Friday, September 3, 2010

Breakfast in America, lunch in Bhutan - What the world eats each week

Fourteen years ago I underwent 'food baptism by fire' in Ghana, having arrived in the country as a Canadian and shipped unceremoniously into the home of a local family, invited from day one to eat all my meals with them.

I spent the first few months missing diet coke and salads as well as the junk food I'd come to love, while getting used to a diet of spicy, palm oil slicked soups with mystery meat chunks and heavy carbs in the form of fufu, banku, plantain and cassava.

Though I lived with a 'rare' middle class family in Ghana, I was shocked by how cheap it was to feed the family of 5 - 7 including my son and I. Nothing came from a supermarket (might have had something to do with the fact that there were no supermarkets), and almost everything was fresh and cooked from scratch. No processed foods (except for the ever-popular but nasty sodium laced Maggi cubes used in every soup and stew!). No snacks or junk food. Beer and coke were offered up on special occasions and were quite cheap as well. (Ghana still uses the refillable bottle system and families have a case of each at home which can be returned and filled again for quite a reasonable price).

I used to meet up with fellow volunteers on the weekends and take trips to the one store filled with foreign groceries - Kwatsons (which later became Koala). We'd walk up and down the aisles and marvel at the things we recognised and couldn't afford... Iceburg lettuce at $20 a head, Frosted Flakes at $15... but for the most part the things were just not available.

Today, my life as an expat is quite different, as is the availability of goods from around the world, in the cosmopolitan city of Accra. We have a mall, supermarkets, choices. My diet today is quite different. Lots of salads and diet coke when I want it. Our weekly food bill has also skyrocketed.

To live a true expat life in West Africa, enjoying all the food comforts of home will run you between $200 to $350 a week for a family of 3 or 4. That doesn't include nights out at restaurants which constitute the majority of social interactions.

Considering that close to 50% of Ghanaians earn about $1 a day, or $30 per month, our $1000 a month on food is indulgent at best, grotesque at worst.

It has always amazed me how people manage their money here - how they can feed their families with such little resources.

I found an amazingly intriguing glimpse into the food lives of others, courtesy the great bloggess Skinny Gourmet, and just had to share.

This excerpt is from a book called Hungry Planet - in which a sampling of families from around the world open their homes up and show us exactly what they consume in a given week. Each family is photographed with their entire weekly food/drinks spread in their kitchen, and the amount spent is recorded to the penny.

Fascinating. It says so much about culture, about wealth and poverty, about who we are and where we come from. I wonder how I'd feel displaying my weekly shopping in the same way?

Germany: The Melander family of Bargteheide

Food expenditure for one week: 375.39 Euros or $500.07

United States: The Revis family of North Carolina
Food expenditure for one week $341.98

Italy: The Manzo family of Sicily
Food expenditure for one week: 214.36 Euros or $260.11

Mexico: The Casales family of Cuernavaca

Food expenditure for one week: 1,862.78 Mexican Pesos or $189.09

Poland: The Sobczynscy family of Konstancin-Jeziorna

Food expenditure for one week: 582.48 Zlotys or $151.27

Egypt: The Ahmed family of Cairo
Food expenditure for one week: 387.85 Egyptian Pounds or $68.53

Ecuador: The Ayme family of Tingo

Food expenditure for one week: $31.55

Bhutan: The Namgay family of Shingkhey Village

Food expenditure for one week: 224.93 ngultrum or $5.03

Chad: The Aboubakar family of Breidjing Camp

Food expenditure for one week: 685 CFA Francs or $1.23

So many things are striking - the sheer cost of living in Germany, the massive prevalence of process and take-away foods in America, the absence of all processed foods in Egypt and Bhutan and the glaring poverty of the family in Chad with just over $1 a week to feed a family of six.

Next time you head to the Piggly Wiggly or Safeway or Tescos or Pick n' Pay, think of this exercise. Where do you fit in?
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deb said...

just wow.
I mean of course you think you know, or realize,
and then this is the reality.

thank you for sharing this.

The pale observer said...

Hey Deb- exactly what i thought when I cam across and hence thought - cool to share :)

CambridgeLady said...

What a fascinating post .... and I love your blog. So pleased I stumbled across it :o)

The pale observer said...

Thanks Cambridge lady! Just checked out your site as well and became a follower. Some great photos there!

Bogdan Stelistul said...

Salut!!!My name is bogdan from Romania!!!
We can be friends ???
I can put on your list of blogs?? thanks

Maya Mame said...

Wow! A real mind opener, a whole family living on $1 a week???

It would be interesting to do the same with families in Ghana (or even Accra). Imagine, I am sure you'd get a very simliar range (maybe not as wide) if you looked at families in Nima, Cantonments, Dansoman, Airport and Ashiaman.

(Have to admit I'd quite happily swap my weekly food with the Sicilians!)


I have this book. Another good one by the same people is Women in a Material World, Material World and What the World Eats, Around the World in 80 Diets. I think that every person in the world should have to spend at least 2 weeks "living and eating" in a poverty stricken area or country so that when they go home they can appreciate what they have....because the people living in poverty ARE home...we are just visitors to their plight.

The pale observer said...

Maya Mame - agreed - the difference between what the people in Labone, Airport Res, E Legon and those in Nima, Jamestown etc. might be as drastic as those from America and Ecuador in this survey!

And I agree the food the Italian family eats looks great! Must be why I gained 5 pounds on a 2 week holiday in Italy! :)

PLANET HANSEN - interesting - what does the Material World book cover?

Fiona Leonard said...

fascinating collection of photos. Some like the Italian family would drop in cost considerably if you took out all of the soft drink.

Says a lot about expectations of what we 'should' eat.

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Celeste said...

I remember seeing this article when it was first published and being truly horrified by the amount of junk the American family consumed! One (of the many) lesson you do learn living in Africa is just how little food you really do need to actually consume in order to function, and also of course what gluttons we are in the Western world.

Janet said...

While I've seen this before, it is a grim reminder. I shopped at Pick 'n Pay for my BBJ adventure and took quite a lot of stuff. I'm happy to say, I've gave some of it away and still came back with some and was well fed and nourished on what I did use. There was no need to take as much as I did. When it come down to eating time, I only ate what I really felt I needed - and it wasn't that much! I surprised myself.

Now to lose the unnecessary weight I'm carrying . . . . . .

Solvang Sherrie said...

I love this post!

I actually challenged my family at the start of this month. We're not eating refined sugar or processed foods for two months. It's shocking how much sugar is in everything. Five teaspoons in six oz of yogurt?! I'm making everything from scratch now (including the yogurt!) and my kids are still grumbling but I think we'll come out on the other side a LOT healthier.

blogoratti said...

Real food for thought...

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