What people eat around the world

In 2007, photographer Peter Menzel and writer Faith D’Aluisio visited 30 families in 24 countries to document what they ate. The results were incredible photographs showing Indian, Japanese, Mexican families with their weekly meals.

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The Patkar family spends around $45 per week
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The Ukita family spends around $361 per week

I have always been curious about what other people eat. When I’m at supermarkets, I would peer into the baskets of other shoppers. Did that man just buy 10 bags of Coke and 8 bags of potato chips? And, oh wow, that salmon looks amazing – where did she get that?

In their 2010 book What I Eat: Around the World in 80 Diets, Peter and Faith focused on the diets of individuals instead.

On one extreme, we have this lady in the UK showing us what she eats on a bingeing day. Her bags of chips, chocolate bars, bread and sausages amounted to more than 12,000 calories.

At the other end, we take a look at the diet of the Himba tribe, who are indigenous people living in Namibia and Angola. This is a 23-year-old Himba tribeswoman whose typical daily meal consist of corn meal porridge and sour cow’s milk.

himba food

In a similar project, Hannah Whitaker visited with families in seven countries and photographed what children ate for breakfast.

This Icelandic child has oatmeal porridge for breakfast, along with a swig of cod liver oil. With the sun hanging low most of the year in Iceland, sunlight is a poor source of Vitamin D, but the vitamin is plentiful in the oil.

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This child from Turkey is feasting on an elaborate Sunday morning spread consisting of honey and clotted cream on toasted bread, hard-boiled eggs, various cheeses, jam and fresh vegetables. Stop! I am drooling already.

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Some of these photographers should come to Singapore to document what we eat. I think we have some of the greatest varieties of breakfast food, including roti prata, bee hoon and lontong.

Recently, the National Geographic also documented various diets around the world – but with the latest issue focusing on what our ancestors may have eaten. Too often the misconception about the paleo diet or ancestral diet is that it’s all about meat. But actually it’s also about vegetables, tubers, berries and yes, even honey.

For the Hazda of Tanzania, almost 70% of the calories are from plants. Honey is a great treat and an essential source of energy. The tribes people light small logs to make smoke, which lulls the bees. I understand why they do that. Personally, I love honey and I always have a bottle of honey with me for baking, curing my sore throat or for use in black tea.

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The Bajau people of Malaysia, who are also sometimes known as “sea gypsies” because of their seaborne lifestyle, consume all their food from the sea. The exception is a dish made of ground cassava, which is a starchy root.

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As you can see, there is no single diet that our ancestors ate. But the key thing to note is that you don’t see indigenous people eating Mars bars and soda. And I believe this is the best place to start for most people. For a start, forget about the debate between how much fat vs how much carbohydrate one should consume.  Just getting rid of Twinkies today will make you much healthier already.

So what do I eat on a daily basis? Here are my groceries from last week. I have a mixture of fresh vegetables, mushrooms, peppers and tomatoes with frozen beef (cheaper than fresh beef), as well as organic vegetable broth and canned beans. These were some of the ingredients we needed for chilli con carne. I don’t cook chilli every week of course but my grocery basket here is quite typical – which is a mix of fresh produce and canned items (for food I need to keep for a longer period of time or food that are not available fresh).

Chilli con carne

What will your food basket look like?

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