Sunday, December 30, 2007

Book Review: Hungry Planet by Peter Menzel and Faith D’Aluisio

It’s time for another book review. Well, OK, the truth is I’ve been sitting on this one for a while. I wrote the review back when I used up my last "renewal" at the library and had to return the book, and then I forgot to actually post it to my blog!

I found this beautiful coffee table book fascinating, and not just in the way the authors intended. In brief, the couple who wrote the book traveled around the world visiting families in 24 countries and recording what the families ate for a week. At the end of the week, they took the families shopping to buy "a week’s worth of food" (paid for by the authors) and photographed each family with their groceries. They wrote a few pages about each family and included statistics about the country. The families were not chosen to be representative of the whole country, and sometimes the authors used multiple families from the same country to show differences in, for example, the diet of rural versus urban residents.

The pictures in the book, and it is as much a photography book as it is anything else, were outstanding. The lists of groceries (written in microscopic print!) were fascinating. But what I enjoyed the most was that the text and photo pages of each family gave a snapshot of ordinary life in that country. (There was no attempt to be consistent and some families got pages and pages while others got very little. I noticed that whenever there was a particularly cute young child in the family, the family seemed to get more press time!) I enjoyed the book so much that instead of devouring it in one sitting, as is my usual manner, I rationed myself to four families per night so I could string it out as long as possible.

I found it both encouraging that there is so much local food culture left in the world, and depressing that our processed food culture has spread so far. The one thing I wish the authors had done differently is I wish they had converted the local prices not only into US dollars, but also into what the food would have cost if purchased in the US. That would have been a really difficult task, though, so I can understand why they didn’t do it.

Overall recommendation: Outstanding!

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