Back when I was teaching high school English literature, creative writing, and journalism, a social studies teaching friend of mine and I used to say we could easily use The New York Times in place of textbooks to teach our courses. I don't think this was a lack of humility on our parts; rather we felt the Times provided such a daily wealth of material that we'd have more than enough from which to lesson plan. Sometimes at lunch we'd point out articles or features that would be great to use in other disciplines as well, let's say an article from the Science Times section for a health class. It was a fun mental exercise.
Recently, I've come across a book that I am convinced every school teacher in America, from kindergarten through high school could make use of. It wouldn't substitute for a textbook, but it would be a wonderful supplementary material. What the World Eats by Peter Menzel and Faith D'Alusio could easily be used to help teach biology, chemistry, math, nutrition, geography, sociology, writing, public speaking, art, music, economics, world languages, health, and much more.
What the World Eats is a child friendly version of 2005's Hungry Planet: What the World Eats. Peter Menzel took stunning photographs and Faith D'Alusio wrote the informative text for this gorgeous book in which they visit 25 families in 21 countries to document what each family eats in a typical week. Each chapter begins with a photograph of a family surrounded by their groceries for a week. To look at those 25 portraits alone is fascinating. My children and their friends who have picked up this book immediately begin comparing the diets of these families to their own. They quickly notice that families from countries with lower incomes rely heavily on grains, fruits and vegetables. They easily see that families from wealthier countries consume more meats, dairy products, packaged foods and beverages.
Each chapter includes interviews with the families and detailed grocery lists, broken down by type, cost, and quantity. Each chapter places the featured country on a world map and presents facts such as population, average income, and life expectancy. There are also photos of the families obtaining the food (whether at a supermarket, open air market, or on a seal hunt), preparing it, and eating it. This too is quite enlightening to young readers.
As I've said, What the World Eats would make a great addition to any classroom library, but it would be equally at home on a coffee table or older child's bookshelf. Its information about nutrition and the global economy are timely and valuable, and the photographs are truly captivating.
My son happened to read the author blurb on the book's jacket and is very excited to check out another book by Menzel and D'Alusio, winner of the 1999 James Beard Award for References and Writings on Food. It's called Man Eating Bugs: The Art and Science of Eating Insects. Talk about a catchy title!