What I Eat: Around the World in 25 Diets

By Ashley Carter and Lisa D’Agrosa

Do you remember everything you ate yesterday? Think about everything. Picture it laid out in front of you with a numerical calorie total and you could be a part of the exhibit at the Museum of Science, What I Eat: Around the World in 25 Diets.

©Peter Menzel/www.menzelphoto.com

Peter Menzel and Faith D’Alusio are the creators of the photo-essay exhibit, which is based on their book. Each of the 25 profiles depicts a person with all the food he or she consumed in one day, including a brief description of daily activities, cultural influences, and information about food choices.  The images, which are arranged from lowest to highest calorie intake, are accompanied by only a small amount of text, yet they manage to speak volumes about individual food choices.

A few of our impressions are noted below; but don’t take our word for it. This thought-provoking exhibit is worth checking out for yourself.

©Peter Menzel/www.menzelphoto.com

Availability versus Preference

Many factors determine what people eat.  Without discussing the details of how and why, the exhibit shows through photographs that some people can choose what they eat, while others must eat what is available.  A Maasai herder in Kenya, for example, may eat 800 calories in one day because the climate limits the availability of food.  Meanwhile, a phone operator in India foregoes his mother’s traditional Indian cooking for American fast food with his friends.  While the exhibit does not explicitly state the reasoning behind specific food choices, it is apparent through the photographs and information provided.

Lack of Nutritional Information

The only nutrition-related information provided is a calorie count, with no mention of other nutrients or quality of diet.  While the creators of the exhibit take a hands-off approach to discussing nutrition, calorie levels are prominently displayed as pillars next to each photograph and are used as the means for spatially arranging the diets.  Because we are used to comparing diets to MyPlate and the Dietary Guidelines, we left wishing for a bit more information about nutrition.  However, the minimalistic approach keeps in line with the exhibit’s focus on food choices beyond their health implications.

Physical Activity

Even though calorie and body weight information is included, physical activity level, which Americans often associate as the “other half” of nutrition, is not a focus of the profiles.  Some descriptions, like that of the Sumo wrestler, contain more information on exercise than others because his typical day includes hours of wrestling practice.  As many of the exhibit’s subjects work as laborers, it is assumed that their activity level is higher than that of the average American.  Many of those photographed who consumed over 2,000 calories that day are within a normal BMI range.  In general, we found it interesting to think about food without also thinking specifically about physical activity.

Friedman Bias

As nutrition students, it is hard to look at a dietary exhibit the same way that a typical person might.  We pondered over questions such as: How was calorie information acquired? How typical are these diet recalls? Was everything measured? And did people change their eating habits because they were being monitored?  Something else that stood out was that none of the diets portrayed an abundant consumption of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean protein, and certainly not in MyPlate proportions.  The photos make it clear that, like in this country, most cultures do not eat according to USDA recommendations, whether due to inability, personal choice or cultural preferences.

To Conclude

These photographs provide an interesting comparison of how Americans think about food versus how other people do.  In the US, food is often discussed in the context of weight loss, eating organic, or favorite restaurants.  But for many of the individuals featured at the exhibit, it is clear that food is less of a luxury.  The exhibit reminded us that, for many people around the world, food is viewed simply as a necessity to fuel them through their day.

This exhibit forced us to think about why and how people choose to eat the way they do.  At Friedman we talk about nutrition science, food policies, and how to implement change.  Yet the What I Eat exhibit at the Museum of Science says so much more about food.  A simple picture really can say 1,000 words.

For more information on pricing and museum hours please visit the Museum of Science.

Image credits ©Peter Menzel/www.menzelphoto.com

Ashley is a first-year Nutrition Communication student at the Friedman School and is also completing the DPD at Simmons College to become a Registered Dietitian.  She is interested in all aspects of fitness, both for herself and for the promotion of health in the greater population.

Lisa D’Agrosa is a first-year Nutrition Communications student and a Registered Dietitian.  She enjoys running, yoga and skiing in addition to cooking and baking. She hopes to help solve the obesity epidemic in the country by educating the public about healthy eating.  Read more @ http://www.simmerdownnutrition.com

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