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What the World Eats
June 5, 2007 11:03 AM   Subscribe

What the World Eats A photo slide show of images taken of families around the world, and the food they consume in one week. The commentary also provides the amount of money they have to spend, and what their favorite meals are.
posted by Dave Faris (117 comments total) 43 users marked this as a favorite

 
See also.

The book Hungry Planet: What the World Eats is highly recommended. Not just for the pictures but the great text and statistics.
posted by stbalbach at 11:08 AM on June 5, 2007


it's good, but i think it's a double.
posted by es_de_bah at 11:14 AM on June 5, 2007


Hey, that's cool. Man, it's really striking how much soda is in evidence in the pictures from the developed nations, especially the US and Mexico.
posted by gurple at 11:14 AM on June 5, 2007 [1 favorite]


and processed food in general, gurple.

Cool post
posted by Eekacat at 11:18 AM on June 5, 2007


Actually, Stbalbach, I think these photos are from that book. And it might be a double, sort of, of this post, which has some duplicate and some different photos, but none of the commentary.
posted by Dave Faris at 11:21 AM on June 5, 2007


Man, I thought this looked familiar.
posted by cortex at 11:23 AM on June 5, 2007


Wow, people drink a lot of soda. I wish they'd control for family size.
posted by These Premises Are Alarmed at 11:24 AM on June 5, 2007


The amount of packaging is frightening. What happens to the western/european food supply when we can no longer afford plastic packaging? I love the idea of buying local but it's not really practical in San Jose. The farmers markets generally happen during the workweek, during work hours, and they don't carry everthing. The notable exception is the one in downtown Santa Cruz, which was great when I lived there, but now that's a 50 mile round trip.
posted by doctor_negative at 11:28 AM on June 5, 2007


It was weird seeing almost no fruits & vegetables in the US (and a couple of other places). Just packages and pre-prepared food, like delivered pizza.
posted by treepour at 11:29 AM on June 5, 2007


and processed food in general, gurple.

Actually I was also struck by how much of the Mexican family's food was fresh fruits and veggies. From that perspective I think the most out-and-out appalling-looking spread was the North Carolinans', followed by the Californians'.

Those Cairo folks, though, they know how to eat!
posted by gurple at 11:29 AM on June 5, 2007


doctor_negative, could you take advantage of CSA or farm subscription?
posted by treepour at 11:33 AM on June 5, 2007


Mayonnaise sandwich? Mayonnaise sandwich?!
posted by Terminal Verbosity at 11:38 AM on June 5, 2007 [1 favorite]


Thanks for the post. My daughter and I just looked through it, I think we'll go through it again later.
And gurple, I thought the family from Germany was fairly excessive($500 U.S. a week!)
posted by Sailormom at 11:39 AM on June 5, 2007


Hey, Coca Cola - check out this untapped market!
posted by M.C. Lo-Carb! at 11:40 AM on June 5, 2007


In a couple of the pictures it looks like the family eats one or two children a week.
posted by Wonderwoman at 11:40 AM on June 5, 2007 [4 favorites]


The German food bill is phenomenal - but look at all the water! Can't they drink the tap water?

I love shit like this - there was a spread in Marie Claire years ago where families from different parts of the world had turned the contents of their living room on to the front yard - absolutely fascinating, I pored over it for hours.

I have a penchant for minutiae, I guess.
posted by goo at 11:41 AM on June 5, 2007


Fascinating.

We do our shopping in about three different places - Whole Foods, Trader Joe's, and a local famer's market. Wait - four places: a local Latin American grocery store.

When I go to the Latin American place, I'm always amazed at the amount of fresh produce people buy: huge bags of oranges, greens, avocados, limes, chiles, etc. Lots of tortillas (the clerks give you pitying looks if you only buy one bag, and they tell you that it's 3 bags for $1, in case you're too ignorant to know that).

At Whole Foods, where the draw is supposed to be Fresh! Organic! Food!, I see long lines of (white) people with carts full of prepackaged foods, and maybe a head of lettuce and three tomatoes. I shop at WF (where I used to work) mostly for the cheese, or the occasional piece of hormone-free/free-range/etc. meat.

Mostly, though, we get our veggies in a weekly delivery (from Planet Organics, for any Bay Area folk here) - good stuff!
posted by rtha at 11:44 AM on June 5, 2007


Almost every picture made me simultaneously happy and sad.

So much less food in some families than others! But the families all looked so happy! So much packaging, though, and preprepared foods!

Great images either way.
posted by elr at 11:45 AM on June 5, 2007


I see long lines of (white) people with carts full of prepackaged foods, and maybe a head of lettuce and three tomatoes.

There are a lot of whiteys, like me, who can't afford to do all of their grocery shopping at Whole Foods. I go there occasionally to pick up items unique to their store, but 25.00 will go farther at Sappington Market or even Schnucks for vegetables. At Whole Foods 25.00 will by me one onion, one potato, and two blueberries.
posted by pieoverdone at 11:51 AM on June 5, 2007 [1 favorite]


No way those images represent a week's food consumption. For instance, this is about a day's worth for that number of people, especially considering there are mostly fruits and veggies and all of them are fat (assuming the baby is nursing, we'll exclude him/her). That's eleven people...for a week?

Great Britain @$1000/month USD for 4 people? And in the USA, $1500/mth to feed a family of four on Domino's pizza, bacon and McDonald's. Yeah, right. This didn't make me feel guilty about feeding my family of four with fresh: chicken breast, veggies, milk, eggs cheese, rice, beans, legumes, beef, pork, fish, turkey and fruits, with no Coco Cola, ice cream, McDonald's, potato chips, etc., etc...for about $500/mth USD.

I admit though, this was a little disturbing. Assuming it's true.
posted by sluglicker at 11:57 AM on June 5, 2007


What happens to the western/european food supply when we can no longer afford plastic packaging?

