Hungry Planet: A Comparison of Diets in Chad and the United States

In his photographic essay Hungry Planet: What the World Eats, Peter Menzel provides an intimate look at what families around the world eat. Of the many places featured, two countries stand out in particular: Chad and the United States. In Chad, refugee families subsist on rations of various grains provided by the World Food Program. Families pose by large bags of grain and little else, lacking the meat and colorful produce present in so many of Menzel’s other portraits. In the United States, families are photographed by stacks of brightly packaged foodstuffs, including cereals, chips, canned goods, frozen meals, and an array of sugary beverages. In addition to their store-bought goods, the families also display an assortment of fast foods that supplement their weekly grocery supply.


Chad, like many developing nations, has become dependent on foreign food imports and food aid. Because developed nations have better infrastructure than developing nations, it costs them less to grow and export large quantities of food. As a consequence, developing nations have cheaper crops available by import rather than by domestic production. On top of that, developed nations can export their goods at a subsidized rates to developing nations. This foreign food aid, typically grain, further reduces the demand for domestic farming. This offers an explanation for the grain-heavy diet of refugees in Chad. However, without domestic farmers to grow subsistence crops or a possibility to compete in world trade, Chad will continue to rely on this aid.


Families in the United States eat much differently than families in Chad, partly because of the amount of food available domestically, but also as result of the phenomenon of nutritionism. Nutritionism is the view that food can be dissected and understood by its individual components, such as proteins, calories, and vitamins. This view resulted in the development of food programs that advocated for high calorie foods like meats and starches over calorie-light foods like fruits and vegetables. Nutritionism also gave birth to processed foods as companies devised cheap foodstuffs under the guise of healthfulness. Many families still rely on a diet of processed foods as they tend to be cheaper and more convenient than fresh fruits and vegetables. Convenience is also a primary consideration for many families in the United States, which explains the regular occurrence of fast food dinners.

The diets of people in the United States and Chad are each characteristic of systemic food issues. The United States’ diet contributes to widespread health issues as processed foods are linked to heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. Excessive packaging and waste from these products also have devastating effects on the environment. The diet in Chad illustrates how inequitable international trade policies can aggravate already food insecure developing nations. Menzel’s photos are illustrations of the vastly different problems faced by countries at opposite ends of the world’s diet spectrum.

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