Book Review: Hungry Planet

I love, love, love  the book Hungry Planet: What the World Eats by Peter Menzel and Faith D’Alusio. Menzel and D’Alusio traveled around the world sharing meals with people and taking photographs.  The photos feature families in countries around the world standing with the food that the family eats in an average week.  Placed side-by-side, the food photographs paint an amazing visual picture of economic, social, political, and cultural issues.  The photos look like this one, from India:

This one, from the United States (Texas):

And this one, from Mali:

You can see more of the photos here and here… It’s worth taking a few minutes to go check them out.

But I really recommend getting your hands on the book; check your local library. In addition to the photographs and captions–which break down the total amount of money spent on food weekly, by food groups–the book also includes essays about each family included in the book and statistics about each country. There are also essays by well-known writers like Michael Pollan, plus recipes from each of the countries.

On one level, this book is a visual feast, a foray through countries and cultures. (In addition to the photographs of individual families, there are tons of gorgeous photos from each featured country.) But on a deeper level, this book is also a dip into some big and crucial global issues: global inequity in the distribution of resources, the very real existence of hunger in people’s daily lives, the global coexistence of malnutrition and overnutrition, and the way changing eating patterns and food-marketing patterns are contributing to an increase in diseases like diabetes and cancer. It’s eye-opening to think about where each of us would fit into this global portrait, and what that really means.

Let’s pretend we’re sitting in a room looking at these pictures together, because I’d love to talk about it.  How do you feel when you look at these photos?


5 responses to “Book Review: Hungry Planet

  1. Alliegator May 31, 2011 at 12:06 pm

    Wow. I feel like I eat way too much processed foods. Especially when I see the picture from Mali. Sometimes I feel like it’s a chore to make dinner every night, but even though I think I generally do pretty good making things from scratch, I still can have dinner on the table in less than an hour. We are also so lucky to have so much variety available.

    It makes me feel a little sick about how much food we (in the US) waste, and how much junk we eat that we call food.

    Thanks for the review, I’ll have to look for it at our library.

  2. Nicole I May 31, 2011 at 12:15 pm

    The abundance of packaging in the Texas picture is incredible. The lack of diversity in the Mali diet would be a hard adjustment.

    Can you comment on how representative these pics are in terms of (a middle) class? I see the cost in the captions on the Time feature. According to, the $242 that Texan family spends is smack in the middle between low cost ($226 for that family’s composition) and moderate ($284).

    One of the reasons why I ask is that I regularly assign my students to track their food budget for a week to introduce living wages as essential for health. I tie their assignment into the poverty line (basically 3xs the thrifty plan which is $176 for the Texan family’s composition) to drive home the point of how difficult it is to eat well, get all your needs met, trade off with all adults working vs prepared foods vs health, etc when you are financially insecure. Even struggling students find the thrifty plan a pretty impossible standard.

    I guess I need to read the book.

  3. margie May 31, 2011 at 1:52 pm

    I will have to look for that book at the library. I did not know people ate penguins. I don’t know why it never occurred to me. It amazed me which groups of food appealed to me. It was the fresh fruits and vegetables and the grains and beans in the sacks. Would we naturally gravitate towards the healthier food if we weren’t being bombarded with advertising? The pop in the Instanbul picture cracked me up. That would be me, I am sorry to say……. Hey, I’m working on it

  4. TV Free May 31, 2011 at 2:50 pm

    I loved HUngry Planet. Another book by the same author/photography team is Material World; they also have one on women. All very eye opening.

    There were a couple things that were fascinating to me. One was the type of food we (western culture) tended to purchase – highly processed, wheat/soy/corn based. I loved the colors and simplicity of the cultural food. I have seen studies that show that the Mediterranean diet is best, or the Japanese, diet, etc…. but I really believe that the healthiness of the diets comes because they are generally locally obtained, plant-based diets.

    I was also fascinated by quantity. Granted, some of the people pictured were probably in caloric deficit and did not have enough to eat, but for the most part, they had plenty to eat, yet the quantity seemed much less than (for example) the Texan family.

  5. missy. June 8, 2011 at 12:50 pm

    I just saw that they have a new book out! You can see photos from it here:,29307,2037749,00.html

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