{Photography as the ultimate Data Visualization} Hungry planet: What the world eats in a week

One of the outcomes of the 2014 Davos Summit was to highlight how global leaders and policy makers are struggling with the “Inequality Agenda”. Indeed, in the weeks leading up to the event, a plethora of leaders – from Pope Francis to IMF Chief Christine Lagarde – ensured their intend to tackle the issue was heard. Then, as the Daily Beast reported, it ended, not with a bang, but a whimper.

Notwithstanding the predicament to overcome political interests to fix this issue, one of the upfront difficulties is for citizens to even appreciate the human dimensions of inequality, so that they can in turn weigh in as voters and ultimately attempt to influence policies.

It is from that point of view that “Hungry Planet: What the World Eats” – a book published by photographer Peter Menzel and journalist Faith D’Alusio – turns out to be an unlikely reflection on economic data and statics. This was probably not the authors’ intention. Their goal was to travel across 24 countries and visit 30 families to document everything that an average family consumes in a given week – and what it costs. They wanted to emphasize that the social aspect surrounding a shared meal is fundamental to human life and is common to all cultures. That our dinner table tells us something about our culture and about the basis of our existence. They show that the food we eat reflects our identity. Food is indeed a major force of Globalization: it is transported by sea and road from all over the world, and our meals are becoming increasingly independent of seasons and of where we live. This directly affects our environments, cultures, and social systems – we just have to remember how the rising food prices fuelled the Arab Spring (see scientific American).

Yet the photo essay tells another story. In a seemingly unrelated way, it shows how decades of Davos, World Bank and UN reports on inequality have failed to put a human face on it. To appreciate this dissonance, just compare the chart created from the book showing each family’s weekly food expenditure with the unsettling contrasts of abundance and poverty exhibited by the photo essay. It shows the insanity of those $1.23 in Chad. It demands explanations on why this particular Norwegian family is way off the charts with those $731. It confirms expected differences within the same country such as in the US. It also reveals significant variations between meat, vegetables, carbs, fresh and processed food.

Just to be clear, the point here is not to dismiss the value of statistics. They have a rigour that the inductive nature of story telling necessarily misses. In fact, the book shows that the accompanying essays are needed to not lose the context of each image: for instance the Guatemalan family was shot during a big festival in the village, so they ate much more that week, and they were also relatively well-off. Africa is (once again) mis-presented and misrepresented with stereotypes of the whole continent as famine and conflict affected.

What this illustrates on the contrary is that whilst statistics are essential to quantify and reveal trends, excel charts will never convey the human reality of the issue. This is why economics will need to further integrate sociology and anthropology to remain relevant to the humanity it is intending to model and analyze.

Some of the places visited by Menzel and D’Alusio:

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Families and their weekly food behind the chart:

Norway: The Glad Ostensen family in Gjerdrum. Food expenditure for one week: 4265.89 Norwegian Kroner or $731.71. Favorite foods: mutton in cabbage, lasagne, and chocolate.Norway: The Glad Ostensen family in Gjerdrum. Food expenditure for one week: 4265.89 Norwegian Kroner or $731.71. Some of their favorite foods: mutton in cabbage, lasagne, and chocolate.

Luxembourg: The Kuttan-Kasses of Erpeldange - Food expenditure for one week: 347.64 Euros or $465.84. Favorite Foods: Shrimp pizza, Chicken in wine sauce, Turkish kebabs.Luxembourg: The Kuttan-Kasses of Erpeldange – Food expenditure for one week: 347.64 Euros or $465.84. Some of their favorite Foods: Shrimp pizza, Chicken in wine sauce, Turkish kebabs.

France: The Le Moines of Montreuil - Food expenditure for one week: 315.17 euros or $419.95. Favorite Foods: Delphine Le Moine's Apricot Tarts, pasta carbonara, Thai food.

France: The Le Moines of Montreuil – Food expenditure for one week: 315.17 euros or $419.95. Some of their favorite Foods: Delphine Le Moine’s Apricot Tarts, pasta carbonara, Thai food.

Norway: The Ottersland Dahl Family of Gjettum.   Food expenditure for one week: 2211.97 Norwegian Kroner; $379.41 USD. Favorite foods: fresh baked bread with butter and sugar, pancakes, tomato soup with macaroni and cold milk, yoghurtNorway: The Ottersland Dahl Family of Gjettum. Food expenditure for one week: 2211.97 Norwegian Kroner; $379.41 USD. Favorite foods: fresh baked bread with butter and sugar, pancakes, tomato soup with macaroni and cold milk, yoghurt.

