Last week, my daughter and I visited a book store, and I noticed a book that I wanted to show her. “Come here, honey, look at this,” I said. She rolled her eyes, ever-so-slightly. At six, she’s already learning that there’s a potential lesson in everything…and that sometimes Mommy goes overboard in trying to teach it.
The book in question isn’t new. but it’s worth a renewed look. It’s named Hungry Planet: What the World Eats, and it’s a brilliant, simple book, by Peter Menzel and Faith D’Alusio. Each chapter is a portrait of a single family (there are 30 families from around the world featured) photographed with a week’s worth of groceries. From the Aboubakar family of Chad, which spends $1.23 per week on food, to the Melander family of Germany, whose weekly food budget is more than 400 times that, the book reveals startling differences in how we all live.
I’d seen it before. But my daughter hadn’t.
She came over to me and we sat down on the floor together, turning the pages slowly. Several things struck me as I looked at these images — how prevalent Coca Cola is across the planet, the voluminous plastic packaging that surrounds the foods of industrialized nations, the beauty and color of diets with lots of fresh produce, the amount some families spend on bottled beverages and fast foods.
But my daughter, with her six-year old eyes, noticed only one thing: how little some people had. She flipped back and forth between the Chad family and a grinning family from North Carolina. “I mean, look at this, Mommy. Just look at how little is here…and how much is here.”
Eyes wide, she flipped the pages. Back and forth. Then she looked at me, eyes searching me for an answer.
I often tell her how lucky she is, because — protestations of “I’m hungry!” when she really means “I want sugar!” aside — she has never known what it is to be food insecure. Her good fortunate is not simply a function of growing up in America. After all, more than 38 million Americans, including nearly 14 million children, are living on the brink of hunger, not sure of where their next meal will come from (according to Second Harvest, that’s more than the population of the 30 largest cities in this nation combined).
No, her luck is based on some constellation of factors over which even her dad nor I had little control: where we were born, our time in history, what our parents and grandparents and great-grandparents did, and just plain dumb luck.
But my telling her how fortunate she is has never been enough. On this Thursday afternoon, however, during a few stolen moments in a bookstore’s corner, she seemed to understand. And that understanding brought questions: why and how come and Mommy, can’t we give them some of our food?
I had no clear answers. Only gratitude and sorrow…and a renewed commitment to doing what we can. Like buying fair trade whenever possible.
Hungry Planet came out recently in paperback, but I’d advise you get the hardback if you can — this one’s a keeper. In the meantime, you can see a slide show, with images from the book, at the Time Magazine site.