02 July 2011

Hungry Planet- Tell Me More

I've been rereading this book (actually, I'm not sure if I've ever sat down and read every word in it, or just read sections and looked through it a lot) but this time around I'm reading it with very different eyes after spending 6 months in Tokmok.  A year in Bishkek didn't make a big difference, because shopping, cooking, and eating weren't quite so different from what I was used to in the US.  This is not to criticize the book at all; it's just that I've found that there's more to what a family eats than what this book covers.

There are 3 things so far that I wish the book addressed better: water, kitchens, and the logistics of actually photographing the food.  All of them are covered in the book, certainly, but I think all three should play a more central role.  Every section has photo of the family with their week's food surrounding them, a list of that food and how much it costs, and how the family can cook and preserve food.

Water is listed in the beverage section; if a family purchases bottled water, it's in the photo, but if there's plumbing or if the water is hauled inside, it's not there.  The family in a refugee camp had their ration of water listed, but I don't think anyone else has their water usage listed, and I think that's an oversight because water usage varies so greatly around the world.  It also make a difference if there's a family well, and if it has a pump, or how far water has to be hauled if there isn't a water source nearby.  All this does come out in the text, usually, but I feel that it should have been more clearly addressed in the tables at the beginning of each section because water is even more important than food, and it's a precious resource.  And because I think lots of people reading this book look at the photos and the tables more than reading all the of text (like me).

I also think there should be photos of every kitchen.  Some of the families are posed in their kitchens or cooking areas with their food, but you can't see the area very well, or there isn't a photo of it at all.  If you're going to write about food, kitchens are important, especially when the target audience of this book is certainly wealthy people.  Honestly, before I moved here, I would have thought that I could never have cooked in a kitchen like the one I have now.

Finally, I wanted to know more about how they actually managed to photograph all that food.  As an American, it doesn't seem odd to go to the store and purchase a week's worth of food and then photograph it.  That's a fairly normal thing to do (the purchasing part, not the photographing part).  But it would be totally crazy to buy that much food here at once.  They do mention, like in the section on the rural Chinese family, that no one there would ever buy that much food at a time, and the authors write about having to help carry all that food home, but that just underscored something else that was missing- how food was transported.

I couldn't produce a photo like that of my family's food for a week in Tokmok.  I physically couldn't carry that much food home, and half of the produce and the milk would go bad before we could get to it.  In fact, the milk would be the hardest thing to photograph and I'm not sure I could even find enough bagged milk in Tokmok in one day, nor can I buy a week's worth of milk from my neighbor (I use that milk for cheese and yogurt and butter).  But there were photos in the book that acknowledged that the amount in the photo was only one day's worth of one type of food.  Of course, if you're growing most of your own produce you can preserve it or store it so that you don't have to shop for it every day; you could photograph a week's worth of it.

So I'm left more curious about the kitchens and the water, and far more curious about how the photographs were managed, and what happened to all that food after.


  1. Interesting perspective. Thanks for your thoughts.

  2. Fascinating. Question for you: how do you get books? Do you order them over the internet? Is the mail service very reliable? Do you stock up on books during trips?

  3. Swedemom, we use ebooks instead of paper books. Here's a post about it: