addition to any foodie's coffee table collection, and would reward the authors for the dedication and work that clearly went into a project of this scale.

United States: The Revis family of North Carolina

Food expenditure for one week $341.98

Italy: The Manzo family of Sicily

Food expenditure for one week: 214.36 Euros or $260.11

Mexico: The Casales family of Cuernavaca

Food expenditure for one week: 1,862.78 Mexican Pesos or $189.09

Poland: The Sobczynscy family of Konstancin-Jeziorna

Food expenditure for one week: 582.48 Zlotys or $151.27

Egypt: The Ahmed family of Cairo

Food expenditure for one week: 387.85 Egyptian Pounds or $68.53

Ecuador: The Ayme family of Tingo

Food expenditure for one week: $31.55

Bhutan: The Namgay family of Shingkhey Village

Food expenditure for one week: 224.93 ngultrum or $5.03

Chad: The Aboubakar family of Breidjing Camp

Food expenditure for one week: 685 CFA Francs or $1.23

United States: The McDonnell family of Chicago

(2 adults plus 2 nights entertaining others)

1 quart organic skim milk
1 box all bran caramel bites
1 sleeve granola
4 organic yogurts
1 lb apples (from farm)
2 grapefruits
2 bananas
1/2 pint blueberries
1/2 pound strawberries
2 caramel apples (from farm)
1 container hummus
1/2 bag pretzels
1 box lasagna noodles
8 oz mozzarella cheese
8 oz ricotta cheese
2 jars prepared pasta sauce
1.25 lbs hot Italian sausage
6 potatoes
4 carrots
1 cup green beans
1 lb dried yellow split peas
2 medium red onions
1 can diced tomatoes
4 pieces prepared Injera bread
5 lbs beef brisket
fresh herbs (from garden)
assorted spices

1/2 gallon apple cider
1 liter V8 fusion
various chai tea lattes, iced mochas, coffees, and hot teas
1 glass coca-cola
1 margarita
1 glass lemonade

Purchased out:
1 order vegetable pad see ew
1 order chicken thai
tortilla chips, salsa, guacamole
1/2 large gourmet pizza
1/2 loaf Italian bread with butter
2 bagels with cream cheese
2 chicken pesto panini sandwiches with chips

My reflections

Did you notice how different cultural standards of reproduction and who constitutes the nuclear family were reflect in the photos? In some you see two heterosexual parents and two children, in others we see more children, younger children, different spaces between the ages of children. We see some with one or two elders living with parents and children, others with no elders and still others have more extended family, including (I presume) aunts, uncles and cousins. And all those cultural standards affect what and how much the family eats.

How do the Germans drink that much? By my count, it is a per person average of 4.5 liters of juice, 1 bottle of wine, 3 liters bottled water, and about 12 beers.

How are the Americans not malnourished? Is there at least a multivitamin in there somewhere to supply some nutrients?

The Mexican family's food looks fresh, nutritious and delicious until I notice the frightening row of coca-cola liters across the back. Looks like an average of one per day. Not great for the teeth.

Speaking of coca-cola, is it me or does coke become the "where' waldo?" of these photos. Until you get to the most impoverished families, I believe coke may be the one thing that appears in almost every single family diet. Dead frightening.

Someone in Poland seems to have a major sweet-tooth, because they have more candy than anyone (except maybe the Americans)

Can I live with the Egyptian family? Or at least the Italians? Look how healthy and delicious all that fresh produce looks. Hardly any pre-packaged commercial food with all its creepy preservatives. But this is also the first time I find myself thinking "really? less than 70 dollars feeds that large family for a whole week?"

Like many people, by the time I reached the family from Chad, my heart hurt. And I cannot help but remember those commercials from when I was a child "For only a dollar a day, for the cost of a cup of coffee..." and we used to laugh about how there was no way something so small as a dollar could really change someone's life. Having lived in Ghana since then, I have seen with my own eyes how much food a dollar can purchase, how it can make a critical difference between hunger and sustenance. But nothing is so shocking as seeing a family subside on that much for a whole week. I suppose it should make me feel grateful for what I have, but instead it makes me feel horrible shame for all of humanity that the inequality is so gross in something so essential as food.


Adrienne said...

What a fascinating post. I wish the photos had loaded - perhaps it just my computer, but all I could see were little red X's. The numbers do speak volumes, though.

Erin @ The Skinny Gourmet said...