Yeah, but look at the packaging with Japanese family. This isn't a western/eastern thing. Italians have loads of veggies, as do the Mexicans. Americans, Brits and Japanese all have few fruits and vegs and loads of packaging. Mongolians and Africans have few fresh fruits & vegs too, but that's a scarcity, climate, economic etc. issue. The East/west label is almost always meaningless.
posted by tula at 11:57 AM on June 5, 2007


doctor_negative writes "What happens to the western/european food supply when we can no longer afford plastic packaging? "

Western/European? Try visiting East Asia some time, man.

Also, we'll use paper (from poplar farms), glass, and bioplastics.
posted by mr_roboto at 11:59 AM on June 5, 2007


I see long lines of (white) people with carts full of prepackaged foods

Damn those cracka's and their pre-packaged foods! Are white people the only ones that buy pre-packaged foods? WTF?

Wait - four places: a local Latin American grocery store.
Do they have that bathtub cheese there?

I forgot the point I was going to make.
posted by MikeMc at 12:03 PM on June 5, 2007


tula writes "Italians have loads of veggies, as do the Mexicans."

The Mexican menu was striking both for the amount of fresh fruits and vegetables and the amount of Coca Cola. Both of which jibe pretty well with my experience of food in Mexico.
posted by mr_roboto at 12:04 PM on June 5, 2007


Michael Pollan would have a field day with these photos.
posted by blucevalo at 12:07 PM on June 5, 2007


The German food bill is phenomenal - but look at all the water! Can't they drink the tap water?

When I went over for Oktoberfest, I was caught out by how hard it was to buy a bottle of non-carbonated water in Munich. You could find it, but sparkling was very much the default. So it could be that it has not so much to do with the drinkability of tap as it does with the general preference for sparkling.
posted by cortex at 12:07 PM on June 5, 2007


I want to share one meal with each family, over two weeks. What an incredible adventure this must have been, for the families and for the photographer and crew.
posted by seawallrunner at 12:10 PM on June 5, 2007


I hate to say this, but since I don't like beer, coke goes really well with spicy Mexican food.
posted by tula at 12:10 PM on June 5, 2007


There are a lot of whiteys, like me, who can't afford to do all of their grocery shopping at Whole Foods. I go there occasionally to pick up items unique to their store, but 25.00 will go farther at Sappington Market or even Schnucks for vegetables. At Whole Foods 25.00 will by me one onion, one potato, and two blueberries.

I hear that. What I meant was that the folks I've seen seem to spend truckloads on that roasted chicken, the hot food from the deli, and frozen (organic! all-natural!) dinners. It's just funny to me - especially having worked there - that so much of the marketing of the store goes into the produce displays, and so many of the customers would rather spend their money on already-made-pot roast, or whatever. As I said above, I don't do all my shopping at WF either - I go there for select stuff, and maybe lots of other people do too. Different priorities for different folks. I don't drop a lot of cash on produce at WF either, unless I'm seduced by a beautiful stack of dry-farmed tomatoes from Santa Cruz...and then I head over to the meat counter and get some bacon.

mmm....[fill in your preferred food here]

Oh - and re: bathtub cheese - they do keep some bulk cheeses behind the counter, but I've never ordered any. Maybe next taco night...
posted by rtha at 12:12 PM on June 5, 2007


At Whole Foods 25.00 will by me one onion, one potato, and two blueberries.

But you'll absolutely treasure the experience of walking up and down Whole Foods' carefully designed (albeit absurdly crowded with people desiring to be seen shopping at Whole Foods) aisles and picking out those two blueberries.
posted by blucevalo at 12:12 PM on June 5, 2007 [1 favorite]


I see long lines of (white) people with carts full of prepackaged foods

Nothing like a little race-baiting to work up an appetite for some organic food, eh rtha?
posted by modernnomad at 12:18 PM on June 5, 2007


doctor_negative: So much produce is local to you, even at Safeway, just check! Maybe it's not from SJ, but if it's from California, it's pretty local, I'd say. Chilean nectarines in January, not so much.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 12:19 PM on June 5, 2007


The topic of food really makes us self-righteous, doesn't it?
posted by These Premises Are Alarmed at 12:23 PM on June 5, 2007 [2 favorites]


When I went over for Oktoberfest, I was caught out by how hard it was to buy a bottle of non-carbonated water in Munich.

When I went over for Oktoberfest, my wife and I tried to bring Nalgene bottles full of water into the tents, and they made us get rid of them. Sadly, that meant throwing them away.

I had assumed that the Germans just had an issue with people being adequately hydrated, but possibly it was that our water wasn't sparkling.
posted by gurple at 12:23 PM on June 5, 2007


And doctor_negative, if the Peninsula isn't too out of your range, the San Carlos farmer's market runs from 4-8 on Thursday evenings and the Redwood City market runs from 8-12 on Saturday mornings.
posted by padraigin at 12:24 PM on June 5, 2007


The topic of food really makes us self-righteous, doesn't it?

Or defensive, yeah. One or the other. I prefer self-righteous.
posted by gurple at 12:29 PM on June 5, 2007


Granted, there are certain cultural influences, as I think the packaging in Japan has reached new levels of insanity, but by and large, prepackaged/preprepared food is more prevalent in a dual income or single parent home simply because there isn't a homemaker around to spend the time to cook. Moreover, advantages in refrigeration also allow frozen foods to be stored, reducing the number of trips to market, versus a third world family who would have to make that trip daily.

Also, prepackaged does not necessarily mean unhealthy. I hit up Trader Joe's for cheap prepackaged dried unsugared mangoes. I could make it myself if I bought mangoes, sliced them up, and dessicated them. But why bother when they're there at the store for arguably less money than buying imported mangoes? I skipped the labor and reaped the health benefit, yay for me.

