Reviewed by Katy Killilea
We can’t stop reading this book. The premise is simple: photographs of families, from all over the planet, posing with the food they eat over the course of a week. You may have seen some of these family portraits in an email that was making the rounds a few months ago. You can also see them at Time.com. I have never seen a geography/social studies book as fascinating.
As you’d imagine, there is a striking difference in the amount of food people have. Another factor that leaps out at readers is the difference in the amount of packaged foods. (Check out the wall of Coke sported by the Casaleses family of Mexico!) Fortunately, there is no maudlin Sally Struthersesque text accompanying the photos. The Natomo family in Mali—a family of fifteen—poses with a few large sacks of grain, one bottle of milk, and not much else. I was concerned about how this would make my kids feel. Not worried that they would feel sad about the Natomos so much, but that they’d be left feeling sorry for the people of Mali or even worse—smug about living in Supersize-Me-land. But the authors manage to tell it like it is without inspiring pity or fear.
Children will want to spend time studying the photos. International McDonald’s packaging offers a quick lesson in graphic design and brand recognition. Seahorses and cicadas-on-a-stick for sale in China allow you to see shrimp kebab with new eyes. Kids will want to reach right into the Egyptian cotton candy vendor’s supply. You might want to flip by the roasted whole guinea pig if you have a guinea pig as a pet—no disrespect to Ecuador intended. Kids who can read will love the narratives, how the families prepare their food, and what they do over the course of a day. That the Greenlandic father lists his favorite food as “polar bear” gives us a thrill every time we read it.
I am recommending this book to anyone who will listen. What’s on your must-read list these days?
What the World Eats
Photography by Peter Menzel
Written by Faith D’Aluisio