Hungry Planet: What the World Eats

17 01 2008

Hungry Planet: What the World Eats. Peter Menzel and Faith D’Aluisio. Material World Books and Ten Speed Press, 2007.

http://www.librarything.com/work/83791/book/25833698

I’ve read a lot of food books lately. Fast Food Nation will convince you to give up McDonald’s. Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, while a little preachy at times, makes a strong case for becoming a locovore. The most influential food book I read last year was The Omnivore’s Dilemma. Like nothing else I’ve read, it shows the impact of the industrialization of food on our health and, more importantly, our culture. I must admit that I still eat industrially-produced meat and vegetables out of season, but both of these are habits I’m trying to change based upon what I’ve read.

The clear intent of all of the other books was to persuade me, the typical American reader, to change my eating habits. Each book had a clear agenda. Each is a forceful participant in the debate over the modern American diet. Hungry Planet is a different food book. While it has biases (it bemoans the invasion of fast-food and hypermarkets into many cultures), the primary purpose of this book is to just present the facts. If the other books are debaters, this book is http://www.factcheck.org. You, the reader, get to draw your own conclusions.

The centerpiece of the book are portraits of 30 families in 24 countries, each posing with a week’s worth of food. There is a succinct travelogue for each family that gives you a sense of daily life in the culture, and lots of gorgeous pictures and informative captions. By the end of the book, you’ll feel like you’ve traveled the globe several times.

By presenting these families side-by-side, the book emphasizes the immense variety of food cultures in the world today. Because many of the family portraits span three generations (grandparents, parents, and kids), you also get a sense of how taste in food is evolving over time in each culture. Across each family, you see the same story replayed over and over: As a population gets more wealthy, people start to first consume more meat and then more fast-food and convenience food. The book lets you debate whether this trend is good or bad (or more specifically, which parts of this trend are good and which parts are bad) — but it’s hard to deny the trend when you have all of the evidence in front of you.

My main conclusions? After reading about life today in Chad, and Mali, and after reading what it was like for older generations in China, Poland, and Bosnia, I’m grateful that that the problem I face is one of abundance. While I never really though to of it before, I now understand how profound it is to know my family will always have enough to eat. And I now appreciate that this security is not only a rare thing in human history, it’s also still a precious thing in today’s world.

I’m still going to try to eat more seasonal foods, eliminate CAFO meat from my diet, and eat more from my local area. Hungry Planet makes me grateful this is the food dilemmas I face.

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