The preface of this book should contain the following warning: You are about to get very jealous... and maybe a little hungry (depending upon what page you're on).
Over the 5-year evolving project that led to "What I Eat", Menzel and D'Aluisio traveled to 30 countries and discovered the culture of many different people through the foods each one ate - and shared some meals of their own as well. The journey sounds amazing, and lucky for us, it looks and reads that way too. The stunning photographs and well-written prose lift us out of our own kitchen and deposit us into those of a Spanish bullfighter, Iranian bread baker, Namibian diamond polisher, American farmer, Sumo wrestler, and Inuit Carver, to name a few.
Photographs of each of the 80 individuals profiled are shown with a day's worth of food; each item eaten is listed; and the Caloric intake for that particular day is displayed. Additional information is given about the person, including their trade or profession, age, height, weight, where they live, and details about how they live their life. The Caloric intakes range from 800 to 12,300, the latter being the intake of a binge-eater, and their weights range from under 100 lbs to well over 400. Surprisingly though, lower weights don't always match with a lower Caloric intake, and vice versa, as one would assume. This is probably due to many factors--differences in daily activity levels, the climate in which one lives, the types of foods being eaten, and most importantly--the fact that these calorie counts are only a moment in time, and not necessarily representative of what the subjects consume every day.
I appreciate the fact that the book never becomes preachy about food; it never really tells you how to eat or makes you feel guilty about your current diet, but it definitely makes you think about the amount and types of food you choose to consume on a daily basis. Through the photographs, stories, and essays by such notables as Pollan, Wrangham, Nestle, Trivedi, Collins, Young, Shell, and Berry--the book allows the reader to access the world's cultures through diet. The authors encourage us to take notice, and perhaps learn something about our personal food-culture in the process. One of the stories that made the largest impression on me was the Tibetan Yak Herder...or more accurately the Tibetan Yak Herder's wife, Phurba. The text describes how every morning Phurba wakes early to milk the yaks and gather yak dung to use for fuel, which is needed for all their cooking and heating. Her day is taken up by making butter, yogurt, and cheese from the fresh yak milk; making tea; and feeding her family. The description stands in stark contrast to life in America, where it is easy to forget heating a home doesn't always mean turning up a thermostat and that dairy products come from an animal before they were put on that grocery shelf. The book is truly eye-opening.
Considering that food is such a huge part of our lives, it's surprising that a book like this, and its predecessor, Hungry Planet, have never been published before. But thankfully, Menzel and D'Aluisio fill this very important void. So although I am still jealous that I physically didn't make the journey myself, I'm thankful someone did, and that their vibrant photojournalism captured every moment and generously shares with the reader.