In 2006, Peter Menzel and Faith D’Aluisio wrote Hungry Planet: What the World Eats, a gorgeous book made up of portraits of families from all over the world pictured with the amount of food they eat in a week. Each chapter also included a family recipe and a breakdown of the weekly cost of that food. It’s completely fascinating, and although the predictable inequities are jarring — some have far too much, others have far too little — the book isn’t just about highlighting abundance and poverty. The quotidian act of preparing food is something everyone does, and the details of a family’s food life help us see their reality in a tactile, concrete way.
Menzel and D’Aluisio are about to come out with another book, this one a variation on the same idea — What I Eat: Around the World in 80 Diets, which comes out on August 10.
Here, the authors present portraits of individuals with the amount of food they eat in a day. The book is organized by calories per day, starting with a Kenyan Maasai herder who eats 800 calories a day, mainly in the form of cornmeal porridge, and ending with a British mother with a binge-eating disorder who manages to down 12,300 calories a day of pure junk.
In between these extremes, we learn that a Latvian beekeeper suppers on homemade pork meatballs and boiled potatoes, that a homemaker in Yemen relies on mutton and vegetable stew flavored with fenugreek, and that a Vietnamese rice farmer eats rice noodles in fish sauce for breakfast. What’s surprising is the fact that the majority of those interviewed eat more than 2,000 calories — and not just the Westerners. Even that 98-pound Yemeni housewife eats 2,700 calories, and a cherubic Amazonian grandmother manages 3,400. As in Hungry Planet, Menzel and D’Aluisio supplement their beautiful photographs with excellent reporting, telling the story of each individual in compassionate but unsentimental prose.
Scattered throughout the book are essays on food politics and culture — Marion Nestle has written the introduction, and Jonathan Gold makes a cameo. It’s a book to lose yourself in for hours, a wonderfully involving piece of food journalism.