Sunday, January 27, 2008

What the World Eats

Thanks to a tip from Food on the Food, I recently discovered Time Magazine's excerpts from Peter Menzel's book Hungry Planet, which captures in vivid photos families from all over the world assembled in their kitchens along with all the food from their pantrys.

It's a fascinating snapshot of what people eat in various cultures, and you GOTTA check it out.

Two things struck me as particularly notable in the pictures. First was (counter to my expectations) the huge number of prepared commercial products in brightly-colored, logo-festooned packages that appear not only in the photos of American and Western European families (where I would expect it) but also in those from all over the world, like China, Mexico, Kuwait, and Egypt. The only exceptions were those families from the poorest of locations (a refugee camp in Chad, a remote village in Ecuador).

The second thing that struck me was that the real differentiator between the two American families represented and the rest of the world was not that the former eats a lot of processed, prepackaged foods and the others don't. Instead, it's that in the two American photos prepackaged foods was just about ALL that appeared. The Caven family of California has a few potatoes and broccoli stalks in the foreground and some bananas and apples toward the back, but everything else in the photo--including the breads and other vegetables--is wrapped and packaged in some fashion. The Revis family of North Carolina displays a few tomatoes and some grapes, but there's nary another whole food in sight, unless you count the two whole restaurant pizzas that the younger family members are holding.

It's quite different in other parts of the world. The Casales family of Cuernavaca has plenty of Coca-Cola and a big box of Corn Flakes in their picture, but they also have piles of fresh fruits and vegetables and whole, unwrapped round loaves of bread. Mounds of oranges, bananas, carrots, peppers line the back of the Al Haggan family of Kuwait City's table, and a platter of whole fish and a double-stack of egg trays with several dozens eggs are major features of the front.

Not sure what to make of these observations, but what's interesting is that, in general, the further down the monthly food expenditure tally the pictures go the better the food looks to me--whole, fresh, attractive--until you reach a certain point where you get down around $50 American dollars a week and under in food expenditure and, while some of the provisions look pretty tasty, there is very little variety and you know it would be a pretty bland diet.

No matter what you conclude, though, the pictures are pretty damn cool. And, the Melanson family of Iqaluit in Canada's Nunavut Territory (in Part II of the photo essay) have what has to be the all time greatest melange of traditional and modern foods in their "favorite foods" list: "narwhal, polar bear, extra cheese stuffed crust pizza, watermelon."


tammy said...

Glad you enjoyed it! I've been stuck on the Greenland family, trying to figure out if those are penguins I see on their table. Are there penguins in Greenland?

Robert said...

You're right. Those couldn't POSSIBLY be penguins. Not in Greenland.

So what ARE they?

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