Photojournalist Peter Menzel is a hearty and adventurous eater. “People love to feed him,” says his wife, former TV news producer Faith D’Aluisio. Menzel’s appetite has come in handy throughout the couples’ career—and not just because it helps him from going to bed hungry.
Being up for eating anything has literally opened doors for Menzel and D’Aluisio in their travels around the world. It has given them subject matter for their books Material World: A Global Family Portrait (1994); Women in the Material World; (1996) Man Eating Bugs (a 1999 James Beard Award winner); Hungry Planet (a 2006 James Beard Cookbook of the Year); and What the World Eats (2008). “We have traveled the world through the years,” D’Aluisio told PW, and “we have always eaten locally, usually with local people, and have always seen sitting down for a meal with folks as a way to commune quickly. We share something of ourselves when we sit for a meal—it’s not just a one-way street of interviewer and interviewee. Because of these points and more we have instant entrée into places that most people don’t get the chance to experience.”
Participating in meals around the world led Menzel and D’Aluisio, who live in California, to start noticing that both Americans and people in other countries seemed to be getting heavier—a subject they wanted to address in a new book, but “in as non-polemical manner as possible, allowing readers... to draw their own conclusions,” D’Aluisio said. What I Eat: Around the World in 80 Diets, which Ten Speed will publish August 10, features mini-profiles of an unemployed man who lives on the streets of Manhattan, a grandmother in Brazil’s Amazon rain forest, a Russian art restorer, a bread baker in Iran, a meat grinder in Minnesota, and 75 other people around the world. Each profile gives shows the person with a day’s worth of food on an ordinary day. They range from a Maasai herder in Kenya who consumes 800 calories one day, to a mother in Great Britain who takes in 12,300 calories—and no, that’s not a typo.
While Hungry Planet focused on what families around the world eat in a week—and how much it costs—What I Eat looks more at calories. Documenting the number of calories a person eats in a day was actually a greater challenge than tallying families’ weekly food spending. (Try calculating the fat content of the milk of cows in drought conditions versus non-drought conditions.) It’s a fascinating presentation, and readers can certainly draw their own conclusions from the profiles, not the least of which is the ubiquity of Nescafe. (Cook and Knorr bouillon and spice packets seem to pop up everywhere, too.) A shepherd in Spain drinks beer seemingly all day; an Indian woman who follows the traditional medicine Ayurveda drinks her own urine. But Menzel and D’Aluisio purposely don’t draw conclusions for readers. “It’s an important point of discovery [for readers] to find them,” D’Aluisio said.
So what do the authors eat in a day? The Napa Valley residents’ intake on an ordinary day includes Alaskan halibut, artisan bread, lots of fruit, and organic whole milk. Although they say they’ve always prided themselves on eating healthy cuisine, they eat a little differently now, avoiding “food products with ingredients that we don’t recognize” and eating local foods as much as possible. “If we have learned anything from these past four years of examining other people’s diets all over the world,” D’Aluisio said, “it’s that quantity and quality are equally important.” Menzel and D’Aluisio admit they each gained about eight pounds as the deadline for What I Eat approached and they had less time to exercise. But as they finished the book this past spring, Menzel was hopeful. They were getting ready to plant their vegetable garden.
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