What the world eats

While reading Barbara Kingsolver’s excellent book entitled Animal,Vegetable, Miracle, I learned a new term: nutrition transition. Nutrition transition refers to the concept that as wealth climbs nutrition falls. What? Is it just me, or does this seem backwards?

You can see nutrition transition in a series of images on MSN last week. The images show families from around the globe with a week’s worth of their food purchases. 

What the World Eats

"Hungry Planet" excerpt © Peter Menzel and Faith D'Aluisio

"Hungry Planet" excerpt © Peter Menzel and Faith D'Aluisio

"Hungry Planet" excerpt © Peter Menzel and Faith D'Aluisio

"Hungry Planet" excerpt © Peter Menzel and Faith D'Aluisio

"Hungry Planet" excerpt © Peter Menzel and Faith D'Aluisio

© Peter Menzel www.menzelphoto.com from the book Hungry Planet: What the World Eats

Which week’s worth of food would you like to eat?

As a country’s wealth climbs, foods that are naturally rich in vitamins, minerals, and micronutrients are often replaced with foods heavy in sugar, sodium, and saturated fat. But why?

Being wealthy doesn’t have to mean eating foods high in sugar, sodium, and saturated fat. Wealth doesn’t have to mean switching to products found in boxes and plastic, or foods shipped from thousands of miles away. We can choose to eat local, whole foods regardless of our income level or level of busyness. 

The easiest way to do this is to shop at your local farmer’s market. See LocalHarvest.org to find local markets, farms, and Community Support Agriculture (CSA) opportunities.

OK, I’m getting off my soap box and on to my bike. It’s time to see what’s new at the farmer’s market. It’s a gorgeous sunny fall day in Seattle; time to get some vitamin D.

Sidenote: Food and family images, typical family recipes, weekly family food-intake lists, and essays are included in the book Hungry Planet: What the World Eats; photographed by Peter Menzel and written by Faith D’Alusio. I just put a copy on hold at my library, along with Peter’s earlier book: Material World: A Global Family Portrait.

NPR story on ‘Hungry Planet: What the World Eats’


  1. So fascinating. I saw these images in Time magazine earlier, and just love studying them. It sure goes against the argument that junk food and packaged food is cheaper than healthy food. The people with the lowest income eat the healthiest food!

    It’s also just interesting to see how incredibly different the diets are.

    Thanks for the post. Hope you scored at the Farmer’s Market, and had a nice bike ride.

  2. I haven’t read Kingsolver’s latest (but oh! how I love her!), but I was struck by the photo set you highlight above. I didn’t note affluence as much as a sense of “Westernization” (oh wait, affluence and Westernization seem to be synonomous these days, eh?) in how families ate. I’ve worked in health-related nonprofits for awhile and the claims are always that poor folks in the USA eat horribly, yet as incomes increase in developing countries, so do rates of type 2 diabetes and heart disease. So, your post makes me wonder–is it wealth or Westernization or…what? It seems so counterintuitive that as our ability to spend more on food increases the less likely we are to buy healthy foods, yet the primary complaint is that poor folks can’t afford to eat well.

    I’m just…confused!

    • It is all confusing. Other countries are developing a taste for our Western culture and diet. Why, I do not know. And as they do, health issues from our Western world follow – like diabetes and obesity. In countries were food is an important part of their culture, some people have fought back; i.e. the origins of the Slow Movement in Italy. And farmer’s markets are growing in popularity in the US. Yay!

      The cost of cheap processed food is expensive – not just environmentally speaking, but also to our health and well being.

  3. i’ve seen this a few years ago. enlightening though all you really need to do to be aware of what’s going on is look into people’s grocery carts and baskets at whatever type of store you go (try not to get too mad, like i do, at all the JUNK). thanks for the reminder to eat more simply. my vice is eating away from home too much, although i have a stockpile that’s amazing. it’s what happens when i get away from menu planning and just generally get lazy. work-in-progress … and i can certainly work harder.

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