Hungry Planet: What the World Eats

Posted on February 17, 2012


Halfway into my junior year at Bentley University, I switched my major from marketing to media and culture. It really wasn’t such a big deal because of the way I approached my studies. Thanks to high school AP classes and exams, I managed to be almost a semester ahead entering college, allowing me to enroll in courses I otherwise would not have been able to take (shameless plug: woohoo, AP! Definitely worth the exam money!). I entered my undergraduate years with a similar mentality: get the required basics completed first so that the actual intention of my university schooling- a focus of study- can be pursued closer to my entrance into “the real world,” as we like to call it. Some might think it better to keep college studies mixed, but hearing the whines of peers taking classes like government 101 or science with a lab during their last fall or spring semester served as adequate reassurance of my earlier decisions.

Anyways, like I’ve said before, my last two years at Bentley were a bit tumultuous, and my ideals were in a state of major flux. A couple of internships left little to be desired of corporate marketing jobs, and the media and culture major was just coming into being. I was taking a digital video production course when my professor suggested I make the switch. I looked over the required courses, which included completing Bentley’s standard business core in addition to essentially minoring in a foreign language. The media classes were extremely attractive to me, but the foreign language req initially made me weary. I took French in middle and high school, but dropped it as soon as I could. At the time, I didn’t appreciate the value of learning a different language, whether for being able to communicate with an entirely different part of the world population or the study of language (syntax, semantics, morphology, etc) itself. After some gentle nudging and euphemistic “get-over-it” dialogue concerning the language req, I made the switch to this new and obscure major and never looked back.

Onto the meat of this post:

As is obvious to most by now, media is highly influential on the actions of society, and food consumption is no exception. In fact, I’m willing to argue that what and how we consume goods and services, especially in developed countries, is practically dictated by media, whether in the form of a commercial, sign, magazine article, advertisement, book, film, website… you get the point. And while the negative impact of media on consumption decisions is typically the focus of conversation, a whole lot of good can come out of it, too.

Hungry Planet, Part 1, Image 1Last spring, my food policy professor showed us part one of a TIME photo essay series based on the book Hungry Planet by Peter Menzel. The photos exhibit the weekly food consumption of families around the globe, featuring specific products, their approximate quantities, and total cost in both their native and US dollar amounts.

Hungry Planet, Part 1, Image 2Call it what you want, but I consider this art in one of its most objective forms. The images are both beautiful and disturbing, and incredibly telling of the strengths, weaknesses, and imbalance of societal consumption across nations. Viewer introspection is inevitable, though, much like the effect of any other form of media, some will be more moved than others.

Hungry Planet, Part 1, Image 3Given its format, the piece cuts across barriers such as age, education, language, and culture. Which is exactly why I chose to present it to the elementary school garden club I led last spring. The kids absolutely loved the exercise, and often wanted to return to photos they had previously looked at as a means of comparison between the families. I was blown away by their interest in and concern for details like family size, product choice, weekly food expenditure, apparent health status/emotional state, and living arrangement. It was an afternoon, like many others, that reaffirmed my choice to pursue work in food system amelioration.

Hungry Planet, Part 1, Image 4You can click here for Part 2 and here for Part 3 of this photo essay. If you have come across any pictorial media of a similar subject matter, please do share your discoveries by leaving a comment, with links or references, on this post.

Image credits: Hungry Planet, Peter Menzel via TIME.