But yeah, that North Carolina family's diet just about made me gag. I'm no health nut, but whoa, that looked downright deadly.
posted by linux at 12:31 PM on June 5, 2007


In the Chinese picture, it looks like Bela Lugosi is advertising some sort of snack food on the TV.
posted by gurple at 12:36 PM on June 5, 2007


I see long lines of (white) people with carts full of prepackaged foods, and maybe a head of lettuce and three tomatoes.

White people shop like this! (mimics someone pushing a shopping cart using short choppy steps, pursed lips and ass-cheeks pushed together)

But Black people shop like this! (mimics someone strutting around with a basket in one hand making large exaggerated gestures as he grabs food with his other hand)

It's crazy!
posted by Bonzai at 12:36 PM on June 5, 2007 [9 favorites]


Great Britain @$1000/month USD for 4 people? And in the USA, $1500/mth to feed a family of four on Domino's pizza, bacon and McDonald's. Yeah, right. This didn't make me feel guilty about feeding my family of four with fresh: chicken breast, veggies, milk, eggs cheese, rice, beans, legumes, beef, pork, fish, turkey and fruits, with no Coco Cola, ice cream, McDonald's, potato chips, etc., etc...for about $500/mth USD.


If you got the actual Time mag, it breaks down the expenses:
For example, the first US family with the two pizzas:

Grains and starchy food: $17.92
Dairy: $14.51
Meat, fish, eggs: $54.92
Fruits and veggies: $41.07
Condiments: $12.51
Snacks and desserts: $21.27
Prepared food: $24.27
Fast food: $71.61
Restaurants: $6.15
Beverages: $77.75

Total: $341.98
posted by daninnj at 12:39 PM on June 5, 2007


there was a spread in Marie Claire years ago where families from different parts of the world had turned the contents of their living room on to the front yard - absolutely fascinating, I pored over it for hours.
posted by goo at 11:41 AM on June 5


I didn't read the Marie Claire article, but I think I have that book. It's called "Material World". But it looks like they brought out way, way more than just the contents of their living rooms. The book is indeed fascinating.

Looking at other people's belongings makes me feel like I'm snooping through closets (and pantries).
posted by vewystwange at 12:42 PM on June 5, 2007


We don't have a Whole Foods yet, and I've never really shopped in one (I stopped for a deli lunch on the way to Big Bear once). I am curious: Is it WF or TJ's as the only alternative grocery choices for most of you? We have a glut of hippie options here, so I'm totally spoiled.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 12:42 PM on June 5, 2007


Ok, let me rephrase that: what happens to the modern/first-world food supply when we can no longer use plastic for packaging? There's a whole lot of prepackaged stuff that really doesn't work without plastic. Canned spring water anybody? Would you buy a prepackaged piece of meat if it was wrapped in traditional butcher paper? How long will stuff like potato chips last when they aren't stored in a NASA designed plastic/foil bag?
posted by doctor_negative at 12:43 PM on June 5, 2007


These photos have been on exhibit at the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago for quite some time, no? If not these exact photos, then this exact concept.
posted by rlk at 12:47 PM on June 5, 2007


Great post.

I thing that eating is the ONLY thing I have in common with some of the people pictured.
posted by rouftop at 12:54 PM on June 5, 2007


I am curious: Is it WF or TJ's as the only alternative grocery choices for most of you?

For my family it's TJ's, a family-owned grocer with a nice meat section, a local farm stand and a nearby college with a great aggie program. But then I'm in California, where you can't swing a cat without getting fresh produce in its ears. When I made the move from Chicago, I stopped in a lot of little midwestern towns where the grocery stores sold almost nothing but processed food and pop. I don't know if that meant that there were little farmstands or local producers tucked away that only the locals knew about, but damn, if Piggly Wiggly is your main food option, you're in trouble.
posted by maryh at 1:01 PM on June 5, 2007


Interestingly, my diet seems to have more in common with the The Aboubakar family from Chad then anyone else's.

Except I eat a lot of dry cereal and oats. A bit more meat and dairy. And lately, a lot more fruit. But lots of rice and beans.

They also seem to pay a lot less for it. I'm lucky to get a pound of brown rice for 1.50 USD.

I also don't currently use a refrigerator, though, so that dictates a lot of what I buy and eat.

(I do have a "cold box" I use for the occasional items like butter, eggs, or a small jug of milk. It's one of those tiny little Peltier-chip coolers that runs on 12v DC. Sometimes I even plug it in. It's pretty pioneer-age for me right now. ;) )
posted by loquacious at 1:06 PM on June 5, 2007


doctor_negative writes "Canned spring water anybody?"

Dude. Glass. It's made from sand and trivially recyclable.

Also, bioplastics. More expensive than petroleum-derived plastics, but not much more.
posted by mr_roboto at 1:06 PM on June 5, 2007


I love to see what my household's weekly food would look like laid out all at once. I think I'd be happy with the amount of food, but startled at the amount of beer (although most of it is homemade).
posted by slogger at 1:10 PM on June 5, 2007


but damn, if Piggly Wiggly is your main food option, you're in trouble.

In the shithole midwestern hometown that I grew up in the only two grocery options are SuperWalMart and and a tiny IGA that has been open for 50 years or so. The produce at SuperWalMart is complete suck as far as selection or quality. Kroger went out of business because of the Wal Mart and the one produce stand that would open in the summer has been closed. I'm surprised central Illinois doesn't have some sort of scurvy and rickets epidemic.
posted by pieoverdone at 1:18 PM on June 5, 2007


Also, bioplastics. More expensive than petroleum-derived plastics, but not much more.

From that link:
Many bioplastics also lack the performance and ease of processing of traditional materials. Polylactic acid plastic is being used by a handful of small companies for water bottles. But shelf life is limited because the plastic is permeable to water - the bottles lose their contents and slowly deform. However, bioplastics are seeing some use in Europe, where they account for 60% of the biodegradable materials market. The most common end use market is for packaging materials. Japan has also been a pioneer in bioplastics, incorporating them into electronics and automobiles.

