This is the first in what I hope will be a series of reviews of books with the label, "Books Your Kids Should Read But Probably Won't Unless You Read With Them." Every once in a while I come across a really spectacular book that I know a kid, even a kid who loves reading, will not be able to get the most out of on his or her own but will absolutely enjoy when shared with another. Sometimes there are books that are more interesting and fun when they are read together, and What The World Eats is definitely one of those books. As I read through both editions I was constantly pulling someone aside (my kids when I was at home, coworkers and even customers while I was at the bookstore...) to share interesting bits of information. I hope you will seek out the books with this label to read with your children.
What the World Eats is the young reader's version of the utterly amazing book Hungry Planet by Faith D'Aluisio and Peter Menzel, the team who brought us Material World, in which people pose next to all their worldly possessions - which have been artfully arranged outside of their domiciles. If you want to expose your children to the cultures of the world, the differences and similarities that exist between us, there is no better way than to be invited into their homes, as in Material World, and, even better, to have a seat at their dinner tables (if they have them) as in Hungry Planet.
With Hungry Planet, the team visited 30 families in 24 countries and photgraphed them with a week's worth of food for, totaling 600 meals. At the authors' expense, the thirty families purchased their food for the week and displayed it, in their kitchens, front yards, living rooms, whatever place could hold all the food and family members who would consume it for a full-page family portrait. What the World Eats is the slimmed-down edition of Hungry Planet, with text and charts made consumable for kids ages 7+.
The table of contents alone is amazing, with min-sized portraits of the 25 families featured in this edition along with the page numbers on which they appear. Their is an essay accompanying the family picture that details their information - ages, jobs, eating habits, household responsibilities and personal details that make their stories come to life. There is also a family recipe included. The pictures alone will attract and appeal to kids young and old. The essays are short, but, if kids read this book like I did, they will be so overwhelmed and fascinated by the photos that they will come back to the essay later or even skip it all together.
The most compelling information in the book, after the photos of all that food in one place, are the statistics that appear opposite each picture. The top of the page of every page begins: One Week's Food in January:" Then lists the cost in the money of the country and the cost in US dollars. From there the groceries are broken down, as are their costs. Grains, dairy, meat, fruit, condiments, snacks, prepared food, fast food and beverages are listed as are the cost for each. Each page also includes information about the country that vary and a map showing the location of the country. Every five families/countries, there are sections titled, "Photo Gallery," and "The Numbers." The photo galleries focus on kitchens, fast food, fish, street food and meals all over the world. "The Numbers" sections are almost as compelling as the pictures, with their kid friendly charts and graphs. They focus on population numbers, density, life expectancy and availability of safe drinking water. The charts also call attention to life expectancy and availability of safe drinking water in each country featured as well as literacy and fertility rates. And, they chart McDonald's restaurants, Big Mac prices and overweight and obese populations and the annual meat consumption and available daily caloric intake for each country. It is stunning to look through the book and compare families and information. The Aboubakars of Chad, a family of five, and their meagre food for the week spread out on a blanket in front of their tent in a refugee camp compared with almost any other family featured in the book will start a conversation between you and your child without any prompting on your part.
The main differences between the Hungry Planet and What the World Eats are 5 families, three countries and 75 meals, to be exact. Cuba, Germany and Italy and their corresponding families and information have been removed from What the World Eats, although I'm not sure why. Redundancies, perhaps. There are also essays in Hungry Planet by various authors with intriguing titles like, "McSlow," by Corby Kummer, a senior editor at the Atlantic Monthly magazine, "Diabesity," by Francine R Kaufman and "Food with a Face" by Michael Pollan, now popular author of the best sellers Omnivore's Dilemma and In Defense of Food, neither of which he had published with this book came out in 2005. Some of the pictures from the original are missing from the shorter kid's version as well, most notably the photo of Erika Madsen from Greenland gutting the seal that her husband and sons killed the night before in preparation for her signature seal stew, recipe included. The paperback of Hungry Planet costs almost the same as the abbreviated hardcover of What the World Eats and, in almost every instance except one I would say that the adult version is just as consumable (no pun intended, but how could I help it???) as the kid version. Information in What the World Eats that is presented in charts and graphs appears only as sidebars in Hungry Planet. The visual immediacy of the graphs and charts will have a much more immediate and lasting impact on your children when they read (or look at) this What the World Eats, especially the annual meat consumption that is illustrated with one chicken silhouette for every 10 pounds of meat consumed per person in each country. One chicken each for India and Bhutan. 25 and 27 chickens for Australia and United States. That's 250 and 270 pounds of meat PER PERSON a year is consumed in these countries compared to the 10 pounds a year per person in the largely vegetarian India and Bhutan. The overweight and obese population graphics employ multicolored circles within circles that represent total, overweight and obese males and females of the population. United States is compared with Chad. You don't want to know the numbers.
This is a book that BEGS to be read together, parent/adult and child. There is so much to look at, so much to talk about. Now a time when, despite the innovations in technology that seem to be making the world a smaller place, human beings are more and more isolated and individuated, regardless of the multitude of similarities that exist between us. Instead of the emotionless, cold communications via Twitter, text, email, chat room and blogging that we now use to stay "connected," take this opportunity to sit down with your children or children you love (after dinner, maybe?) to look at either of these amazing books and talk about the world by talking about food - a common denominator we all, young and old, have a gut reaction to.
Ok. I have to stop here. I have now made two puns in one review. Punning is something that does not come naturally to me and I try to avoid it. I have no idea why this is happening. Must be something about the food....