MELISSA BLOCK, host:
This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.
MICHELE NORRIS, host:
And I'm Michele Norris.
Five years ago, I spoke with photographer Peter Menzel and writer Faith D'Aluisio about their journey around the world, chronicling what 30 different families eat over the course of a week. The resulting book was called "Hungry Planet." Well, since then, the husband and wife team have been busy working on another book, one that takes an even more intimate look at people's lives by examining what people eat over the course of a day. The book is called "What I Eat: Around the World in 80 Diets." And Peter Menzel and Faith D'Aluisio join me now. Welcome back to the program.
Mr. PETER MENZEL (Co-author, "What I Eat: Around the World in 80 Diets" and "Hungry Planet"): Thank you.
Ms. FAITH D'ALUISIO (Co-author, "What I Eat: Around the World in 80 Diets" and "Hungry Planet"): Thanks.
NORRIS: Faith, you wrote in the introduction about the order of the book. The portraits and the stories are arranged by calories consumed on an ordinary day. Why did you decide to do this from lowest to highest?
Ms. D'ALUISIO: Well, you know, we had to figure out what was the best way to portray so many people, and all of our other books, we've always done it geographically. And this seemed - because we were counting calories for this particular book, it really seemed to be the best way to set it up, so that 800 calories is where the book begins with Noolkisaruni Tarakuai, a Maasai herder in Kenya, and we end with a binging eater in the U.K. - Jill McTighe - at a whopping 12,000 calories.
NORRIS: How did you choose the subjects?
Mr. MENZEL: We had ideas of who we were looking for in different parts of the world. When we went to Namibia, we were looking for a diamond polisher. And in Africa, we wanted to cover a few pastoralists, and also a khat seller in Yemen, a camel broker in Egypt, a bullfighter in Spain. I mean, these are people that I thought would be interesting and fun to have a meal with.
NORRIS: Since you're going around the world in 80 diets, let's begin with the very first person in the book, the Maasai herder from Kenya who takes in 800 calories on a single day. Tell me a little bit more about her. She's pictured here with a red plaid cloth, wonderful jewelry, big smile, but not a lot of food on that log next to her.
Ms. D'ALUISIO: Not a lot of food, and that was actually - it was hard, you know, to cover her at that point in time because they were in pretty serious drought that only got worse. After we left, we found out...
Mr. MENZEL: Sixty percent of their cows were dead after two months, after we took this photograph.
Ms. D'ALUISIO: We wanted to cover her on a typical day where she would be feeding her herdsmen in the morning whatever milk she would be able to get from these drought-stricken cows and which isn't much. It was like she'd go cow to cow to cow and end up with, you know, half a cup or a cup of milk for the entire milking. And then her other part of the meal is a cornmeal porridge that she makes up and, you know, I think that day, too, she had a piece of fruit that her husband had brought her. But, you know, and the next week, if we had covered her and they had eaten a goat, then her calorie count would have been a little higher. Again, this, you know, we did not do daily caloric average. What we did was try to just do sort of a typical day for them and then put that into context in the story.
NORRIS: You learned an awful lot about the cultures you visit in the process of documenting what people eat. One of the women you profile is a homemaker and she's in Yemen and you show her dressed in black, covered head to toe, all you really see are her eyes, and she's standing before a great big spread of food. Tell me a little bit more about her diet for the day.
Ms. D'ALUISIO: Her day's worth of food is there's a lot of bread in that picture. She makes it herself. She has - you know, it's funny in this country when we eat meat, we think of meat. And when people talk about eating meat in other countries, especially in the developing world, it's oftentimes just a tiny little bit of meat, usually with some kind of a broth made from the marrow, and so their bit of meat is quite literally a bit of meat. And so, you know, we then have to go in and do a whole lot of figuring out what's the bone weight versus the meat weight and what's the calorie count. That was actually one of the hardest parts of doing this book was not really the travel and the coverage but coming back and sort of having to cogitate all this material, which we did with some nutritionists at the University of California-Davis.
NORRIS: You know, and as I look at this also, I mean, she eats what looks to be a pretty healthy diet. She's 27. She's 4'11", weighs 98 pounds, takes in 2,700 calories, and a lot of it is fresh food and fairly healthy protein - mango, banana, cantaloupe. She has kubz(ph) with tahini and feta cheese. She has fava beans cooked with onion, tomato and ground chilis.
Ms. D'ALUISIO: You know, the food there was really amazingly good. And if you were there at the right time of year, then you're going to get fresh fruits, you know, which are pretty much from the countryside. Right there, the mangos. A problem that Yemen has, though, is - that's coming to the fore is lack of -severe lack of water. They're using - almost all their water is going to...
Mr. MENZEL: Irrigate the khat.
Ms. D'ALUISIO: ...irrigate khat.
Mr. MENZEL: Yeah. We first found the khat dealer in the market in Sana'a, and then we found out where he was getting his khat from and took a ride outside of Sana'a, photographed people picking khat and processing it and learned a lot about that leaf that, you know, semi-narcotic.
NORRIS: That people chew in order to get a little bit of a buzz.
Ms. D'ALUISIO: That everybody chews. Yeah.
Mr. MENZEL: Mm-hmm.
NORRIS: You know, there are a lot of surprises in this book. And one of the surprises, at least for me, was that the high calorie count for so many people and in some cases people who don't look to be eating a lot of food. For instance, there's the head monk in Tibet. He clocks in at 4,900 calories. What accounts for this high calorie count?
Mr. MENZEL: These people are really, really active.
Ms. D'ALUISIO: Well, they're active, but also I think what really accounts for it are things that are sort of hidden, and one is butter tea. You'd be amazed at how much butter there is in butter tea. It's when you drink it, it's very, very hot always, really, really buttery because it's giant gobs of butter in water with a tiny little bit of actual tea leaves, just that...
Mr. MENZEL: And salt.
Ms. D'ALUISIO: ...and actually quite a lot of salt.
Mr. MENZEL: Mm-hmm. But one of the big differences, too, is the type of food that they're eating. These people are eating more food with a lot of fiber in it and less processed food, so there's - there may be the same number of calories, but less of it is being absorbed by their bodies. And, as I was saying, they're really active people.
NORRIS: This book is much like a delicious food item, something that is wonderful and savory. You take one bite and you can't put it down. You pick up this book and you start looking at these pictures and reading the text and looking at the pictures and reading the text. What do you hope people will take from this book?
Ms. D'ALUISIO: Comparison and contrast, you know, where do I fit in? Where do other people fit in? Who are these people? I've never seen anyone from this country before, but they're a lot like me. And that's what the reason I do these books. Peter has lots of reasons. Mostly, his deal is he really just loves to eat, so he'll go anywhere for a meal.
Mr. MENZEL: I do, and I want people to understand their own diets better and their own chemistry and their own biology, and make better decisions for themselves.
NORRIS: Best meal you had in the course of working on this project?
Mr. MENZEL: Oh, my gosh. That's a really tough question.
Ms. D'ALUISIO: It's pretty easy for me.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Ms. D'ALUISIO: Iran. I just - the food in Iran, the fragrant rice, the fact that they put rosewater in everything...
Mr. MENZEL: And pomegranates.
Ms. D'ALUISIO: And pomegranates that were just amazing. It was just some of the most amazing food.
NORRIS: Well, Peter and Faith, it was good to talk to you again. Thanks so much for being with us.
Mr. MENZEL: Thank you.
Ms. D'ALUISIO: Thank you.
NORRIS: That's Peter Menzel and Faith D'Aluisio. Their new book is called "What I Eat: Around the World in 80 Diets."