Adrienne: In response to your comment I am changing the image hosting around, which will hopefully fix the problem. Check back in about 15 minutes and hopefully they will load for you. Thanks for making me aware of the problem!

Frantic Home Cook said...

I've seen these pics before but they're still fascinating. Well said about the family from Chad. I think some day we will look back at the humanitarian good that the American dollars spent on Botox, designer cars and McMansions might have done, and we will hang our collective heads in shame.

wlomano said...

I picked this book up (okay, I reserved it first!) at our local library. My sons have been really perusing it, pointing out different facts in the pages, different products that are similar to those we have here in the USA. They are surprised at the amount of processed foods many people eat in other countries (we don't eat much processed food in our house). I agree -- it's a GREAT book; would make a good gift for anyone who is "into" food (gee... who isn't!?)

maybelle's mom said...

this is facinating. I will look for the book.

Philip said...

Erin, this is the most fascinating story I've seen this year. The major focus of my life right now is getting out of debt (thank you Dave Ramsey). The budget is the primary tool for that and tops on the list is food. Before I got to the bottom of your post I was thinking exactly the same as you about moving in with the Egyptian family. Their meals must be excellent. Perhaps I should go find a nice Egyptian girl to marry. ;)

MissJordyPants said...

I just stumbled across your blog and am completely stunned by this entry. Absolutely fascinating!

Paige said...

WOW...what an amazing post to see the differences in the foods of the world and what we consume.

KatieM said...

What a great post! Actually it's a bit ironic I read this now because I went to the grocery store today, and with a baby on the way, was seriously thinking about how much we eat through on on a weekly basis. It is amazing how differently each culture perceives their food and the amount they eat per person. On this same note, I decided I wanted to live with Italian all looked yummy and as you said, fresh.

However, as a rundown for my husband and I (just the basic, must haves) each week:

2 lbs of lunch meat
2 lbs of FF ground chicken
3 lbs of chicken tenders
2 gal. of milk
2-3 loaves of wheat bread
3 cups of rice
1 package of spaghetti noodles
1 can of tomato sauce
7 cups of yogurt
1 container of PB
2-3 cans each of green beans, corn and peas
1 bottle of organic ketchup

Erin @ The Skinny Gourmet said...

Frantic, well said. it is always an issue I feel very acutely when I come back from Ghana, because I realize that even though I dont spend money on botox or designer cars, I have luxuries and certainly COULD cut even my own spending back. It becomes hard to reconcile even small luxuries.

Wlomano: what a wonderful library find to share with your kids! I think it goes along well with the current movement showing that kids will actually choose vegetables enthusiastically if they see or are involved in growing them. Putting the process back into food (what Marx would call defetishization) is a wonderful trend right now.

Maybelle mom: I hope you enjoy it!

Philip: Glad you found it thought provoking. The trick with debt reduction and food is shifting spending towards foods that also enhance health. This usually is achieved well by shifting towards home cooking, but it can also be opposing goals, because one can eat quite cheaply at McDonalds ($2 per meal) whereas fresh vegetables or organic foods are considerably more expensive.

Miss Jordy: welcome! Always nice to have new folks joining in. Fun profile pic by the way.

Paige: Glad you liked it!

Katie: I thought I was a ketchup lover, but if you can do a bottle a week you are putting me to shame. awesome! But what, I wonder, are you putting all that ketchup on? The chicken tenders? A mystery...

Philip said...

Erin, I always regret eating at McDonald's. The food's way better in my kitchen and if you don't count the waste from being single it's usually cheaper as well. :)

cathy said...

I'm so glad to have found your blog! What a fascinating - and yet simple - exploration of how different cultures eat. It's fairly damning of American eating habits, sadly.

Lysy said...

I've been reading your blog for a little while but really felt moved to comment today after such an interesting post. I was glad you'd written a bit about how it made you feel as well as it made me go back and look in more detail at all the photos. I wonder how much of the food in the pictures ends up being thrown away in the different households as well? Probably too depressing to think about... Anyway, thanks for a really great post :)

Jeep Parts said...

where is dal roti? this is official food for china.

Jeff Lindberg said...

Another interesting comparison for the future might be how much of that food do each of those families throw away. I can only guess that the we Americans would score high on that list too. Although looking at the junk we collectively eat, I might be surprised.

Vanessa said...

Erin, great post. I love the photos and just put the book on hold at the library. I too was stunned with the prevalence of packaged food. I think I'll start a list...I do love a good list for my wiki.

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