Did you know 9 out of the 10 healthiest children’s diets are in Africa, one of the poorest regions of the world? That’s just one of the stunning revelations that photographer Gregg Segal unearthed shooting his latest work, “Daily Bread: What Kids Eat Around the World,” available now.
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The large-format portrait project examines the diets of children around the globe. Segal challenged over 50 kids from every corner of the world to record their weekly intake in detail and then photographed them all in colorful portraits surrounded by that very food. The resulting images were a revealing look at the state of global nutrition, multicultural tastes, changing food habits, and even food packaging.
One of the more surprising takeaways from the work was how wealth and affluence alone doesn’t necessitate a healthier diet, and the story of hunger and obesity isn’t always a story of haves vs. have-nots. Children in poorer regions of Africa and parts of Asia, or those living with families that can’t afford western processed snacks, generally ended up eating more wholesome and homemade foods. ‘
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In Kuala Lumpur, for instance, 8-year-old Beryl eats fresh dragon fruit and pineapple cut into pretty shapes and wholesome home-made soups made with seaweed, fish, and tofu. Many cultures continue eating largely the same way they have been for hundreds of years. Junk food, sugar, and bleached white foods pervaded many of the western and American snapshots. Cooper, a 10-year-old boy from Altadena, California, was photographed with burgers, fries, pizza, and chocolate chip pancakes along with some healthier foods like sushi, salad, and salmon.
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Kids in Mediterranean countries where the general population is well documented to put a strong emphasis on fresh fruits, vegetables, lean meats, and fish, were revealed to have some of the healthiest diets. But things are changing and not necessarily for the better, as food companies find new ways to build supply chains in once hard-to-access parts of the world. “Populations that once lived on lentils, starchy roots, and coarse grains are being replaced by more affluent and busy people with a taste for convenience foods.”
“The reactions of parents to the foods their kids ate proved that they sometimes knew less about their kid’s diet than you’d expect.” Segall continued,” while I was photographing Adveeta, her father watched as the pictures came up on my laptop. He shook his head and said, ‘I can’t believe Adveeta is eating all that junk! I’m going to have to talk with her mother!'”
Award-winning food journalist Bee Wilson, who writes the book up front and a short synopsis for each portrait, notes that if you share a fascination at glimpsing what people eat behind closed doors, you will love this book—and she’s right. In “Daily Bread,” Segal has created an extraordinary snapshot of the world that is at once a familiar and also rather unusual spectacle. “Seeing a week’s worth of food from a birds-eye perspective allows us to grasp, in one glance, what our diet looks like and what may be missing.”
Below, a few excerpts from the book:
Yusuf’s mom came to Dubai from Ireland to work as a pastry chef and chocolatier. She married an Emerati man and they had one son before separating. Yusuf loves his mum’s cooking though he makes scrambled eggs and toast all on his own. Yusuf likes to read, draw, climb, ride horses, and create science projects. He thinks he’ll either be a pilot or police officer when he grows up. If he had the money, he’d buy a Ferrari. His role models are Batman and his mother. Yusuf wishes for his mum to get married again and that he’ll have brothers and sisters. Lying in bed at night, he thinks back to building a birdhouse with his granddad, fishing with him in the rivers in Ireland, and going to Warner Brothers Studio with his grandmom.
Tharkish and Mierra’s roots in Malaysia begin with their great-grandfather who migrated from South India to build a better future, but only found work as a rubber tapper before being conscripted by the Japanese to build the “Death Railway” from Thailand to Myanmar in 1943. Their dad works as a gaffer in film production and their mom is a homemaker and does most of the cooking, though on weekends they eat KFC, Pizza Hut, or get Chinese takeout. Mierra dislikes the pungent smell of meat and traces of blood. She prefers candies and chocolates. Her earliest memory of food is rice porridge, her comfort food whenever she falls sick. Tharkish’s favorite food is puttu, steamed ground rice layered with coconut and topped with bananas and palm sugar. Tharkish doesn’t like onions because they taste weird and leave a funny smell in his mouth.
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Greta lives with her mother and younger sister in Hamburg but spends quite a bit of time with her grandparents, too. On the path to her grandparents’ home is a great big chestnut tree, and in autumn Greta searches in the foliage for chestnuts with her little sister. Greta’s favorite food is fish sticks with mashed potatoes and applesauce. She can’t stand rice pudding. One thing Greta is really good at is snapping her fingers, both hands at the same time. At night, while falling asleep, Greta thinks mostly about her mother, who is usually in the next room watching TV.
Since her parents split up, Rosalie has lived part time with her mom, and part time with her dad, which allows her to see both the sea and mountains from home. Rosalie’s passions are Thai kickboxing, rock climbing, and gymnastics. She eats a healthy diet (which includes lots of fresh fish, like sardines) thanks in part to her father, a restaurateur, who has taught her to make crepes, salads, and lentils with sausage—her favorite dish. Rosalie gets her sense of style from her mother, a fashion designer, and plans to be an interior designer. She notices she’s getting older because she has a phone. There’s nothing missing in Rosalie’s life, though if she had enough money, she’d buy a yacht.
Nur’s parents come from a rural village in East Malaysia. Her granny has supernatural beliefs passed down from long ago. She prepares food for the spirits and asks that they guard her family. Nur’s diet includes a variety of Chinese, Indian, and Malay dishes like chee cheong fun, rice noodle rolls filled with steamed tofu, beancurd skin, and fish balls served with a little sweet chili paste; roti canai, a flatbread eaten with dal and curry; and nasi lemak, a blend of rice, boiled eggs, cucumber, anchovies, peanuts, and sambal (hot sauce) cooked in coconut milk and wrapped in banana leaves. 90% of Nur’s meals are homemade.
Daily Bread: What Kids Eat Around the World, $34.90 on Amazon
Segal's revealing portrait project is available now.
Greg Segal studied photography and film at California Institute of the Arts, dramatic writing at New York University, and education at The University of Southern California. Segal’s photography has been recognized by American Photography, Communication Arts, PDN, Investigative Reporters and Editors, The New York Press Club, the Society of Publication Designers, and the Magnum Photography Awards.
Header image courtesy of Gregg Segal