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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Book Review – Octopus! By Katherine Harmon Courage

Title: Octopus!  (The Most Mysterious Creature in the Sea)
Author: Katherine Harmon Courage
Format: 
Paperback
Published: 
2013

Octopus! is not surprisingly a nonfiction book about octopuses.  (I picked up a free ARC copy.)  Subcategorizing it beyond nonfiction is a little tricky.  It’s sort of a snapshot of our historical, culinary, cultural, fictional, and scientific relationship with the octopus.  Katherine Harmon Courage is a journalist and an associate editor at Scientific American.  So there’s a good portion of the book which focuses on the biology and science of the octopus, but there’s almost as much time spent on what we don’t know about them as what we do.

As a personal preference, I like my nonfiction a bit drier than this book.  I felt there was way too much time spent on Katherine’s traveling misadventures to meet various fishermen and researchers, and I got a little bored with the constant variations on “Isn’t that cool/icky/strange/interesting!?!”

However, for other people this might be a nice break from a textbook rattling off a dry list of facts.  There is something interesting about stepping back from a stack of figures and looking at the messy, imprecise side of trying to gather more precise data.

If you’d like to know more about the octopus (or are just looking for idea fodder for a hard science fiction tale) this may be a good gateway book.  At 220 pages, it’s not a super long or intense read, but it does offer up a lot of stimulating food for thought on everything from our perspective on other species to the weird economics of food exportation to robotics.  And there’s an extensive list of source material in the back if you want some drier reading. Courage certainly did her research.

If you’re a hardcore animal rights advocate, you may feel a bit of outrage at sampling a live octopus meal at a Korean restaurant, and if you’re not, you may still feel a bit squeamish during a few passages.  It’s not a book designed to shock, but neither does it hold back on raw realities of octopus life or octopuses in our lives.  (Yes, she briefly covers hentai.)

I’ll give it a solid 4 out of  5, since I think the book accomplishes what it sets out to do.  I can’t say it’s a must read.  Just kind of nice, kind of interesting, and while there’s a certain deliberate messiness to the presentation, it does cover a lot of fascinating ideas.

Book Review – Big appetites by Christopher Boffoli

Title: Big Appetites:  tiny people in a world of big food
Author/Photographer: Christopher Boffoli
Format: Paperback
Publication Date: 2013

Okay, Big Appetites: tiny people in a world of big food is an art book of photography that is pretty much exactly what you’ve pictured with the title.  The creator has taken those uber small miniatures, positioned them on food like the food had something to do with their job or hobby, and taken pictures.  Each photograph is shown in full color with a caption that relates the surreal scene back to real life somehow.

One of my favorites was about somebody making due at work even though he forgot his special lefty scissors, and featured several worker men positioned in a head of ornamental broccoli.  Another was somebody on top of a hostess cupcake, captioned something along the lines of ‘even though it was a two person job, he, being a perfectionist, preferred to work alone…’

The book is arranged by meal.  I think the thing that really got me, though, is how current and real this stuff actually felt.  These are characters just going about daily life.  The fact that they’re bicycling up a banana or harvesting pomegranate seeds  is almost incidental to what is happening.  It’s a very real look at life with a very silly visual aid attached.

I love this book.  5/5.

Book Review – Dining with the Doctor by Chris-Rachel Oseland

Title: Dining with the Doctor – The Unauthorized Whovian Cookbook

Author: Chris-Rachel Oseland

Format: Kindle E-Book

Written: 2012

Published: 2012

Typically I am not one to read cook books, I’ll glean the internet for a few recipes and that is about the extent of things but when I was told that this was a free book, I figured why not go ahead and downloaded it.  I honestly wanted to see the Fish Fingers and Custard recipe which I sadly didn’t get to read until the end.  Yet I’m glad I waded through all the recipes to get there, even if the Fish Fingers and Custard recipe section was the most boring.

The book takes every episode of Doctor Who and pairs it with a recipe.  Sometimes these recipes made perfect sense with the episode while there were other times that I felt the author was stretching things a bit such as chicken wings for an episode pertaining to the Angels.  On the whole though, the book was entertaining.  I admit that there were  a lot of drink recipes that look fun and a lot of sculpting recipes that will drive me to the drink recipes if I ever dared attempt them but there were a lot of fun Doctor Who references and if you like Doctor Who this book might be amusing enough to pick up for free.

I never expected to laugh while reading a cook book but I did, as the author allowed humor and wit to play in things such as beat or pound things like various characters or creatures in the show or even  admitting to knowing we’ll all cheat a and run out and buy the pre-made things but as it was a cook book the author would like to pretend we actually went about doing it the hard way and actually cooked things.

Over all, I don’t think I’ll make or be able to make several recipes in the book but there are some fun ones I want to try and I look forward to when my group of friends and I each pick a recipe from the book and do a pot luck Dr. Who themed party, each bringing a dish from the recipe book.  I know I already call dibs on the BLT’s fashioned to look like Daleks!

I give the book a 3 out of 5 because not simply because a lot of recipes are beyond my skill level but because there are not pictures for  a lot of the recipes particularly when sculpting is involved and yet there are pictures for others.  Not to mention there are also some overly bizarre recipes as well that just don’t seem to be very edible.  Also, the author did take a few short cuts with some of the photos such as the Jammy Dodger recipe is featured with the store bought cookies rather than home made ones. After all it is one thing to joke about the reader cheating and buying pre-made things but it is an entirely other thing when the author does it too.

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