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Food Photos: Around The World In 80 Diets

How many calories do you consume in a day? Is it more or less than the recommended 2,000? How does it compare to the butter-rich 4,900 of a Tibetan monk — or the scant 800 of a Maasai herder in Kenya? These are the questions asked by photographer Peter Menzel and his wife, Faith D'Aluisio, in their new book, What I Eat: Around the World in 80 Diets.

"I want people to understand their own diets better — and their own chemistry and their own biology," Menzell tells NPR's Michele Norris. "And make better decisions for themselves." To do that, he and D'Aluisio decided to lay it all out. Literally.

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    Camel broker Saleh Abdul Fadlallah in Egypt is 40 years old, 5 foot 8, and weighs 165 pounds. His intake of calories on a typical April day was 3,200 kcals. His menu: eggs with butter, fava beans, country bread, potato chips, feta cheese, soup, rice, black tea, etc.
    Photos by Peter Menzel from "What I Eat: Around The World In 80 Diets" by Menzel and Faith D'Aluisio
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    Noolkisaruni Tarakuai, the third of four wives of a Maasai chief near Narok, Kenya. She is 38 years old, 5 foot 5 and 103 pounds, and consumed 800 calories on a typical January day. She is photographed here with her day's worth of food: largely maize meal and milk.
    Photos by Peter Menzel from "What I Eat: Around The World In 80 Diets" by Menzel and Faith D'Aluisio
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    Cao Xiaoli, a professional acrobat, balances on one hand with her daily diet displayed at Shanghai Circus World in China. She is 16 years old, 5 foot 2 and 99 pounds, and on a typical day in June, her caloric intake was 1,700. A few food items in the photo: yogurt, zha paigu (pork ribs), noodles, egg, broth, green tea.
    Photos by Peter Menzel from "What I Eat: Around The World In 80 Diets" by Menzel and Faith D'Aluisio
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    Felipe Adams, a 30-year-old Iraq war veteran with his parents and a typical day of food at their home in Inglewood, Calif. He is 30 years old; 5 food 10 and weighs 135 pounds, and his typical day of calories added up to 2100. Adams was paralyzed by a sniper's bullet while serving in Baghdad, Iraq. His diet includes oatmeal, a chicken sandwich, yogurt, chicken breast and yogurt.
    Photos by Peter Menzel from "What I Eat: Around The World In 80 Diets" by Menzel and Faith D'Aluisio
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    Ansis Sauka, a voice teacher, musician and composer, rehearses with the Riga youth choir in Latvia. He is 36 years old, about 6 feet tall, 183 pounds, and on a typical October day, he consumed 3,900 kcals. Some of his food: egg, rye bread with ham, cheese and butter, chicken, potato with mayonnaise, cookies.
    Photos by Peter Menzel from "What I Eat: Around The World In 80 Diets" by Menzel and Faith D'Aluisio
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    The head monk at his partially rebuilt monastery with a typical day's worth of food in the Tibetan Plateau. He is 45, 5 foot 5, 158 pounds, and his day of calories in June was 4,900 kcals. His food: butter tea, barley flour cake, dried cheese curds, noodle soup with potato, etc.
    Photos by Peter Menzel from "What I Eat: Around The World In 80 Diets" by Menzel and Faith D'Aluisio
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    Curtis Newcomer, a U.S. Army soldier, with a typical day of food at the National Training Center at Fort Irwin in California's Mojave Desert. He is 20 years old, 6 foot 5 and 195 pounds; his caloric intake on a typical day in September was 4,000 kcals. His lunch consists of a variety of instant meals in the form of MREs (meals ready to eat). His least favorite is the cheese and veggie omelet.
    Photos by Peter Menzel from "What I Eat: Around The World In 80 Diets" by Menzel and Faith D'Aluisio

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This is not the first project of its kind for Menzel and D'Aluisio. A few years ago, their book Hungry Planet showed what families eat over the course of a week. Before that, Material World displayed the anatomy of household possessions around the world. For their newest project, the duo traveled to 30 countries to document what we humans eat on an average day. And their findings are fascinating.

Take Joao Agustinho Cardoso, for example. He's a Brazilian fisherman who consumes a whopping 5,200 calories a day. But, as Menzel's photo shows, he has an average build, and the quantity of food on his table seems reasonably healthy: whole milk, an entire freshwater fish, pinto beans and noodles. The secret, Menzel explains, is an active lifestyle and high-fiber foods — and a lot of cooking oil. American truck driver Conrad Tolby, on the other hand, gets his 5,400 calories from cheeseburgers, fried foods and Starbucks.

The cover of "What I Eat"

What I Eat: Around The World In 80 Diets by Peter Menzel and Faith D'Aluisio, Ten Speed Press, 2010 hide caption

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Menzel's photographs are accompanied by D'Aluisio's text, which delineates each diet but also gives cultural context. She explains why, for example, Millie Mitra in India drinks her own urine; it's a practice called shivambu, described in ancient texts as cleansing and curative. For D'Aluisio, the goal is to get readers to compare and contrast — to situate one's personal diet against that of a 12-year-old runaway in Bangladesh or an acrobat in China.

According to Menzel and D'Aluisio, this display of daily diets has gotten people thinking. One soda-guzzling subject decided to cut back after seeing the sheer quantity put before him. And "The Snacker Mom," as Jill McTighe of Great Britain is called in the book, has been making a concerted effort to trim her binge diet of 12,300 calories. How this process benefited the Maasai herder in Kenya is less clear; but for the average reader who can see 80 diets in context, that herder's 800 calories gives a reason to consider what we eat — and what others don't.

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