Real Leaders

How Globalization Has Altered Your Relationship With Food

Photographer Gregg Segal approaches his work with the sensibility of a sociologist — using the medium to explore culture — our identity, memory, behavior, roles, beliefs, and values. His latest project examines food and nutrition.

In an 8 x 8 aluminum hut on a construction site outside Mumbai, Anchal Sahni sits down to dinner with her family: homemade aloo bhindo (okra and potatoes simmered in curry) and chapati (flatbread) with a side of lentils. Anchal has a healthier diet than many middle-class kids in India, who can afford to eat out. In Mumbai, a medium-size Domino’s pizza runs $13 – about three times what Anchal’s father earns a day.

Sensing a sea change in Western attitudes about diet and the effects of junk food, fast food companies have begun investing heavily in foreign markets where public awareness isn’t as keen – and Big Macs aren’t junk – they’re a status symbol.

In 2015, Cambridge University conducted an exhaustive study, identifying countries with the healthiest diets in the world. Nine of the top 10 countries are in Africa, where vegetables, fruit, nuts, legumes, grains are staples and meals are homemade. This is in stark contrast to the U.S., where nearly 60 percent of the calories we consume come from ultra-processed foods and only one percent come from vegetables.

As globalization alters our relationship to food, I’m making my way around the world, working on a project called Daily Bread, and asking kids to keep a journal of everything they eat in a week. Once the week is up, I make a portrait of the child with the food arranged around them. I’m focusing on kids because eating habits, which form when we’re young, last a lifetime and often pave the way to chronic health problems like diabetes, heart disease, and colon cancer.

Despite growing awareness here in the U.S. about the harm of eating processed foods, awareness hasn’t yet led to widespread change. Obesity rates are still soaring. Forty years ago, 1 out of 40 kids was obese. Today, 10 in 40 are. Since corn syrup came along, the incidence of diabetes has tripled. For the first time in many generations, life expectancy in America is declining, and the main culprit is empty calories.

I’ve been encouraged to find regions and communities where slow food will never be displaced by junk food, where home-cooked meals are the bedrock of family and culture, where love and pride are sensed in the aromas of broths, stews, and curries. When the hand that stirs the pot is mom or dad, grandma or grandma, kids are healthier. The deeper goal of Daily Bread is to be a catalyst for change and link to a growing, grassroots community that is moving the needle on diet.

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