One of the Most Fascinating Food Books Ever & Winner of the Gourmet Mushroom Kit

Cao Xiaoli, a professional acrobat, balances on one hand with her day's worth of food at Shanghai Circus World in Shanghai, China. (From the book What I Eat: Around the World in 80 Diets.) The caloric value of her day's worth of food on a typical day in June was 1700 kcals. She is 16 years of age; 5 feet, 2 inches tall; and 99 pounds. Cao Xiaoli lives in a room with nine other girls. She started her career as a child, performing with a regional troupe in her home province of Anhui. Now she practices five hours a day, attends school with the other members of her troupe, and performs seven days a week. She says what she likes best about being an acrobat is the crowd’s reaction when she does something seemingly dangerous. MODEL RELEASED.

Celeb chef cookbooks may dazzle on the coffee table and instructive cookbooks may be must-haves on the shelf.

But here’s a food book that is so captivating you’ll be hard-pressed to put it down.

“What I Eat” (Material World/Ten Speed Press) is a fascinating around-the-globe look at what 80 people eat over the course of one day.

The authors are Peter Menzel and Faith D’Aluisio, whose work you already might be familiar with, as they also were behind the James Beard Award-winning, “Hungry Planet” (Material World), which examined what families around the world eat over the span of one week.

In their newest book, the couple, who lives in Napa, spent three years chronicling the diets of these spotlighted individuals, who range the gamut from a sumo wrestler in Japan to an arctic hunter in Greenland to a model in the United States to an astronaut in space.

Each profile is accompanied by stunning photos, as well as every item each person consumed (from supplements to cigarettes), the total calorie count (from as little as 800 to as much as 12,300), and demographic information such as age, height, weight, occupation and activity level.

For instance, the 99-pound, 5-foot-2-inch Chinese acrobat (top photo) buys yogurt, European-style cakes and fruit for breakfast, then has a hefty lunch of deep-fried pork ribs, noodles, tea-cooked egg, stir-fried cucumber, rice and a salty vegetable broth with green onion in the Shanghai Circus World Employee Cafeteria. The 16-year-old doesn’t eat dinner because most days, she’s performing in a nightly show. Typically, she practices five hours a day and performs seven nights a week.  In all, she consumed 1,700 calories that particular day.

Noolkisaruni Tarakuai, the third of four wives of a Maasai chief with her day's worth of food outside her house in a Maasai village compound near Narok, Kenya. (From the book What I Eat: Around the World in 80 Diets.) The caloric value of her typical day's worth of food on a day in the month of January was 800 kcals. She is 38 years of  age: 5 feet, 5 inches tall; and 103 pounds. Noolkisaruni has her own house for sleeping and a windowless cooking house with earth and dung chinked into the walls. Maasai wealth is derived from the cattle owned, the land, and the number of children born to support the family business: cattle and goats. She is photographed here with her day's worth of food: largely maize meal and milk. The fallen tree on which her food rests was knocked down by a marauding wild elephant. MODEL RELEASED.

Noolkisaruni Tarakuai, the Maasai Herder/ Kenya. One day's worth of food during high drought. From the book  What I Eat: Around the World in 80 Diets  © DÕAluisio & Menzel

Bear in mind that each profile is just a snapshot in time that shows what the person ate that day, not his or her diet on average. For instance, the Kenyan  Maasai herder (pictured above), who subsisted on only 800 calories this particular day, was living through a drought and could only manage a smidgen of milk from the stressed cows. In better times, she is able to supplement her diet with some goat.

When you contemplate what food-related books to buy as gifts this season, this thought-provoking one should be at the top of your list.

Contest Winner: In the last Food Gal contest, I asked you all to tell me your most interesting or memorable experience with mushrooms. The best answer wins a Back to the RootsEasy to Grow Mushroom Garden,” to grow gourmet oyster mushrooms easily at home.

Thanks so much to all who participated. Without further adieu, here’s the winner:

Cristina, who wrote, “My mother, a biology professor turned farmer’s wife, first introduced me to the awe of mushrooms. I grew up on a few acres in the woods in Massachusetts and she used to take me out back where there was a small stream that ran through the woods. She would bring all her National Audubon Society guide books and we would identify all types of flora and fauna in the woods. I remember loving naming the different types of mushrooms, but I always had to ask before I picked one to make sure it wasn’t poisonous. She would teach me all about the spores that allowed the mushrooms to reproduce, and we once even made up a rhyme about the fungi kingdom. Often she would have me bring the non-toxic ones back to the house with us to taste test later that day, but as a child I never liked the actual taste, more just the thrill of eating something I personally picked and identified. Now, however, I love mushrooms of all types! Maybe she was just building my taste buds for one of natures finest treats.”

More: Food Gal’s Cookbook Picks for Kepler’s

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