Last night, I had a patient audience who let me rant for several hours about my latest and greatest obsession, namely a book called Hungry Planet: What the World Eats. After two bottles of wine, followed sensibly by a pot of rooibos tea, I guided my attentive dinner guests through every page of this beautifully written and photographed adventure of how much families of different nations around the world eat in one week. You know it is going to be a worthwhile book if Marion Nestle has the foreword. There are several reasons why this book is humbling, educational, and tragic to read. Firstly, although many of us are aware of the social disparities that exist in the world, where many are starving, while others are morbidly obese, the visual demonstration of how little food a refuge family of five in Chad uses in one week is quite shocking, as compared to the wall of packaged goods that surround a Latin American family living in Texas. French food culture, that is so the pride of its people, is also on wobbly footing, as younger generations keenly reach for ready-made sushi and thai take-out food instead of the traditional fare of their grandparents’ generation. Sadly, many think they are getting an authentic meal. As families sit around their differing and varied kitchen tables, surrounded by weekly food choices, I think about how quickly the “industrial food revolution” has hit humanity, albeit to varying degrees, and how the image of “quality food” has changed so dramatically in such a short time.
Jamie Oliver is on a international campaign to end childhood obesity in the US by bringing children and families closer to food, through enhancement of food knowledge, cooking skills, and community capacity building. In a time when most children recognize the face of Ronald McDonald more than any other celebrity, and when polled, do not know what a tomato looks like, it is time for a major overhaul. Conversely, in a time when the Canadian federal government has decided to put a freeze on foreign aid, cutting support to millions of children and families in Africa, this is the time for action. My two-hour diatribe last night eventually led me to conclude that consumer demands drive many decisions, and the more we know, the better we can direct our choices in a manner as to guide which way the pendulum will swing. This is our power, and industries and governments are only as strong at the people who support them.