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 BargteheideFood 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 CarolinaFood expenditure for one week $341.98
Italy: The Manzo family of SicilyFood expenditure for one week: 214.36 Euros or $260.11
Mexico: The Casales family of CuernavacaFood expenditure for one week: 1,862.78 Mexican Pesos or $189.09
Poland: The Sobczynscy family of Konstancin-JeziornaFood expenditure for one week: 582.48 Zlotys or $151.27
Egypt: The Ahmed family of CairoFood expenditure for one week: 387.85 Egyptian Pounds or $68.53
Ecuador: The Ayme family of TingoFood expenditure for one week: $31.55
Bhutan: The Namgay family of Shingkhey VillageFood expenditure for one week: 224.93 ngultrum or $5.03
Chad: The Aboubakar family of Breidjing CampFood 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)
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
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)
1/2 gallon apple cider
1 liter V8 fusion
various chai tea lattes, iced mochas, coffees, and hot teas
1 glass coca-cola
1 glass lemonade
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 reflectionsDid 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.