Looks like we have a ways to go on that.
posted by doctor_negative at 1:26 PM on June 5, 2007


...turned the contents of their living room on to the front yard
...I have that book. It's called "Material World."


Yes -- Peter Menzel (his website) is behind both books: Material World: A Global Family Portrait (1994) with this photo essay indeed based on his more recent book Hungry Planet: What the World Eats (2005) -- which was mentioned above.
posted by ericb at 1:28 PM on June 5, 2007


doctor_negative writes "Looks like we have a ways to go on that."

Well, even if the technology stays exactly where it is today while all the oil runs out, at least we have a suitable substitute for water packaging.
posted by mr_roboto at 1:35 PM on June 5, 2007


“I'm surprised central Illinois doesn't have some sort of scurvy and rickets epidemic.”

Seconded. When I was out there I could not find certain things if my life depended on it. Just had a nice blueberry, tofu, PB, yogurt, banana blend here with my big glass of fresh OJ - not at all possible in the middle of Illinois without a lot of ass pain.
Which is weird because you have all kindsa trucking routes.
Lotsa fresh corn though. And if you get into Amish country you can pick up some good stuff (although that can be a real hike).
posted by Smedleyman at 1:43 PM on June 5, 2007


These photos have been on exhibit at the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago for quite some time, no?

Yes Peter Menzel's exhibit was there from November 2006- January 2007.
posted by ericb at 1:46 PM on June 5, 2007


My wife and I easily have a food budget of $250-350 per week (including eating out - we eat near zero pre-processed food and the only pop I drink is what little is mixed in with my cocktails). We spend this much despite the fact we get free organic produce and lots of other trade out for food.

This fact caused some kind of conniptions in people last time the topic came up. Not sure why.

Of course we live in one the most expensive cities in the US. Exacerbated by the fact that we pay a premium on all our other foods, like wines, organic meats, organic fresh delivered dairy and lots of fresh fish. We buy only from local unsubsidized boutique producers and community agriculture.

My philosophy is I will never skimp on food and I try to make my purchases as ethical as possible. If you do this you see the true cost of our food in the US. The real cost of things like steak IS like $14 per Lb. The added justification is we save in other areas... like health care costs.

If we face a budget crisis I will cancel cable TV, Mobile Phone, internet, gym memberships, what have you first. In fact last year was the first year we HAD any of those things at home. But the food budget is sacrosanct.

Seeing these other Americans spend not much less than me and eating pure shit is disturbing.
posted by tkchrist at 1:51 PM on June 5, 2007 [1 favorite]


There are article reprints (from GEO, Marie Claire, PDN, Photo, etc.) about 'Hungry Planet: What the World Eats' available here (at Menzel's website).
posted by ericb at 1:51 PM on June 5, 2007


Only marginally related to the food issue at hand, but all the plastics talk reminded me of this link.
posted by Terminal Verbosity at 2:00 PM on June 5, 2007


That was a very interesting and thoughtprovoking essay, and it left me wanting more. Much more! I want to see singles, couples, people in long distance relationships... No, scratch that, I honestly want every demographic known to man photographed in front of their weekly food budget and I want it now! Step to it, Time! Chop-chop!
posted by soundofsuburbia at 2:09 PM on June 5, 2007


The Italian family uses Ragu?!
posted by ericthegardener at 2:23 PM on June 5, 2007 [1 favorite]


soundofsuburbia: you could do it for yourself, as I am thinking of doing... I have a big difference in food purchasing and consumption depending on whether I'm dieting/living right or not... I was considering doing this as a motivator, to visualize how efficient and economical it is to run off my reserves, so to speak!
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 2:23 PM on June 5, 2007


The limitedness of resources for the Sudanese family was the most striking thing for me. That's such a small amount of food for 6 people, even taking the sacks of grain(?) into account. And is that their drinking water in the bottle? Not much.

And second, yes, the amount of packaged processed food in most of the photos. It seems to be even more prevalent, and in more places than I'd recognized.

On a lighter note, I'm adding Peru and Bhutan to my list of places where I want to travel and try the cuisine before I die.
posted by Tehanu at 2:33 PM on June 5, 2007


Oh, it's millet. Oxfam has more information on the Sudanese family:

Aid groups provide the rations... about 2,100 calories per day per person in the form of a cereal, such as sorghum or millet, and small scoops of pulses and a corn-soy blend. The rations also include small amounts of sugar and salt.
posted by Tehanu at 2:41 PM on June 5, 2007


I am a supply chain consultant, and I've consulted at tons of grocers around the globe. This is a topic that I've thought about for a while, so let me give you my personal (biased) opinion.

There are three important factors in what people buy to eat: price, availability and convenience. Different people weigh these differently. But all these factors have to do with the food supply chain, and here's where the US has a a major problem: the population density is too low: people *drive* to their grocery store, which means that it's not convenient and thus they do it only a few times a week. That means that what they buy will also have to last longer, so pre-packaged food has an advantage.

But spread-out cities also means that stores are far more spread out than say Western Europe. So, a chain like Wal-Mart (or Whole Foods) has to ship food further, which is another big minus for fruit, veg and meat (the hardest categories to procure and sell anyway). Shipping food further (or at all) means trying to standardize its packaging, means you have to get food that spoils less easily and it means that you need to bring its overall cost down to justify the above (because for every tomato that goes bad at 5% profit margin, you have to sell 19 other tomatoes to make up the loss). If you don't try to bring cost down by pre-packaging or just handling less perishable foods, you have to bring your profit margins up (thus, Whole Foods).

It's a vicious circle: consumers have a (however weak) preference for less perishable food, and the further out city sprawl goes, the stronger that preference becomes, and food retailers cannot do much else but oblige.