Australia: The Browns of River View - Food expenditure for one week: 481.14 Australian dollars or US$376.45. Family Recipe: Marge Brown's Quandong (an Australian peach) Pie, Yogurt.Australia: The Brown family of River View – Food expenditure for one week: 481.14 Australian dollars or US$376.45. Family Recipe: Marge Brown’s Quandong (an Australian peach) Pie, Yogurt.

Canada: The Melansons of Iqaluit, Nunavut Territory - Food expenditure for one week: US$345. Favorite Foods: narwhal, polar bear, extra cheese stuffed crust pizza, watermelon.

Canada: The Melanson family of Iqaluit, Nunavut Territory – Food expenditure for one week: US$345. Some of their favorite Foods: narwhal, polar bear, extra cheese stuffed crust pizza, watermelon.

United States: The Revis family of North Carolina.  Food expenditure for one week: $341.98. Favorite foods: spaghetti, potatoes, sesame chicken.

United States: The Revis family of North Carolina. Food expenditure for one week: $341.98. Some of their favorite foods: spaghetti, potatoes, sesame chicken.

Germany: The Sturm Family of Hamburg.   Food Expenditure for One Week: € 253.29 ($325.81 USD). Favorite foods: salads, shrimp, buttered vegetables, sweet rice with cinnamon and sugar, pasta. Germany: The Sturm Family of Hamburg. Food Expenditure for One Week: € 253.29 ($325.81 USD). Some of their favorite foods: salads, shrimp, buttered vegetables, sweet rice with cinnamon and sugar, pasta.

Japan: The Ukita family of Kodaira City.   Food expenditure for one week: 37,699 Yen or $317.25.  Favorite foods: sashimi, fruit, cake, potato chips.
Japan: The Ukita family of Kodaira City. Food expenditure for one week: 37,699 Yen or $317.25. Some of their favorite foods: sashimi, fruit, cake, potato chips.

Greenland: The Madsens of Cap Hope - Food expenditure for one week: 1,928.80 Danish krone or $277.12. Favorite Foods: polar bear, narwhal skin, seal stew.

Greenland: The Madsen family in their living room with a week’s worth of food in Cap Hope Village, Greenland. The family spend 1,928.80 Danish krone or $277.12 a week on groceries. They cook with a gas stove, and have a refrigerator-freezer. Some of their favorite Foods: polar bear, narwhal skin, seal stew.

Italy: The Manzo family of Sicily.  Food expenditure for one week: 214.36 Euros or $260.11. Favorite foods: fish, pasta with ragu, hot dogs, frozen fish sticks.Italy: The Manzo family of Sicily. Food expenditure for one week: 214.36 Euros or $260.11. Some of their favorite foods: fish, pasta with ragu, hot dogs, frozen fish sticks.

Great Britain: The Bainton family of Cllingbourne Ducis.  Food expenditure for one week: 155.54 British Pounds or $253.15. Favorite foods: avocado, mayonnaise sandwich, prawn cocktail, chocolate fudge cake with cream.

Great Britain: The Bainton family of Cllingbourne Ducis. Food expenditure for one week: 155.54 British Pounds or $253.15. Some of their favorite foods: avocado, mayonnaise sandwich, prawn cocktail, chocolate fudge cake with cream.

United States: The Fernandezes of Texas - Food expenditure for one week: $242.48. Favorite Foods: Shrimp with Alfredo sauce, chicken mole, barbecue ribs, pizza..0001.xxf1rw

United States: The Fernandez family from Texas – Food expenditure for one week: $242.48. Some of their favorite Foods: Shrimp with Alfredo sauce, chicken mole, barbecue ribs, pizza.

Kuwait: The Al Haggan family of Kuwait City.  Food expenditure for one week: 63.63 dinar or $221.45. Family recipe: Chicken biryani with basmati rice.Kuwait: The Al Haggan family of Kuwait City. Food expenditure for one week: 63.63 dinar or $221.45. Family recipe: Chicken biryani with basmati rice.

Mexico: The Casales family of Cuernavaca.  Food expenditure for one week: 1,862.78 Mexican Pesos or $189.09. Favorite foods: pizza, crab, pasta, chicken.Mexico: The Casales family of Cuernavaca. Food expenditure for one week: 1,862.78 Mexican Pesos or $189.09. Favorite foods: pizza, crab, pasta, chicken.

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Bosnia
: The Dudo family in their living room with a week’s worth of food in Sarajevo. The family spend $167.43 a week on groceries. They cook with an electric stove, and a coal/wood stove, and have a refrigerator-freezer.

United States: The Caven family of California.  Food expenditure for one week: $159.18. Favorite foods: beef stew, berry yogurt sundae, clam chowder, ice cream.

United States: The Caven family in their kitchen with a week’s worth of food in American Canyon, California. Food expenditure for one week: $159.18. They cook with an electric stove, microwave and outdoor BBQ, and have a refrigerator-freezer and a freezer. Favorite foods: beef stew, berry yogurt sundae, clam chowder, ice cream.

