Processed Food for a Hungry Planet

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In Hungry Planet: What the World Eats, Peter Menzel captures the effects of our changing world in ways that words cannot. Significant cultural and economic patterns emerge throughout the collection of photographs. Industrialization, globalization, and international trade continue to influence culture, food practices, health, and consumption behavior at the local level.

The effects of globalization among families in affluent countries were striking in Menzel’s work. Invariably, each family’s diet included processed food – characteristic of a Western diet. Through these photographs, it becomes clear that several large American food and beverage companies have come to dominate international markets, as well as domestic. Familiar brands crop up in photographs of families around the world; processed food has become an international dietary cornerstone.

As processed foods are integrated into diets around the world, traditional diets and food practices are squeezed out. Menzel’s photographs capture the insidious standardization of food consumption and preferences throughout the world, as the Western diet takes center stage in global consumption patterns. The consequences of a globalized Western diet extend beyond the losses to cultural diversity and resilience, however. In In Defense of Food, Michael Pollan explores the myriad of negative health outcomes associated with this pattern of eating. He writes, “[P]eople who eat the way we do in the West today suffer substantially higher rates of cancer, cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, and obesity than people eating any number of different traditional diets.” (page 90)

Pictured: The Brown family of Riverview, Australia with a week’s worth of food.
© 2005 Peter Menzel / Hungry Planet: What the World Eats /

Given the correlation between a globalized Western diet and increased negative health outcomes, it’s clear that something can be gleaned from populations in both industrialized and developing countries. Affluent countries generally present greater access to food and food variety. Food security is less sweeping of an issue in affluent countries, as compared to systemically poorer nations. Furthermore, populations in developed countries tend to enjoy better living conditions, with access to healthcare and critical social resources. That being said, populations in developing countries tend to practice “healthier” dietary consumption patterns, even if out of necessity or lack of alternatives. In adhering to traditional diets – absent of processed foods, excessive meat – these populations may avoid many of the health-related pitfalls associated with a Western diet


1 thought on “Processed Food for a Hungry Planet

  1. monicals

    I really likes this blog post because it forces us to think about perspective. We take pride in being in the top developed nations of the world and yet are one of the unhealthiest countries with one of the highest obesity rates. It is certainly thought provoking to consider that regardless of having more power and more money than developing states we treat our bodies so badly and consume so many processed foods or foods with high fat and sugar content, which leads to so many health issues. “According to the American Heart Association, nearly 99 million Americans age 20 and over have high cholesterol. Elevated cholesterol levels are one of the major risk factors for heart attacks and strokes” ( This is just one example of the various health issues that plague Americans.

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