You will find that a UK grocer (or a Spanish or Italian one) will have much better quality of perishable food (fruit, veg, meat and poultry) than your average US grocery store. This is even true in Australia, where although the country itself is huge, the cities are much denser than the US equivalents...
posted by costas at 2:44 PM on June 5, 2007 [19 favorites]


Bananas are almost universal.
posted by The corpse in the library at 2:44 PM on June 5, 2007


Thare are huge prints from Peter Menzel's Material World on display in the lobby of 1 Penn Plaza, for all you NYC MeFites. They've been there for a while, might be a permanent exhibit.
posted by bashos_frog at 2:49 PM on June 5, 2007


Ambrosia Voyeur: That's a good idea! I might just do that, I've thought about saving reciepts and such things, but taking photographs is a more interesting way to approach it! Thanks!

That makes me wish for one more thing though: the follow up. When kids raised in, say, a household that buys ready made meals grow up and move out, do they usually continue the tradition? I suppose so, but some must "rebel" and make an 180° turn. Well, I think it would be interesting to see, anyway.
posted by soundofsuburbia at 3:08 PM on June 5, 2007


That Mexican family had about 12 2-Litre bottles of Coke in the picture. That's almost 4 Litres of coke a day!
posted by reformedjerk at 3:08 PM on June 5, 2007


Costas -- great analysis. Now that I can walk to two boutique groceries, I shop more often for perishables of higher quality, and can get away with buying fewer items at a time that might spoil. Never put things together the way you did.

Tehanu -- I recently came back from Peru and can only say that the cuisine was NOT a high point. Aside from the amazing ceviche on the coast, Peru's food is pretty crappy. Even the giant choclo corn that looks so delicious can't hold a candle to the Silver Queen from New Jersey or Pennsylvania. Argentina, on the other hand.... oh yes.
posted by rouftop at 3:18 PM on June 5, 2007


soundofsuburbia: I definitely did, maybe not a 180° but a pretty good change of gears. My mom, stepdad and younger siblings still eat out at least half the time, and eat frozen food the other half, even though she's no longer a single parent and no longer in the work force, as she was until I left home. I prefer to cook, most nights anyway, as much fresh stuff as possible, viewing it as a cornerstone of a life well lived, but I can't take credit for it. I think liberal arts style education has everything to do with it, and as someone with greater income and education than my parents, I would wager that such changes correlate with class more than anything else.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 3:19 PM on June 5, 2007


ericthegardener writes "The Italian family uses Ragu?!"

Ragù.
posted by mr_roboto at 3:20 PM on June 5, 2007


Hillbilly Housewife on feeding a family (of 4 to 6) in the U.S. on $45 a week [previously].
posted by ericb at 3:36 PM on June 5, 2007 [1 favorite]


You will find that a UK grocer (or a Spanish or Italian one) will have much better quality of perishable food (fruit, veg, meat and poultry) than your average US grocery store.

Not at all. Not in my experience in major US cities. In the burbs and maybe rural areas of the US absolutely. But I lived in the UK for about five years and the quality of produce, (excepting dairy and some meats) particularly fruits, had much poorer quality and diversity. Diary was higher.

My experience in France, Spain and Italy though... yes... the quality of produce was universally higher on the continent than in both the UK and the US.
posted by tkchrist at 3:40 PM on June 5, 2007


tkchrist: Well, the UK has the same supply problem for produce as the US: most of the fruits and veg have to be shipped from the continent (Spain mostly). Even so, your average UK grocery probably has better produce than your average US one (exactly because most stores are in the suburbs; the ones in the cities not only have less supply problems, they get much more foot traffic as well, so they can risk buying fresher produce; it's the same feedback loop, really).
posted by costas at 4:12 PM on June 5, 2007


Land alive, I can't believe how poorly people eat. All that sugar water, what a complete and stupid waste of money and health! And so many families that exist on a carbs diet, virtually no fruit or vegs. Very sad, that, they are missing out on good-tasting, healthy foods.

Almost all my meals are nearly from-scratch. I can't imagine trying to live off a prepared-food diet. I'd rather kill myself.
posted by five fresh fish at 4:38 PM on June 5, 2007


Wow costas, I never saw it that way. Thanks!


Also: www.localharvest.org was noted up above as a source for fresh local goods, but I see its information about local farmers markets is severely lacking (for Sacramento anyway). A quick google search found me a much better source: farmersmarket.com
posted by Big_B at 4:51 PM on June 5, 2007


A couple more points on the supply chain begets food quality: bananas as noted above are pretty much a universal food. They are also the perfect perishable item as they ripe off the vine, even while in containers. Bananas can handle very long "lead times" (time spent on the way to the consumer essentially) than other perishables.

Now, say tomatoes on the other hand don't really ripen off the vine (well, a little bit maybe). Thus you get your standard, plasticy tomato in your big mega-store (and incidentally, tomatoes are one of the plants that someone always tries to improve thru GM).

Also, milk: high-pasteurization milk that's typical in the US, ships very well and can last much longer on the shelf. OTOH, low-pasteurization milk that's typical in Europe (shelf life 3-4 days) is much tastier (probably healthier too), but spoils easily and is thus much more expensive: European milk probably sells for 4-5 times of its US counterpart.

I am not saying one way or the other is preferable: cheaper, less tasty basic foods have some social merit (although they will always tend to lose out to processed foods taste-wise), but long-term you probably lose out in health costs as a society.
posted by costas at 5:32 PM on June 5, 2007


Awesome.

