July 13, 2007

What the World Eats

The hands-down most striking thing I've learned as I continue to integrate sustainability into my life is how deeply rooted the food supply is into everything I do. I worked on the graphic design for an incredible documentary film called Crude Impact, which traces our dependence on oil through every facet of our lifestyle (including food, clothing, transportation, etc), and I am constantly reminded of the supply chain now when I pick up a bag of hot dog buns or sample an organic strawberry at our local farmers' market.

This never-ending connection between the food on my plate and what it took to get it here seems even more extensive when I consider What the World Eats, a photo essay capturing a week's supply of food for average families across the globe (the photos are excerpted from Peter Menzel's Hungry Planet). I was reminded of this project when reading Sugar Mountain Farm's own version. Farmer and blogger Walter Jeffries describes the challenge of actually pulling out one week's worth of food, particularly given that the family tends to buy in bulk and eat very seasonally. Any photo would only capture a fraction of the family's dietary reality.

Given these challenges, it's easy to understand why we're all not emptying our fridges and laying our cabinets bare for all to see. But such an exercise forces us to consider two very important ideas:
  1. How much we pay for the food we eat. In Time's photo essay, for example, the difference is remarkable between the Aboubakar family of Breidjing Camp ($1.23/week: sacks of grain, rice, beans and what looks like small amounts of dried fruit), and the Revis family of North Carolina ($341.98/week: Diet Coke and Capri Sun, bags of chips, take out pizza).

  2. What we eat. It's easy to overlook our habits when we take each one in isolation; that order of fries at lunch was no big deal, but five days in a row?! Seeing everything in one place forces us to witness patterns and habits, for better or worse.
These immediate issues are significant ones for sure. But there are other, subtler, issues that are worth thinking about, too. What did it take to get this food to my plate? When the farmer hands me a tomato he's grown himself, there is an accountability and a reassurance that doesn't exist if I were to pick up a tomato at Safeway. The Safeway tomato must be treated to prevent it from over ripening before arrival, trucked across who knows how many states, and then stored in Safeway's own facilities. Not only is it not as fresh (although it may look deceivingly so), I have no idea what's been put on it, how it's been grown, etc. And I have nobody to ask.

All of this may seem obvious to those who make a conscious effort to eat locally and organic, but that's still a very small percentage of the population. Projects like What the World Eats quietly call attention to these subtler issues, and raise questions we may or may not have yet asked ourselves. Regardless of how and where we eat, and with whom, it can be a real eye opener to spread it all out in once place and take a cold, hard look.

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3 Comment(s)

Blogger Webomatica said...

Cool post. The photographs are from the book Hungry Planet by Peter Menzel; it's a good book to check out.

10:44 AM  
Blogger Jessie Jane said...

Yes, I should have mentioned that in the post! Off to correct...

11:21 AM  
Blogger lew! said...

I try hard to do the local thing as much as possible. Luckily in chicago there are quite a few farmer's markets and local restaurants that pride them selves on being local farm supporters.

I just wish locals could break into supermarkets! Then maybe it could be more affordable.

It's hard to take the step back from fruits, veggies and meats being available year round all under one roof.

I hope someday when i have a bigger kitchen i take up the old art of jarring local summer produce for winter use. It's a lot of work i know - but sounds so much more appetizing than a tomato shipped from south america (or wherever).

7:32 AM  

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