Friday, June 6, 2014

What the World Eats

I took a little break from my usual reads, cozy pre-1980 novels, to pick up a very inspiring and fascinating book called What the World Eats.  This was a much-talked-about book (I think it was originally meant for children, but you can't tell in the least) when it came out in 2008 and I just never bothered to pick it up.  Then several weeks ago, I was reading a blog post that mentioned this book and warmly recommended it.  So I headed off to the library and picked this up and read it right away.  I was writing a post in my head while picking strawberries and now I've come in to write it.  Be prepared for a (minor) rant, everybody.

What the World Eats covers families in different countries, describing their daily work and what they eat in a week.  The family poses next to their table (or the ground) covered with all of the food they eat in one week.  All different people are mentioned in this book, from the French family with two college-aged daughters to the large, multi-generational Bhutanese family.  
That's probably the worst picture I've ever taken.  But you get the gist- those
people don't have enough food.

As would be expected, there is a heartbreaking difference in the amounts of food.  The poor family in Chad with 16 people in their family have about 1/4 of the food of the American family of 4.  The disparity in quantity was so strikingly unfair.  
...Aaaand the American family.  Sigh.

The other thing that struck me was the *ahem* crap (for lack of a nicer word) that so many people in the western world are eating.  Now I'm not just talking about the occasional box of Oreos as a little treat or the gorgeous green bottles of seltzer water (which I do adore) or perhaps some boxed cereal.  Oh my, no.  We're talking the whole table covered with boxes and plastic bags of stuff and then one sad, measly head of broccoli (I kid you not).  And please remember that this was the food in a week, not a month.  Oh dear, and the McDonalds.  It was everywhere, from the Chinese family to the Mexican family.  In this book, the Mexican family has 6 gallons of Coca-Cola a week.  I'm sure they're thanking America for handing them a nice helping of diabetes.  
Beautiful, beautiful green kale growing in a flower bed.

So now that I've gotten my rant out, I'll give some practical thoughts.  First, let's look at some of the families in the book who had enough (that's key) and were eating fairly responsibly.  The Mongolian family had eggs grown by a neighbor, fresh meat from the market, some oil, rice, salt, and soy sauce from a store.  Added to this was lots of produce, most of it grown locally or preserved (fermented, I think).  The large Turkish family had great food on their table.  The only prepared thing that was bought was some sesame seed paste cookies from the market.  There were eggs, fish, beef, potatoes, yogurt, pasta, feta, and milk.  And there was a nice long list of vegetables, some of them grown locally. Well, there was the pack of cigarettes, but aside from that, they had good choices.  I think it's important to look at the people that are making better decisions for inspiration.
The strawberries are starting to come on fast.  6 quarts
in one morning!  Yippee! 

Second, I think it takes baby steps (and the authors of this book back me up in the introduction).  For instance, in my part of the world right now, everything is flooded with beautiful, local produce.  We happen to have a large garden, but there are markets in pretty much every city nowadays.  It would be ridiculous to be buying Central American strawberries right now.  If we just got rid of, say, 3/4s of the packaged stuff just from March to October, we would make such a difference.  And as if cutting out all that nasty stuff wasn't enough of a reward, we'll be stealing less from people like the family from Chad because we won't be shipping unneeded resources from halfway around the world to ourselves.  

This book is fantastic and if you are the least bit skeptical after reading this post, go read this book and you won't be. Oh, and I'd love to hear what you think about this.


  1. I love leafing through this book every once in awhile at the library. Have you also seen Material World done by the same people?

    1. I was just talking to somebody about this book! Thanks for the suggestion. I'm off to look for it!

  2. I read both books some time ago. I was struck as you are about the inequities. I just had a conversation with a friend about Moroccan food. Sounded delicious - and cooked in one pot on a small gas burner.

    1. I bet a lot of Morocco would be in that segment I mentioned that has enough to eat, but not enough to blow on packaging.

  3. I second the suggestion about the Material World book. Alex and I read it last year, and like this one, it shows the crazy inequality around the world.

    1. It's good to hear more great things about the book. I'll be sure to let you know what I think about Material World, although I'm sure I'll like it just as much as I did this book.