China: The Dong family of Beijing.  Food expenditure for one week: 1,233.76 Yuan or $155.06. Favorite foods: fried shredded pork with sweet and sour sauce.China: The Dong family of Beijing. Food expenditure for one week: 1,233.76 Yuan or $155.06. Favorite foods: fried shredded pork with sweet and sour sauce.

Poland: The Sobczynscy family of Konstancin-Jeziorna.  Food expenditure for one week: 582.48 Zlotys or $151.27. Family recipe: Pig's knuckles with carrots, celery and parsnips.Poland: The Sobczynscy family of Konstancin-Jeziorna. Food expenditure for one week: 582.48 Zlotys or $151.27. Family recipe: Pig’s knuckles with carrots, celery and parsnips.

Turkey: The Celiks of Istanbul - Food expenditure for one week: 198.48 New Turkish liras or $145.88. Favorite Foods: Melahat's Puffed Pastries.Turkey: The Celik family in the main room of their three-room apartment, with a week’s worth of food in Istanbul. The family, which spans three generations, spend $145.88 a week on groceries. They cook with a gas stove and have a refrigerator-freezer. Some of their favorite Foods: Melahat’s Puffed Pastries.

Guatemala: The Mendozas of Todos Santos - Food expenditure for one week: 573 Quetzales or $75.70. Family Recipe: Turkey Stew and Susana Perez Matias's Sheep Soup.
Guatemala: The Mendozas of Todos Santos – Food expenditure for one week: 573 Quetzales or $75.70. Family Recipe: Turkey Stew and Susana Perez Matias’s Sheep Soup.

Egypt: The Ahmed family of Cairo.  Food expenditure for one week: 387.85 Egyptian Pounds or $68.53. Family recipe: Okra and mutton.Egypt: The Ahmed family of Cairo. Food expenditure for one week: 387.85 Egyptian Pounds or $68.53. Family recipe: Okra and mutton.

Mongolia: The Batsuuri family of Ulaanbaatar.  Food expenditure for one week: 41,985.85 togrogs or $40.02. Family recipe: Mutton dumplings.
Mongolia: The Batsuuri family in their apartment with a week’s worth of food in Ulaanbaatar, the capital city of Mongolia. The family spend $40.02 a week on groceries. They cook with shared electric and coal stoves, and have a shared refrigerator-freezer. Family recipe: Mutton dumplings.

India: The Patkars of Ujjain - Food expenditure for one week: 1,636.25 rupees or $39.27. Family Recipe: Sangeeta Patkar's Poha (Rice Flakes).India: The Patkar family in their living room with a week’s worth of food in Madhya Pradesh, India. The family spend 1,636.25 rupees or $39.27 a week on groceries. They cook with a gas stove, and have a refrigerator-freezer. Family Recipe: Sangeeta Patkar’s Poha (Rice Flakes).

Ecuador: The Ayme family of Tingo.  Food expenditure for one week: $31.55. Family recipe: Potato soup with cabbage.Ecuador: The Ayme family with a week’s worth of food in Tingo. The family, which are potato and sheep farmers, spend $31.55 a week on groceries. They cook with a wood fire and preserve food by natural drying. Family recipe: Potato soup with cabbage.

Mali: The Natomos of Kouakourou - Food expenditure for one week: 17,670 francs or $26.39. Family Recipe: Natomo Family Rice Dish.

Mali: The Natomo family on the roof of their house with a week’s worth of food in Kouakourou. The family spend 17,670 francs or $26.39 a week on groceries. They cook with a wood fire, and preserve food by drying. Family Recipe: Natomo Family Rice Dish.

Bhutan: The Namgay family of Shingkhey Village.  Food expenditure for one week: 224.93 ngultrum or $5.03. Family recipe: Mushroom, cheese and pork.

Bhutan: The Namgay family in their prayer room with a week’s worth of food in the Shingkhey Village. Food expenditure for one week: 224.93 ngultrum or $5.03.  They cook with a clay stove fueled by wood fire, and preserve food by drying. Family recipe: Mushroom, cheese and pork.

Chad: The Aboubakar family of Breidjing Camp.  Food expenditure for one week: 685 CFA Francs or $1.23. Favorite foods: soup with fresh sheep meat.Chad: The Aboubakar family of Breidjing Camp. Food expenditure for one week: 685 CFA Francs or $1.23. Typical foods: soup with fresh sheep meat.

Sydney – 1 March 2014

Sources:
– “Hungry Planet: What the World Eats” – Peter Menzel and Faith D’Alusio
– Nobel Peace Center https://www.nobelpeacecenter.org/en/exhibitions/hungry-planet/

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