October 07, 2011

Hungry Planet by Peter Menzel

This was a very fascinating book. Peter Menzel and Faith D'Aluisio make a good pair in putting their talents together and creating this masterpiece of food marvel. The main point of the book is to track the weekly food intake of families from all over the world, but goes in to much more than that.

The main focus of this book is on the families within it. They range from three people to over a dozen and the amount of food they go through in a week. The variety includes families from Kuwait, Greenland, USA, Italy, and many other countries. Some countries, like the USA and Australia, have multiple families representing them.

For each family there is a large picture of all of them surrounding the groceries they get in a week. To go with this there is usually a caption explaining who's who and sometimes what their favorite meal is. On the adjoining page the groceries are listed by type and weight and notated if they were grown by the family or not. It also lists things not pictured in the photograph. Usually on this page to a story about the family is presented and what their living situation is. The following pages include food preparation, information about the country, a recipe or two, and other pictures of the family and area. Some families have more space than others but there's usually at least four pages of information on each one.

In between these parts on the families are articles and excerpts taken from other writers on social food issues. This can range from overfishing to diabetes and other health concerns. These usually have a couple pages of associated pictures to go along with them as well. I.E. in the article about fish populations there were two pages with pictures of different kinds of seafood and the place the picture came from.

In the back of the book is an afterword, methodology, further reading section, statistics, sources, contributors, and acknowledgements.

Now into the gritty part of the book. Some of these pictures and stories are extremely sad. When you look at the refugees food supply in Chad its alarmingly low. Even though they are not starved, there is not a lot of variety and what they do have is usually grain and water. Compare this to the family in N. Carolina who has mounds of soda, beer, pizza, and other takeout and you reach a new kind of sad (luckily in the caption for this one the family saw the problems as well and vowed to change their eating habits). The stories in this book can be somewhat alarming as well. Having just read about a forced marriage for a 14 year old girl in a polygamous sect here in the USA and how it was horrible for her, it was hard to see a family in which the wife had her first child at 14 or another family with two wives without having preconceived notions. Despite this, I tried to distance myself from these thoughts and focus on the subject of the book; food.

One thing the reader should be warned about that is that the writers have very strong opinions on different things, and don't have any problem expressing them. If you disagree with articles on over-fishing, the horribleness of fast food and like-diets, the destruction of local food, and other such ideas, this may not be a good book to read. I found everything very informative however, and as long as you can keep an open mind and view everything from all angles, there shouldn't be a problem. The writing itself was more factual than emotional and while there were a few emotions included in, these were usually taken straight from the family.

The pictures in this book were great. They were exceptionally taken and helped show all parts of life for these people. Most specifically they were detailed enough to see the food clearly and determine what was what on the table. As a warning, there are some scenes of butchered animals or guinea pigs roasted whole; this could be bad for the more squeamish readers. On another note, everyone in the pictures seemed happy, which to me is the most important thing in the book.

Usually I like to just mention the content of a book rather than such things as print size, book size, etc., but I do think there's some aspects of this book worth mentioning. It is a large heavy book that is a rectangular awkward shape. The result of this, plus the fact that the print was tiny, made it hard to comfortably read. That said, it was a book worth the neck and backache.

Overall seeing the pictures and reading the stories was an eye-opening experience for me. Not only was it interesting, it also gave me a different perspective on how life is in other countries. Having never traveled myself but always having loved food from other countries, I plan on trying a couple of the recipes included in the book to see if I can have a vicarious experience of traveling through the food. This is a book I'd probably keep in my home library and read with my future kids. There's a wealth of knowledge between the covers.

Hungry Planet
Copyright 2005
287 pages

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