In 2006 my husband, photojournalist Peter Menzel, and I produced a book detailing the food that thirty families in twenty-four different countries consumed in one week’s time. Hungry Planet: What the World Eats presented portraits of these families each posed with one week’s worth of groceries. The response to the book and the subsequent exhibitions was overwhelming. But even before its publication we had begun a new global trek, taking our original concept — the food portrait — and applying it to individual people. We traveled the world again, this time photographing scores of different people from disparate backgrounds, each with one typical day’s worth of food. The result is What I Eat: Around the World in 80 Diets.
We wanted to improve our understanding of diet and culture, to document the growing impact of globalization on food, and to show examples of both healthy and not-so-healthy eating. (In the U.S., in particular, dietary choices and inactivity contribute significantly to four out of the six leading causes of death.) But this is not a clinical study or ethnographic food census. The meals depicted in the photos are based on what the person ate on a recent weekday — they do not represent daily caloric averages. Subjects often ate more or less on other days, depending on whether they were slimming down or indulging, or when the next paycheck or rain shower would come.
Despite the book’s focus on individuals, few of us like to eat alone. Peter and I had the pleasure of dining with many of our subjects as we worked our way around the world: beef-and-vegetable stew in Illinois; uttapam and idli in India; potluck Shabbat dinner in Israel; tsampa porridge on the Tibetan plateau; dark bread, honey, and cakes in Latvia; solyanka and stuffed peppers in Russia; pig-knuckle soup in China. Our joys in life are to break bread with friends, to reap a harvest from the earth, to know where our food comes from (and has been), and to cook and eat good food together.
— Faith D’Aluisio
The photographs on these and the following pages were originally printed in color in the book What I Eat: Around the World in 80 Diets, © 2010 by Peter Menzel and Faith D’Aluisio. They appear here by permission of the coauthors. To view more photos from the book, visit menzelphoto.com.