There was a similar project, in which families around the world were photographed in front of their houses with all of their posessions. I assume it was probably done by the same person. My Cultural Anthropology teacer showed us a bunch of images from the book this year, and it was just as interesting as this one.h
posted by CitrusFreak12 at 5:34 PM on June 5, 2007


Seems like bananas are universal. Almost every family had a bunch or two. Want a nana?
posted by HyperBlue at 5:46 PM on June 5, 2007


missing credit: Food stylist, Albert Speer
posted by rob511 at 7:08 PM on June 5, 2007


rob511 writes "missing credit: Food stylist, Albert Speer"

Huh?



Oh, I get it: 'cause they're German! That's funny!
posted by mr_roboto at 7:13 PM on June 5, 2007 [1 favorite]


Interestingly enough, the photojournalist Peter Menzel went to the same Japanese family for both his Material World living room shot as well as his Hungry Planet photo.

They still seem to have the same TV.
posted by popsciolist at 7:37 PM on June 5, 2007


THAT'S the one! Thank you vewystwange and popsciolist!
posted by CitrusFreak12 at 7:41 PM on June 5, 2007


No, m_r, it's because the items were lined up with such amazing precision.
posted by rob511 at 7:58 PM on June 5, 2007


Almost all my meals are nearly from-scratch. I can't imagine trying to live off a prepared-food diet. I'd rather kill myself.

Plenty of fresh fish, then?
posted by UbuRoivas at 8:08 PM on June 5, 2007


Folks, this is how the South lost the war of fatness.
posted by Mikey-San at 9:03 PM on June 5, 2007


Sashimi galore!
posted by five fresh fish at 9:35 PM on June 5, 2007


I went to Mexico last summer for a month of classes at the University of Sonora. The classes dealt with food science. I remember one of the professors starting his presentation by telling us about the one thing where Mexico came out on top over the U.S. It was in consumption of Coca Cola.
posted by catseatcheese at 10:06 PM on June 5, 2007


Seems to me the Germans' food cost more because they're clearly lushes.
Offensichtlich Sie mögen Bier und Wein... als mich. Prost!

posted by miss lynnster at 11:53 PM on June 5, 2007


Actually what struck me even more about the Germans is how much more organized and in order their food seemed. Made me giggle.
posted by miss lynnster at 12:03 AM on June 6, 2007


on the organisation: it was interesting that the americans & brits all seemed to hide their fresh fruit & veg up the back somewhere, as if it's so much more boring or something than all the glitzy packaged food, whereas the sicilians had the bread & the fresh produce right up front, centre, with the packaged stuff hidden away out back.

i'm sure that plates of beans figure in these diets (in the case of mexico, it's a dead cert) - anybody care to overanalyse the cultural arrangement of food any further?

i'll start by positing that the sicilians are emphasising their salt-of-the-earth wholesome goodness.
posted by UbuRoivas at 12:15 AM on June 6, 2007


Mongolia: The Batsuuri family of Ulaanbaatar

Food expenditure for one week: 41,985.85 togrogs or $40.02


I wonder whether they insist on the 0.15 togrogs in change, or do they leave that as a tip for the cashier at their friendly local Wal-Yurt?
posted by UbuRoivas at 12:27 AM on June 6, 2007 [1 favorite]


100 mongos to the togrog, UbuRoivas. (Though wikipedia tells me the mongo has fallen into disuse.)

Back on packaging for a sec, I'm not sure we deserve plastic.
posted by zamboni at 1:23 AM on June 6, 2007


Almost all my meals are nearly from-scratch. I can't imagine trying to live off a prepared-food diet. I'd rather kill myself.

Try working a low-wage, high-stress while supporting a family, maybe without the help of a partner or spouse. Throw in the stress of unpaid bills and rent, the possibility of eviction or repossession, and health insurance that eats up 30% of your already meager pacheck (or no health insurance at all). Then tell me you still want to spend one or two hours every night preparing, cooking, and cleaning up after a nearly-from-scratch meal. If the answer is yes, you must REALLY love cooking. I do too, so I understand, but most people just aren't that into it.

Maybe the people chronicled in this article don't have those specific problems (certainly the Europeans, at least, don't have to worry about health insurance costs), but it kind of bugs me to see everyone who isn't preparing a pound of locally-grown organic vegetables every night painted with the same dumb, lazy brush. That stuff is expensive, and unless it's something you truly enjoy, preparing food from scratch is hard, boring, tedious work (and that's before the cleanup). The last thing you want to do after a day of being paid to do hard, boring, tedious work is to come home and do more of it for free. I don't know what the answer is, but I do know that making people feel bad or stupid just because they don't have the time, money, or inclination to prepare home made organic meals every night is counterproductive.
posted by cilantro at 1:29 AM on June 6, 2007 [3 favorites]


Is that supposed to be what the people in the family eat? Because the Polish family (photo 8) has a stack of Whiskas on the table.
posted by pracowity at 1:30 AM on June 6, 2007 [1 favorite]


Ack! I hit post instead of preview. Anyway, here's the rest of what I was saying:

I think that some kind of program that offers financial incentives for the purchase of healthy, balanced food (prepared or not - there are healthy versions of ready meals out there, and there could be more) might be a start. It could be implemented at the point of purchase, or through a refund program, perhaps. The cost of such a program would, I think, be easily recouped in health care savings. The idea of taxing junk food is similar, but that is just so punitive and judgmental that I think it would backfire.
posted by cilantro at 1:34 AM on June 6, 2007


Try working a low-wage, high-stress while supporting a family, maybe without the help of a partner or spouse...

Yes, that's a bad combination that I'm sure would make many people want to just lie down and gobble potato chips all night, but it's no excuse for the 90-something percent without such a heap of troubles who nonetheless eat instant processed shit all the time.

The last thing you want to do after a day of being paid to do hard, boring, tedious work is to come home and do more of it for free.

And yet you have to. Having a home is work. Everyone has to do housework when they come home from the job. You cook, clean, and wash. If eating a diet of Insta-Snackos to avoid cooking and dishwashing hurts you and your family, you ought to try a little harder on your housework.

