Photographer Peter Menzel and his wife, writer Faith D’Aluisio, embarked on a journey around the world to see what different people eat in a typical day.
Click here to see some diets >
“Our goal was to make people more aware of their own diets, ” says Menzel. “We saw America was getting bigger and bigger. We thought it would be easier for Americans to understand nutrition if we saw what people were consuming around the planet.”
Their book, What I Eat: Around the World in 80 Diets, profiles people ranging from a camel broker in Egypt to a Japanese sumo wrestler to a “snacker mum” in Great Britain. The profiles are ranked from lowest to highest caloric intake.
“More people should emulate the diet of Japan,” says Menzel. “They have a stressful kind of life similar to the United States, but have much better numbers for longevity and health. They also spend less on food. Part of the reason is because they consume more rice, soy and vegetables. The Japanese have a phrase — hara hachi bu, which means ‘stop eating when you’re 80 per cent full.'”
Name: Ruma Akhter
Weight: 86 pounds
Akhter is one of over 6,000 employees at the Ananta Apparels company in Dhaka, Bangladesh.
While nearly half of Bangladesh's population is employed in agriculture, in recent years the economic engine of Bangladesh has been its garment industry, and the country is now the world's fourth largest clothing exporter, ahead of India and the United States. Dependent on exports and fearing international sanctions, Bangladesh's garment industry has implemented rules outlawing child labour and setting standards for humane working conditions.
Name: Lan Guihua
Weight: 121 pounds
Her farmhouse is tucked into a bamboo-forested hillside beneath her husband's grave, and the courtyard opens onto a view of citrus groves and vegetable fields. Chickens and dogs roam freely in the packed-earth courtyard, and firewood and brush for her kitchen wok are stacked under the eaves.
Although homegrown vegetables and rice are her staples, chicken feathers and a bowl that held scalding water for easier feather plucking are clues to the meat course of a special meal for visitors. In this region, each rural family is its own little food factory and benefits from thousands of years of agricultural knowledge passed down from generation to generation.
Name: Chen Zhen
Height: 5' 5'
Weight: 106 pounds
Although she doesn't care for noodles or rice, a special rice roll is her favourite snack: black glutinous rice wrapped around youtiao (fried bread), pickled vegetables, mustard greens, and floss-like threads of dried pork.
Zhen and her friends eat at KFC about three times a week, something they couldn't afford without the company's coupons. Meanwhile, her father and grandparents, who live in a tiny apartment in northeast Shanghai, go without meat during the week so they can afford to share a special meal with Zhen on her weekend visits.
Name: Ahmed Ahmed Swaid
Height: 5' 7'
Weight: 148 pounds
Ahmed, who wears a jambiya dagger, as many Yemeni men do, has been a qat dealer in the old city souk for eight years. Although qat chewing isn't as severe a health hazard as smoking tobacco, it has drastic social, economic, and environmental consequences. When chewed, the leaves release a mild stimulant related to amphetamines. Qat is chewed several times a week by a large percentage of the population: 90 per cent of Yemen's men and 25 per cent of its women. Because growing qat is 10 to 20 times more profitable than other crops, scarce groundwater is being depleted to irrigate it, to the detriment of food crops and agricultural exports.
An engineering company executive and martial arts instructor in Cairo, Egypt eats 4,000 calories on a typical day
Name: George Bahna
Weight: 165 pounds
George eats four to five times a day but doesn't worry about gaining weight because he's active; working out in a special room in his flat and at the private Gezira Sporting Club near his apartment.
The Nile River bisects the cacophonous metropolis of Cairo, home to 17 million people, many of them very poor. Although Egypt's stock market and gross domestic product have risen steadily for the past four years, the standard of living for the average Egyptian has not. The government continues to provide food subsidies for those in need, creating a sizable budget deficit.
A long-distance truck driver and ex-biker from Mississippi, USA eats 5,400 calories on a typical day
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