Hungry Planet: a beautiful way to think about food, abundance and responsibility

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Perhaps you saw the pic of Joan’s little Bantam chook with her ducklings on Instagram?  We both have a few chooks and aside from the eggs, one of the things I love most about them is that they help to reduce my guilt over food waste. They're pretty efficient garbage disposals and at least something living is eating my leftovers rather than having them rot and turn into methane gas!

Food waste is becoming a global concern. Economists, environmentalists and human rights advocates are all on the same page: we have to stop wasting, start sharing, and get fresh food to people who need it. They’re the sort of goals everyone can get behind.

Sometimes, though, just getting the dinner plates emptied at home feels like a battle of global proportions. (It’s a maturity thing of course – most children will expand their appetites and their taste buds as they grow.)

One of my favourite picture books to pull out for finicky eaters (or for anyone who is feeling a little bit too comfortable in their first world life) is Hungry Planet: What the World Eats.  It’s beautiful and fascinating to look at and does a great job of putting an abundance of food  into perspective.

Thirty families from around the world are photographed with a week's worth of food – the contrast is the key. 

There are families from western nations who have tremendous abundance – so much in fact that it’s hard to imagine how they could possibly get through all the food. 

And there are families living in refugee camps with meagre portions of the simplest of foods.

There’s an essay about each family and the way families in their country and region live, as well as a breakdown of their food.  Best of all, there’s a recipe from each family and it can be both confronting and fun to try making a few.

Hungry Planet is packed with other stories and information about food and food security. 

There’s a collection of stats from each country including things like the percentage of population who are undernourished, the number of McDonalds restaurants, unemployment rates and so on. 

It’s a great book that adults and children find equally fascinating and it’s a great way to talk about food waste – much better than a dinnertime rant about finances or famine. (Since Hungry Planet was first published in 2007 the stats may be a little out of date almost ten years later, but they still provide a general framework for understanding the lives on display.)

If you’re looking for a bit of current information on food waste, this article from the NYT is interesting and National Geographic’s cover story this month is on the benefits of so-called ‘ugly’ fruit and veg – some really interesting graphs there

And, if you’re inspired to try cooking more simply and wasting less, Extending the Table by Joetta Handrich Schlabachis is a brilliant cookbook with recipes supplied by Mennonite families from around the world. Here’s one of our family’s favourites- sorry about the splatters, I’m a messy cook.

by Peter Menzel and Faith D’Aluisio - Penguin Random House 2007.
ages 3 to grown-up / coffee table, food, s.o.s.e., s.t.e.m.

Hungry Planet is available from:  Amazon - Book Depository - Booktopia
and Extending the Table from Amazon - Book Depository - Booktopia