For most people, it's pretty simple: take your television out back and hit it with a rock, put a radio in the kitchen (or wear a portable), and get your news and entertainment while you're on your feet and taking care of family business. Chop up a big pile of stuff, throw it into a pot, boil it down, don't add salt or fat, and it will be part of good hot healthy meals for several days.
posted by pracowity at 3:33 AM on June 6, 2007


I am totally laughing that the photo from Sicily includes two cartons of Diana brand cigarettes.
posted by romakimmy at 4:11 AM on June 6, 2007


Then tell me you still want to spend one or two hours every night preparing, cooking, and cleaning up after a nearly-from-scratch meal.

Two hours? How hard is it to steam some veggies and make a couple of turkey burgers. What? Like 25 minutes "work?"

It's not like "cooking from scratch" requires baking pastries or seven course meals every night.

My wife and I are very busy people. We rarely spend more than an hour cooking. Rarely more than half an hour. Unless we have dinner guests. And we make almost zero preprepared meals. Excepting the occasional macaroni and cheese comfort food.

People may be tired. Or busy. They certainly are underpaid. But we don't COOK because we are frigg'n lazy, the effort involved is not a big deal. Let's not dance around it.
posted by tkchrist at 8:00 AM on June 6, 2007


I think the thing that stunned me the most is that Sudanese family could eat for a month on the money it takes to buy a coffee and pastry at Starbucks.

278 families could could eat for what the family in South Carolina spend on pizza, junk food, and chinese take out in a week.
posted by Dave Faris at 9:12 AM on June 6, 2007


Interesting pictures. Good post. Thanks.
posted by ClanvidHorse at 12:23 PM on June 6, 2007


tkchrist writes "Two hours? How hard is it to steam some veggies and make a couple of turkey burgers. What? Like 25 minutes 'work?'"

I enjoy cooking, but, yeah, pretty much everything I cook seems to take roughly 2 hours to cook, and that's for a single course. Lasagna? 2 hours. Curry? 2 hours. Heck, I'm just proud that I managed to get my tabouleh-making to under one hour. Some people just aren't that fast at cooking. Chopping takes time and measuring takes time. Not a complaint, because I enjoy cooking, but someone telling you it takes two hours to prepare a meal isn't necessarily blowing smoke up your ass or "dancing around" anything.
posted by Bugbread at 1:03 PM on June 6, 2007


I enjoy cooking, but, yeah, pretty much everything I cook seems to take roughly 2 hours to cook, and that's for a single course. Lasagna? 2 hours. Curry? 2 hours.

2 hours? I suppose if your simultaneously performing Butoh Theater.

I make lasagna in like 45 minutes. But then again I worked in restaurants through out college and high school and actually know how to prep and chop stuff up efficiently.

The point is it is perfectly achievable to prepare extremely healthy and tasty food for your family in under an hour. I do it five nights a week. Think about it. How many restaurants take 2 hours to prepare even the most lavish meals?

If you take longer than an hour to make a meal that has more to do with your take on enjoying the artistry of cooking and what you CHOOSE to prepare and less on why the average person doesn't cook.

My point still stands. Most people are simply too lazy to cook. If they weren't there wouldn't be TV dinners. It has little to do with how busy they are.
posted by tkchrist at 1:23 PM on June 6, 2007


This makes me think of the week challenge some legislators took, to live for a week on welfare. They found that to get the caloric load needed with the amount of money alloted for a week they almost had to eat junk food. Twinkies and the like are cheap and calorie dense, fresh veg is not. Not to mention, like the Hillbilly Housewife says, there is an assumption of a pantry with the basics already covered. Those pictures didn't include baking soda or salt, spices and all kinds of things.
posted by Belle O'Cosity at 2:13 PM on June 6, 2007


Why people think that their only two options are either fast food or 2 hours preparing lasagna is so totally beyond me. Get a freaking George Foreman grill and throw meat on there with spices & it's done in a couple of minutes. Microwave some veggies in 6 minutes. Make some pasta & throw some olive oil & spices on it. Grab a bag of salad lettuce, throw it in a bowl. Cut up a few tomatoes & stuff. Put some dressing on it. That takes five minutes. I'm allergic to preservatives so I have to eat things as close to the source as possible & that's gotten me really into using spices & fresh stuff. The biggest thing I've learned is that it's NOT time consuming to cook, in many ways it's quicker and in every way it's healther.

I've spent a lot of time listening to people make excuses to validate why they lazily fill their bodies with crap. I'm not sure who they're trying to convince. My 300 pound dad likes to tell me how Krispy Kremes are a convenient breakfast, but he drives 4 blocks to go get them when there are eggs sitting right in his fridge.
posted by miss lynnster at 3:38 PM on June 6, 2007


The skillet lasagna recipe devised by America's Test Kitchen takes about a half an hour, start to finish. It is magically delicious and negates an excuse for not cooking from scratch for at least one night of the week.

My knife skills mean that everything I cook looks like it was gnawed to bits by wild dogs, but I can bash out a tabbouleh in like, ten minutes.
posted by padraigin at 4:37 PM on June 6, 2007


tkchrist writes "I make lasagna in like 45 minutes. But then again I worked in restaurants through out college and high school and actually know how to prep and chop stuff up efficiently...If you take longer than an hour to make a meal that has more to do with your take on enjoying the artistry of cooking and what you CHOOSE to prepare and less on why the average person doesn't cook...My point still stands. Most people are simply too lazy to cook. If they weren't there wouldn't be TV dinners. It has little to do with how busy they are."

Well, you point it out yourself: you worked in restaurants, and now you're efficient at the prepping and chopping. Your average person probably didn't work in restaurants. Your average person probably doesn't have that history. So you put them in a kitchen, and it's going to take a long-ass time to make dinner, even if they're not busy enjoying the artistry. It takes a lot of time and effort to get fast.

