Every year or so, someone emails me with this or a similar set of family portraits taken around the globe– portraits with a twist:  each family is sitting or standing next to all the food that family will eat in one week.  It’s an intriguing concept for a short photo essay and a powerful series of images to ponder.

As someone who is professionally aware and personally sensitive to the many ways food and lifestyle choices can affect our physical, mental and spiritual energies, I often reflect on the dizzying diversity of  American consumables, from nourishing farmer’s market fare to unspeakably processed “food” products.  And having lived and traveled in a variety of far-flung locales from Ethiopia to Kyrgyzstan, I have observed how the world’s poorest cultures generally eat more in the way of wholesome foods closer to their original form in Nature and  less in volume than their Western counterparts.  So discovering that someone has found a way to capture  some of this with a few photographs is impressive.

The visual impact of the  following photographs speak volumes more than any literary tome could ever on the socio-economic implications of a culture’s food choices.  I love the selection of cultures here with the varying family configurations and national foods.

That said, I do have one beef, if you’ll excuse the pun. It relates to the choice of American family photographed.  This family may represent a sadly common leaning towards way too much processed junk foods in this country, but many families, African-American or Caucasian, who consume this much junk also eat a bit more in the way of real-ish foods (salads, some fresh and frozen vegetables, a couple more fruit options…).  Don’t they?!

I have a second beef, too.  Many Americans eating the most and worst junk food are Caucasian and seriously overweight.  This is not a reality affecting African-Americans only.  (In fact, even in developing countries among those with the money to eat at MacDonald’s and Kentucky Fried Chicken, the rates of obesity have risen alarmingly– but that’s another story.)  I can imagine that my friends and colleagues who are Black would express distress over the racist selection of a Southern black  family to represent the worst of American food choices.  I have to agree that this choice rankles.  Granted it’s nearly impossible to identify one family’s eating patterns that truly reflects all that is typical about a country, especially a nation as large and diverse as the US –and it’s also nearly impossible to capture absolutely parallel global socio-economic realities to create a fair comparison–  but still…

In the end, though, perhaps what matters is that these photographs taken around the planet give us pause — and plenty of visual food for thought.

Italy: The Manzo family of Sicily - 2 adults, 3 young children
Food expenditure for one week: 214.36 Euros or $260.11


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Germany: The Melander family of Bargteheide - 2 adults, 1 teen, 1 child
Food expenditure for one week: 375.39 Euros or $500.07


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United States: The Revis family of North Carolina - 2 adults, 2 teens
Food expenditure for one week $341.98


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Mexico: The Casales fa mily of Cuernavaca 2 adults, 3 children
Food expenditure for one week: 1,862.78 Mexican Pesos or $189.09


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Poland: The Sobczynscy family of Konstancin-Jeziorna - 2 adults, 2 young adults, 1 teen
Food expenditure for one week: 582.48 Zlotys or $151.27


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Egypt: The Ahmed family of Cairo - 7 adults, 5 children
Food expenditure for one week: 387.85 Egyptian Pounds or $68.53


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Ecuador: The Ayme family of Tingo - 3 adults, 6 children
Food expenditure for one week: $31.55


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Bhutan: The Namgay family of Shingkhey Village - 8 adults, 5 children
Food expenditure for one week: 224.93 ngultrum or $5.03


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Chad: The Aboubakar family of Breidjing Camp - 2 adults, 1 teen, 3 young children
Food expenditure for one week: 685 CFA Francs or $1.23