Nonfiction – What the World Eats

Regardless of what culture you come from, you and your family have to eat. This is the basis of a lot of shallow food-and-festival approaches to multiculturalism. It is also the base behind this provocative and intriguing book that uses food not to “celebrate our wonderful differences” but to highlight differences in how we get our food, how much we have to eat, and the economic differences found around the world. The book makes a sharp contrast between the weekly food allotment of a family in a Sudanese refugee camp and those of a typical American family. Along the way from every inhabited continent are represented. Some families, such as those from Australia or Japan, show families with food piled high, much of it processed or packaged food. Other families have more modest provisions, large portions of it homegrown.

The focus here is not on what is being eaten – outside of generalizations and a handful of recipes – but rather, how it is eaten, how and where it is bought or raised. Each featured family is shown in a large, full-page picture. The family is in the kitchen or dining room of their dwelling, and is surrounded by a week’s worth of food, providing a vivid visual representation. On the opposite page is a list of exactly what will be eaten, broken down by general category of food that roughly follows the food pyramid categories. At the top of this page is how much the food cost, both in that country’s currency and in American currency. (However, no attempt has been made to discuss relative costs in various countries or locales. Based on Stop and Shop prices at their website, I know that just buying the watermelon and oranges eaten by an Indian family would, in my town, cost more than their entire fruits and vegetables for the week, never mind the other 21 items bought by the Indian family in that category, all of which only added up to $7.71. This means that you really can’t make a legitimate comparison of how much money is being spent on food in different countries, even if the currency has been converted to American dollars. I would have liked to see an indication of the percentage of family income being spent on food, as that would have been a number that could be compared across currencies and inflation rates.)

While the book itself is geared towards older readers, even young children will be able to get a lot out of the book by browsing through it. Sidebars give facts about each country, such as obesity rates, or undernourishment percentages. This is a fascinating look at how food is viewed and used around the world, and would make a great jumping off point to begin discussions of economics with children.

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