Hungry Planet

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

For Material World: A Global Family Portrait (1994), partners Peter Menzel and Faith D’Aluisio traveled widely, befriending people in dozens of nations and persuading them to be photographed with their families and all of their worldly goods. Hungry Planet: What the World Eats takes a similar approach, visiting thirty families in twenty-four countries, but focusing, as the subtitle suggests, on what people eat. This oversized book contains hundreds of beautiful color photographs by Menzel, dozens of recipes, text written with warmth and respect by D’Aluisio, and essays on food by writers including Corby Krummer and Michael Pollan. Each chapter begins with a full-color portrait of one family posing with a typical week's worth of food.

The power of this book comes from its unblinking and unsentimental vision. The dollar value of each family's weekly consumption is calculated, from $1.23 to feed a family of five in a refugee camp in Darfur to the $500.07 spent by a family of four in Germany. The influence of Western patterns of consumption is seen in photos of McDonald's and Kentucky Fried Chicken in China and Japan, and in the list of foods eaten by a family in Greenland, which includes musk ox, frozen walrus, arctic geese, Heinz tomato ketchup, and Milky Way candy bars. The photos include busy outdoor markets in Somaliland and Bosnia, as well as modern well-lit grocery stores in Australia and Poland. Children carry water long distances, or sell watermelon slices, or hunt for Easter eggs. Essays discuss starvation as well as the new condition called “diabesity.”

The result is fascinating and sometimes shaming, but never preachy. Families are presented alphabetically by the countries in which they live, not arranged for some political or emotional effect. But the message is clear: food is distributed unevenly on this hungry planet, creating misery that should be preventable.