Hungry Planet : What the World Eats - Book Review

Hungry Planet : What the World Eats - Book Review

The James Beard Awards celebrate the best in America’s culinary heritage. Whether centered around preserving ethnicity, designing new combinations of flavor, or serving within a select demographic, the importance of food cannot be ignored. These accomplished award winners are chefs, restaurateurs, service professionals, designers, broadcast media and authors who catch the public eye and touch the palate in extraordinary ways.

This Beer Fox was with Beer Hunter Michael Jackson at the 16th Annual James Beard Awards Ceremony and Reception in 2006, the year he won the James Beard Medal in the Wine & Spirits Category of Book Awards. His book, Whiskey: The Definitive World Guide captured the imagination of connoisseurs worldwide by introducing ingredients, processes, and local color used in whiskey production across the globe. Chapters enhanced by industry authorities, including Dale deGroff, David Broom, Martine Nouet and Ian Wisniewski, added to the magic of this superior anthology.

In the course of the nomination announcements, a huge, on-stage screen supplemented each presentation with images for the audience – images that illustrated themes within restaurants, as well as the foods, photography, and books around which our lives revolve. As a “foodie” who writes about beer, I was enchanted by a number of entries, including The Cook’s Book, by Jill Norman, Bones: Recipes, History & Lore by Jennifer McLagan, and Hungry Planet: What the World Eats by Peter Menzel and Faith D’Aluisio.

So intense was this impression, that I was unable to leave the memory of these books at the Awards Ceremony. Two years later, the compulsion overtook me. Hungry Planet: What the World Eats stood on the shelf at my local bookshop, tempting me with what lived within the covers. This masterful display of “what the world eats,” is so alive that, as I read, I become a participant in every global society through which we pass.

Each chapter (organized by country) begins with a photograph of a “typical” family unit. The families are posed within their living quarters, surrounded by the food consumed in an average week. We feel as if we are peering into their personal lives. We know how much they spend on this food, (converted into US dollars). We see what they wear, how their family unit is structured, and what we would encounter in the marketplace where they shop. We are exposed to the sudden realization that some societies physically work for an entire lifetime at the meager chance for survival, so harsh are their living conditions. In other societies, the threat of obesity and diabetes looms with constancy, despite an affluence that, in theory, should be the key to longevity and health.

The authors give us extraordinary details about foods in each land – how animals are slaughtered and preserved without refrigeration; the method used to patiently separate barley grains from sand; or the necessity of constantly hand-filling an animal trough with water, because the earth and the heat claim its own share. We imagine surviving on skewered scorpions, seahorses, cicadas and silkworm pupae; Spit-roasted cui (Guinea pig), narwhal skin, polar bear, and camel; Khova (partially caramelized condensed milk), mung beans, spiny lobster, and aiysh (porridge); espresso coffee, well water, jasmine tea, cocoa, and Ur-bock beer. We also contemplate the effect of preservatives, prepared foods, and fast-food franchises on our daily lives in the Western world.

So fascinated was I with this voyeur’s look into the personal eating habits within our fellow global societies, that I was unable to put this book down. As a documentary on global survival, it is superb. As a catalyst to our own self-examination, it is invaluable. It does not read like a novel, but is a rich tapestry that can be digested in bits and pieces – with leisure, or as an all-consuming, intellectual work.

As a beer writer, this work stimulates thought on more complex levels, and elicits a path of greater discovery about food for me, the reader. I wander through the pages and thus, through the world, and the American Craft Brewer comes into my mind. Although Menzel and D'Aluisio do not explore this aspect of North American or European drink in any great detail, their ideas about food and the accompanying photography compel me to think about what also nourishes the human body in healthy ways. Craft brewers are dedicated to creating a beverage from the world’s harvest. The very processes of malting, milling, and fermentation celebrate that which is natural, and not the over-processed, super-preserved foods and beverages of the mega-marketers. Craft Brewers fight against the global conglomerates that have convinced us that Lite Beer is good for us, French fries and catsup are natural vegetables, or carbonated soda-pop belongs at a child’s party.

Brewers are willing to experiment with variety in barley, wheat, sorghum, and other grains. They keep records on the action of various yeast strains, and note the character imparted by each variety of hops. They smell their product, making note of every nuance detected – floral, malty sweet, fruitlike, resiny or medicinal. They understand the importance of the water supply. They think about the product. Beer is, after all, what the world eats that is natural and healthy in moderation.

Hungry Planet: What the World Eats - By: Peter Menzel and Faith D’Aluisio, Material World Books and Ten Speed Press, © 2005 is the medal winner of the 2006 James Beard Award in the Writings on Food Category of the Book Awards. For more information, click on: Hungry Planet: What the World Eats


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