After two weeks of sheer gluttony the time seems right to chat about a fascinating, food-oriented book. Unlike my previous Tuesday offerings, it is not a cookbook but rather a book that looks at what people around the world cook and eat. Created by writer Faith D’Aluisio and photojournalist Peter Menzel, What I Eat: Around the World in 80 Diets (Material World, 2010) details what 80 individuals from around the globe consume in one day.
In some respects What I Eat can be seen as a follow-up to the duo’s 2005 book Hungry Planet: What the World Eats. In that publication Menzel and D’Aluisio looked at what 30 families in 24 countries ate during one week. In their latest offering they pare their exploration down to one day in the life of 80 individuals from over 30 countries. For each profiled person D’Aluisio cites the number of calories he consumes in a day and how he consumes them, i.e. 11 ounces of thin grain porridge made of sorghum and served with 1 tablespoon sugar for breakfast. She also provides a brief biography, listing occupation, age, height and weight. She then describes how the person obtains, cooks and eats his food and the conditions that surround each of these activities. This may sound fairly commonplace but, in fact, it proves fascinating.
Menzel’s beautiful and tale-telling photographs support D’Aluisio’s intriguing text. Together the two develop a compelling story about how the world perceives and uses food. Take, for instance, the smiling, healthy-looking Masai herder, who survives on a mere 800 calories per day. Compare his lifestyle with the obese British school aid who takes in 12,300 calories in 24 hours. How could one live on so little and the other on so much? Then there is the 135-pound Tibetan yak herder’s intake of 5,600 calories and the 260-pound American truck driver’s 5,400 calorie diet. One man gets his energy from cheese, butter, yogurt, bread and noodles. The other derives his from candy, sweetened coffee drinks, cheeseburgers and fried foods. Interesting choices. Interesting results.
Essays from such respected writers as Wendell Berry, Michael Pollan and Marion Nestle further enrich What I Eat. While none ever chastise the profiled individuals – or the readers – for their food choices, they do leave all of us contemplating what we eat and why. It’s yet another reason why I admire D’Aluisio’s and Menzel’s latest work. It inspires thoughtful consideration of how we and others in the world eat and live.