Hungry Planet

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Posted by Nupur

My article this month focuses on a beautiful book called "Hungry Planet" by Peter Menzel and Faith D'Aluisio.

I love reading and go through stacks of books from the local library every month, but this book was exceptional in the way it touched me, so I wanted to share it in this space.

The premise of the book is that the authors visited homes of ordinary, average families in twenty four different countries. They spent time studying the food habits of the families in the context of their community and way of life, their likes and dislikes and food preferences. Each family gets a detailed profile in which the cost of their average weekly food is laid out. The authors take evocative photographs in which each family is pictured with their weekly groceries beautifully arranged around them. No matter if the family's groceries are a lavish carload or a meagre few, the food is treated with honor and lovingly placed in these evocative photographs.

The result of this extraordinary work is a snapshot of the way the world eats today. We as in the collective "WE". All the different continents, races and nationalities, as well as the rich and the poor, the urban folk and the rural folk, the producers and the consumers, all taken together. Now, I have been blogging about food for a while, and often do think of food blogs as a snapshot of the way ordinary people eat. But it is clear that food bloggers, while usually being representative of the middle class, are way more privileged than the average human. Anyone with internet access, literacy and not living a hand-to-mouth existence is in a special category. This book provides a glimpse into the lives and dinner plates of people that we may rarely come across, from countries that remain enigmatic, such as Bhutan, Bosnia, Mongolia and Chad, as well as chronicling the food habits of people in nations that are more familiar to me, such as Germany, Mexico, India and the USA.

In these days of global food shortages being discussed in all the news media and touching the lives of many of us, the irony of the title of this book, "Hungry Planet" is not lost on me. Looking at the non-judgmental photographs across these pages that objectively capture the huge disparities in the way families eat across the world the message that struck me was, how nice if we could share a bit more. The book created renewed respect in my mind for the status of food in our lives and a new recognition of the people who grow our food.

I lingered on the pages of this book, piqued with genuine curiosity. Of course, every family is just one representative of that particular nation and does capture all the nuances of life in that country or speak for every family living there, but the information is very interesting anyway. For instance, what does the weekly shopping list in Greenland look like? (It is supplemented to a large extent by hunting and fishing). Does the Indian family's weekly groceries look anything like my family's when I was growing up in India? (It does...the family is the Patkars of Ujjain and you can see them surrounded by a large spread of vegetables, fruits and prepared foods, including a huge stack of rotis!). What is the difference in grocery spending between the industrialized and some other nations? (Unbelievable...the German family spent $500.07 for their week's groceries while the family from Mali spent $26.39. The former had almost all packaged foods while the latter had almost none.) One can spend hours poring over the essays, numbers and pictures in this book, and they tell us so much about the way we ourselves eat. I marveled at the vast number of chili peppers (4 baskets) eaten in a week by the family in Bhutan (the authors tell us that in Bhutan, the chili pepper is treated as a vegetable and not a mere condiment), gasped at the number of beverages consumed by the German family in a week (more than 2 dozen bottles of assorted drinks), shook my head at the ubiquitous presence of the Coca Cola bottle in family groceries from every continent, and felt a pang of sadness at the meagre food supplied to the refugee family in Chad (including just 77 gallons of water for the whole family for all purposes for the whole this to 25-50 gallons of water used in an average 5-minute shower). In essence, this book is a must-read. It does not preach, it simply lays out a wealth of information and keen observations that are interesting, informative and though-provoking. Please do look for it in your local library or bookstore and you will not be disappointed.

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This Post was written by Nupur from One Hot Stove.


This is a wonderful book. When it first came out, I bought copies for everyone on my holiday gift list.

May 21, 2008 at 10:58:00 PM GMT+2  

Thanks for the recommendation, Nupur.

Suganya said...
May 23, 2008 at 8:29:00 AM GMT+2  

I'd like a copy of this book too.

Meg Wolff said...
May 25, 2008 at 11:23:00 PM GMT+2  

I love this book and every so often pick it up to look through with my children. I think every family should have a copy.

We do this thing in our house where we learn about food from other countries I hadn't done it for a while but we started again this week with the Middle East. The book is a great way to start conversation with the children about what life is like for other children and families around the world.

It struck a chord with me when you said for you the book created renewed respect for the status of food in our lives.

Great post Nupur!

May 28, 2008 at 5:00:00 PM GMT+2  

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