Book Review – Hungry Planet

TITLE: Hungry Planet – What the World Eats
Author: Peter Menzel and Faith D’Aluisio
Format: Hardback
Published: ? (2000-something or other) [NOTE: I seriously cannot find it in the book anywhere… Amazon says 2005]

So, there’s a group of photos that goes around Facebook from time to time that shows a few families and what they eat in a week. Of course, because it’s FB, the pictures don’t have any captions beyond the country, and no further information. Pretty much all it managed to do was make America look bad. Amidst a conversation about what info I wished accompanied them, a friend of mine said “Hey, do you know those are from a book?”
SO I went to the library and got the book.

The setup is pretty simple. There’s a picture of a family, surrounded by all the food they eat in a week’s time. There’s a short feature article about them, age and occupation of all of them, and a list of really important facts like what appliances they had or whether or not they had refrigeration.
Of course they’re going to eat much simpler than Americans when they’re cooking from scratch and can’t store processed crap.

It also talked about how much they spent and where they got everything, and even how they got it home.

I think the most amazing part of this book wasn’t seeing how much more or less somebody consumed, but seeing how differently people eat from one area to another because of societal factors. One person commented once it was weird to buy a week’s worth of food at a time instead of shopping every day. There were discussions of neighborhood markets vs big superstores, of gardening, of schlepping stuff home, of how often they ate meat. Even of eating habits – how many of them were eating on the run vs sitting down for a communal meal in the middle of the afternoon no matter what.
The thing that had most bothered me on FB was the crappy money comparison. “Africa only pays $1 a week to eat, omg!” Except that this book does everyone a solid and shows an amount that wouldn’t count for a stronger currency conversion like that – it showed how much money it would cost to buy the same thing here.

So a picture might tell 1000 words, but it certainly doesn’t tell the whole story, you know?
Let’s take the Aboubakar family from Chad. Mom is 40; the children range from 2-16. They’re refugees with no running water, no refrigeration, just an open cooking fire. Their food budget of $1.23 was for 9 oz. of dried goat meat, 7 oz. of dried fish, pepper and ginger, also both dried, onion and limes, which miraculously weren’t dried, dried red peppers and okra and tomatoes (yes, dried tomatoes)… What the price doesn’t include is 50lbs of rations – sorghum, corn/soy, sugar, salt, oil, pulses (seeds of legumes and the like), and a 77 gallon water ration.

…I think this book was amazing.
A photo, a stat box, a story about the people we’re looking at, statistics about purchasing power parity and the number of McDonalds in the country, and population and alcohol and dozens of other things, photos that make everything seem so rich and vibrant.
But unlike seeing just the photos on social media, such a more interesting and full story. For instance, some photos show more than a week’s worth of stuff if a larger quantity had to be purchased at a time (i.e., a bag of something lasts two weeks), notes about what they provide without cost such as home grown produce. The book also includes favorite recipes from each family. I’m tempted to try one or two.

I think this book is amazing. I think it should be required education in schools and set on everyone’s coffee tables for amazing meaningful discussion.
Definitely a 5 out of 5. I’m going to go buy myself a copy.


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