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Apr 282008

By John DeFore

The sudden explosion of stories about food shortages resulting from diversion of crops to biofuels may prod Westerners to think, likely for the first time in years, about just what and how muhungryplanet.jpgch people typically eat in other parts of the world.

The recent paperback Hungry Planet, then, is timely: Though stuffed with enough vibrant photographs to qualify as a coffee table book — and sufficiently foodie-oriented to earn a James Beard Foundation award — its agenda is clearly as much anthropological and environmental as aesthetic.

Photographer Peter Menzel and writer Faith D’Aluisio visited 24 countries, from Bosnia to Chad and from France to Guatemala. They spent time with 30 normal families — went grocery shopping with them, hung out in the kitchen, and shared meals. Then they took a family portrait, each of which has family members surrounding a week’s worth of groceries — that inventory is enumerated as an introduction to each chapter, broken into categories (Dairy, Grains, etc.) with total food costs listed in U.S. dollars.

It’s fascinating to flip through this travelogue and see the extent to which globalization and industrialization have changed the face of food: while the Aboubakar family in Chad (they’re refugees from Darfur) is living on $1.23 worth of bulk goods each week, with a small tub of bottled water the only hint of mass-packaged food, the vast majority of people have some processed food in their diets — from Pringles in Greenland and Kuwait, to KFC in China, to the astonishing 24 quarts of Coke consumed by a family of five (one of whom is only a year old) in Cuernavaca, Mexico.

Even so, the amount of fresh and unprocessed foods varies widely from place to place, as do habits surrounding shopping and eating. The authors pay attention to this, including plenty of photos of daily life, before proceeding to include a local recipe. Interspersed are thoughtful big-picture essays from people like Michael Pollan, whose recent In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto remains a hot seller for eco-aware chefs. A scaled-down version of Hungry Planet, aimed at youngsters from eighth grade up, will be released in July under the title What the World Eats.

Copyright © 2008 | Distributed by Noofangle Media