What do you in eat in an average week? How much of what you eat is shaped by culture? How much is shaped by your access to fresh fruits and vegetables? How would your diet change if you grew your own food?
Award-winning photojournalist Peter Menzel examined what families in 24 countries eat in a week, in his book Hungry Planet: What the World Eats (Material World Books, Ten Speed Press, 2005). The book’s vivid family portraits and intimate interviews won Menzel and his wife and co-author Faith D’Aluisio the James Beard Best Book Award in 2006 for their extraordinary journalistic work.
The photo expose gained recent attention on Time Photos, ABC News, The Guardian, and blogs such as Fstoppers. Why are people drawn to this imagery? Each of Menzel’s photos speaks a thousand words about culture, equality, and health. The economics of industry and trade become paramount. Personal and national wealth are brought into comparative focus.
Disparities in a week’s worth of fresh fruits and vegetables from one photo to the next fascinates me. An American family with $342 worth of processed drinks, snacks, and meats is put in plain focus next to an Ecuadorian family’s $32 grain and produce diet. Why are these diets so diametrically opposed? What public health implications are raised?
Since the publication of these photos eight years ago the American diet has freshened for some, but for many it remains dominated by the highly processed products of agribusiness. With obesity and diabetes on the rise and fresh food inaccessible to many, we are beginning to see a resurgence in vegetable gardening. Impoverished areas of Philadelphia and Detroit increasingly look toward gardening as an empowering and practical solution to fresh food access. Public schools, such as those in Cambridge, MA are incorporating gardening into curriculum to reconnect kids with their food. Immigrant families are able to grow their own produce rather than relying on imports.
Access to fresh fruits and vegetables is essential in maintaining a healthy city, regardless of geography. Urban gardening proves fruitful in empowering, educating, and localizing production. When there’s no space on the ground, we must look to the roof for a food solution.