This has nothing to do with Jane Austen but over the week-end we went to the Bell Museum at the University of Minnesota and checked out a photography exhibit called "Hungry Planet." Photographer Peter Menzel and journalist Faith D'Alusio put together a photo essay of visits to 30 families in 24 countries for 600 meals. The pictures expose what we eat in a profound way. Of the photos in the exhibit, only two had no processed food in the picture: the families in Mali and Ecuador. Of course with a life expectancy of only 54, Mali is not exactly to be envied or held up as any kind of model. Many families, such as the Ecuadorian shepherds ate no meat. And yet, to my shock they were the healthiest looking people in the exhibit. On the other hand families in Egypt and Australia looked like they might be following the Jane Austen diet until you noticed the stacks of soda in the back ground. And weight was definitely an issue with these families. I think that probably vegans would have a field day with this until you look at the family from India who were vegetarians but had some processed foods and weren't looking as healthy.
What I took away was a profound sense that processed food has really taken over the planet in a diabolical way. Processed vegetable oil is the staple fat for most of the world. The diets we look to as ideal--the French, the Eskimos, the Japanese-- all were inundated with Coca Cola, Ritz Crackers and sugar-laden yogurt snacks. (Those darn French women still looked fantastic despite downing buckets of Yoplait. Grrrrrr. I hates the French!) Of course Americans, who spend more on food than any nation on Earth, had the most processed food of any family in the exhibit. One photo shows a tiny pile of fresh vegetables and meat in a sea of boxes, packages and plastic bottles.
One of the messages that the photographers took away from their project was that Americans simply eat too much. Of course this goes against everything I stand for at the Jane Austen diet, where large quantities of healing, whole foods are the key to health. Not eating enough calories from healthy foods has destroyed the American metabolism. We are fat and starving from a nutrient point of view and that isn't something that the books authors managed to figure out. Apart from this misguided conclusion, I think the book is a very insightful, honest and balanced look at the way the planet eats.
Check out more photos from Hungry Planet.