Hungry in the Land of Milk and Honey

By Shawn Dell Joyce

In their delicious book, Hungry Planet: What the World Eats, photographer Peter Menzel and writer Faith D’Aluisio document the weekly food budgets of 24 international families. They point out that a family of eight in Guatemala spends 573 Quetzales (the equivalent of about $75.70) on groceries each week. The average yearly income is around $4,000, making groceries the highest expense for that family.

Meanwhile, back in Orange County, a family of five can spend a whopping $242.48 per week on groceries out of an average income of $35,000 per breadwinner. While the cost sounds much greater, compared to our Guatemalan neighbors, we Americans eat the cheapest food in the world, and plenty of it.

Marion Nestle, author of Food Politics: How the Food Industry Influences Nutrition and Health, writes, “Here we have the great irony of modern nutrition: At a time when hundreds of millions of people do not have enough to eat, hundreds of millions more are eating too much and are overweight or obese. Today…more people are overweight than underweight.”

In the U.S. 72 percent of men, and 70 percent of women are overweight. Cheaper food does not translate into healthier food. In fact, our current agricultural policy is to subsidize corn to the point where it is ridiculously cheap and ubiquitous in our food system. So cheap that we even burn corn as fuel for our automobiles, a crime against humanity when you consider that all starving people that could be fed with it.

Looking back at our Guatemalan family cited above, their weekly diet consisted mainly of potatoes, rice and beans, and vegetables from their garden. Meat was added to a meal less than once a week. While the Orange County family ate mostly processed foods like canned soups, frozen meals, packaged cookies, cakes, and crackers, and lots of meat. Another major difference is cooking.

The Guatemalans eat every meal at home and one person spends most of her time cooking, preparing, and purchasing ingredients for meals. Americans eat one out of three meals at home.
How can we curb our national eating disorder?

–Eat local. When we eat what is grown in our own region we eat healthier, and at the peak of freshness. This is better for our health and the environment, as well a boost to the local economy.

–Grow your own food. Victory gardens helped our grandparents survive the wars and Great Depression. Save money at the grocery store by skipping the imported produce and processed food.

–Eat lower on the food chain. Meat is a threat to our health and environment. Treat it as a condiment and purchase locally raised meats from farms you trust. Check or

Shawn Dell Joyce is the director of the Wallkill River School of Art in Montgomery.

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