So, yes, admittedly, in a sense, they don't cook because they're lazy. But your initial statement was along the lines of "it doesn't take much time, they're just being lazy". A more accurate statement would be "it takes a long time at the start, and eventually gets faster. They're too lazy to get over that hump". Lazy nonetheless, but not "too lazy to make a 30 minute meal", but "too lazy to put in 2 hours of work every day until they get faster".
posted by Bugbread at 5:47 PM on June 6, 2007


Actually, they're not lazy; they're stupid. They can't multitask and they make things in illogical order.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 6:48 PM on June 6, 2007 [1 favorite]


Haven't we had this discussion of real food v processed shit a million times before?

You don't need to be "efficient at the prepping and chopping" to cook for yourself, and, as miss lynnster points out, heaps of dishes take very little time to prepare. i can throw together things like curries, soups, pasta sauces, salads, stirfries, grills & so on in little more than 15 min prep time. Cook in bulk & you can freeze a portion of many of these dishes & eat another portion anytime over the next few days, just by popping it in the microwave.

The real problem, people tell me, is that in America it's just too difficult & expensive to buy fresh food. I still find it almost impossible to believe that it's cheaper to eat preprocessed crap, but I've heard this claim often enough to start believing it just might be true. I guess that's the price you pay for living in the self-proclaimed "greatest country on earth": no fresh food.
posted by UbuRoivas at 7:10 PM on June 6, 2007


Then tell me you still want to spend one or two hours every night preparing, cooking, and cleaning up after a nearly-from-scratch meal.

Forty-five minutes, tops, for most meals; and make the damn kids do the cleanup.

And by eating healthy, you'll be less sick, which will pay off bigtime. Especially if you're a low-wager.
posted by five fresh fish at 7:53 PM on June 6, 2007


I do know that making people feel bad or stupid just because they don't have the time, money, or inclination to prepare home made organic meals every night is counterproductive.

Any "bad" or "stupid" feeling you have as a result of what I wrote are entirely your own problem, 'cause I was talking about me, not you. If you are perfectly happy eating bagged food, you just go at it. No skin off my ass.

Get a freaking George Foreman grill and throw meat on there with spices & it's done in a couple of minutes. Microwave some veggies in 6 minutes. Make some pasta & throw some olive oil & spices on it. Grab a bag of salad lettuce, throw it in a bowl. Cut up a few tomatoes & stuff. Put some dressing on it. That takes five minutes.

Exactly. It's not like my wife and I are dining five-star style every night, though I'll admit even the mac and cheese tends to have a bit of onion sautee and a mix of soft (cottage) and hard (cheddar, asagio) cheeses.

I should pirate The Urban Peasant cookbook for y'all. A James Barber cookbook, long out of publication at this point. Simple, superb meals that take next to no time to prep and cook.
posted by five fresh fish at 8:02 PM on June 6, 2007


Also, two words: Slow. Cooker.

Soups, stews, chilis, and roasts to die for. All with bugger-all effort, and in a quantity large enough to freeze. (And it only gets better with some freezer aging. French onion soup, aged six months? Simply beyond!)
posted by five fresh fish at 8:05 PM on June 6, 2007


On the Katimavik program, my group of 12 people managed to feed ourselves on 3 dollars (CAD) per person per day. The food was great, too. We usually had money left over.

Just sayin'.

join a commune
posted by tehloki at 9:55 PM on June 6, 2007


Very cool post. I saw a bit of the BBC special here in the UK but wondered what the comparison to US consumption would be and now I know and much more!

At first I thought the costs were quite high, but I noticed that they also included re-usable items like condiments and spices.

Does anyone know if the families were chosen as representative sizes? Do households in Egypt typically have 12 members?? I was also really surprised at the lack of fresh produce in the American families, particularly California, but it may be because I grew up in SF and SD where healthy, fresh food was readily available and encouraged.

I think I have to side with the "cooking doesn't need to take 2 hours" point of view here. I cook for me and my boyfriend at least 4 times a week but I hardly spend more than 20 mins on actual work (prepping, stirring, etc) and it's ready to eat in 45 minutes or less. That could be about the same time as detouring home from work to pick up a takeaway. I actually pick my recipes based on a time limit and in the past 3 months I've hardly duplicated a meal. Really, it does not have to be hard and there's lots of resources out there. Thank goodness for the internet!
posted by like_neon at 1:19 AM on June 7, 2007


Just as a side note... my Krispy Kreme-eatin' dad lives in San Diego. So I'm thinking diet probably depends on the individuals' tastes a little.

And by the way... the last time someone tried to order a pizza at my house, I lost patience for the delivery time and ended up making myself a nice big salad & being done with my meal before the pizza arrived.
posted by miss lynnster at 1:24 AM on June 7, 2007


* scoffing down lazy bachelor food: spiral pasta with cannellini beans, butter, garlic, parsley & parmesan (mmm...Reggiano)

preparation time: one minute (plus ten minutes' wait)
cost: around a dollar
taste? priceless ;)
posted by UbuRoivas at 3:06 AM on June 7, 2007


Ah, who knows. Maybe its my kitchen's fault. Too damn small, so you can't multitask: the counter space is about 1.5 feet by 1.5 feet. Only enough space to do one thing at a time. And fridge, stove, pots, and pans are too small to cook more than one days' worth of food at a time (when my parents visited, we had to go out to eat baked fish, the simplest food in the universe to make, because each fish feeds 2, takes 20 minutes to cook, and the fish grill only cooks one fish at a time, so if we tried to cook it at home, the first fish would be stone cold before the second was finished).

Or, as Ambrosia Voyeur suggests, maybe I'm just stupid. Luckily, I'm the "likes to cook and stupid" type, not the "doesn't like cooking and stupid" type.
posted by Bugbread at 6:30 AM on June 7, 2007


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