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The Green Life: Food for Thought: Picturing the Daily Diets of 80 People Around the World

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March 18, 2011

Food for Thought: Picturing the Daily Diets of 80 People Around the World

Chicago ironworker Jeff Devine with his 6,600-calorie daily diet, heavy on the processed foods. photo courtesy Peter Menzel

The husband-and-wife team of photojournalist Peter Menzel and writer Faith D'Aluisio charmed us with Hungry Planet: What the World Eats, which lets us compare our weekly food purchases with those of 30 families in 24 countries. Their latest effort, What I Eat: Around the World in 80 Diets, gets even more personal, displaying the daily diets of 80 individuals around the globe. The subjects are organized by the number of calories each consumes per day, from a Kenyan herder's 800 calories to the 12,300 of a binge eater in the U.K. We spoke with D'Aluisio for a taste of what motivates the couple.

Q: Was it hard to persuade people to pose with their food?

A: It's easy. Food touches everyone. It's an entry into the working of the family unit. The conversation starts with food and ends up being about life. People want to share; they want to see you eating their food.

Q: Why organize your subjects by caloric intake?

A: Peter was adamant about that, and at first it drove me nuts. I would have organized them by continent. But it turns out to be an interesting way to pull the individuals out of their geographic context. By happenstance, American sustainable farmer Joel Salatin follows Latvian voice coach Ansis Sauka, both at 3,900 calories.

Q: Why are 25 of your 80 examples from North America?

A: Our readers are largely from the U.S. It made the most sense as a point of comparison and contrast.

Q: Is one of your 80 diets "ideal"?

A: "Ideal" is in the eye of the beholder. It depends on what's appropriate for the region and for an individual's level of activity. Our Tibetan yak herder (5,600 calories) has a butter-rich diet, but he burns off a lot of calories. Generally, grain-based diets with little packaged food are best.

Q: What is wrong with diets today?

A: Highly processed food from the global marketplace is changing what people eat everywhere. As people get more money, they buy more meat, sugar, dairy, and highly processed packaged food. People are less likely to know what they're eating, and obesity is becoming more and more of an issue.

Q: Why did you leave heftier discussions of "food politics" to the essayists, like Michael Pollan and Wendell Berry, sprinkled throughout your book?

A: I address our methodology in the introduction, but when it comes to food, there are people far smarter than us to turn to. And I don't want to tell people how to live their lives.

Q: What are your dietary vices?

A: I love cheese and anything fermented. Peter loves sugar.

—interview by Reed McManus


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