In case you haven’t seen or heard about this project, I wanted to call to your attention an amazing work of photojournalism called What the World Eats, by Peter Menzel and Faith D’Aluisio, published in 2005. Basically, the idea is that families from every corner of the world were photographed next to the food they eat in a typical week, which has been elaborately and lovingly displayed around them. You can find many of the pictures on the website of Time Magazine:
The photos offer what appears to be an unfiltered look inside of homes across the world. There is something almost voyeuristic about this examination of refrigerators, snack drawers, and pantries. But perhaps that is only because as Americans, we have a tendency to see the foods we eat as in some way revealing of our moral character. Do we drink soda? Eat meat? Buy whole milk or skim? Hungry Man dinners or organic seitan? You’ve been hiding twinkies in your snack drawer? Yet this photo book may ask us to set aside our judgments and look at these families in their own context. Perhaps the Mexican family is proud, as they seem to be, standing next to their dozen bottles of coke consumed in a week.
The photos also offer a direct comparison of the cost of food in different places. While there are considerable differences in cost of food, I was more struck by the relatively low investment in food by many Americans compared to others. One Californian family featured spends $159.18 in a month, which one must assume constitutes a much smaller percentage of income than the $68.53 spent by an Egyptian family, $145.88 spent by a Turkish family, or $419.95 spent by a French family.
While food may be cheaper in the US than elsewhere, the irony is that one could easily get the impression, looking at the different photos, that it is Americans who are more deprived of luscious-looking food than some of the poorer people (with the notable exception of course of the very poor, such as those in Chad, whose diet seems as dry and empty as the landscape surrounding them.)
Social comparisons aside, it is simply fascinating to look inside the homes and daily meals of people from such different cultures, climates, and food traditions.