This Powerful Photo Series Contrasts The Daily Diets Of World Elites And Their Subjects

“Power Hungry”, by artists Henry Hargreaves and Caitlin Levin, brings inequality through history into sharp relief.

1. On the left you can see – among other things – a giant block of Emmental cheese, reportedly Kim Jong-Un’s favourite food. On the right – placed at the other end of the table – is, according to Henry and Caitlin’s research, a typical meal eaten by a North Korean citizen.

Henry Hargreaves / Caitlin Levin

Henry Hargreaves / Caitlin Levin

 

As Henry tells us, more than a quarter of all North Korean children suffer from chronic malnutrition, and the majority of the country’s 24 million people don’t know where their next meal is coming from.

2. Henry tells BuzzFeed News:

This project began with a look at the foods historical dictators have eaten. Quickly, though, our endeavor evolved as we saw stark similarities between past and present. It became abundantly clear how authoritarian regimes throughout history have used food as a weapon, systematically oppressing, silencing, and killing people through starvation.

3. Present-day Syria.

Henry Hargreaves / Caitlin Levin

Henry Hargreaves / Caitlin Levin

 

4. Henry says:

The basis of the meals were dictators – but we wanted to make them more representative of the excess 1% than individual tastes and quirks.

[We know] how Assad’s wife favors a Western diet but elements of the more traditional Middle Eastern diet are still the norm with the rich. These became the starting points that we based these [photos] on.

Nowadays, “death by forced starvation” sounds like something from an old newsreel. But it is not. Right now, in the 21st century, Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad is once again making use of it. While the international community is haggling over his chemical weapons, the stuff of modern nightmares, Assad is following the example of his medieval and his 20th-century predecessors and deliberately starving thousands of people to death. Because Assad says he doesn’t want to feed armed rebels, trucks filled with food aid now sit outside the besieged city of Homs, where an unknown number of civilians have had no supplies for many weeks.

5. The series has a historical angle. This represents France before the 1789 revolution.

Henry Hargreaves / Caitlin Levin

Henry Hargraves / Caitlin Levin

 

As Henry says, the urban poor in the Eighteenth Century generally spent half their income on food to survive the year before the revolution began, and in 1789 an unskilled labourer would spend nearly all of his wages on bread.

6. And these photos contrast the diets of the rich and poor in Ancient Egypt.

Henry Hargreaves / Caitlin Levin

Henry Hargreaves / Caitlin Levin

 

As you can see – and this is typical throughout history – meat was considered a luxury: poorer members of that society would generally eat more vegetables and fruit.

7. The series also looks at Ancient Rome.

Henry Hargreves / Caitlin Levin

Henry Hargreaves / Caitlin Levin

 

Henry points to recent research showing that contrary to popular belief, the overwhelming majority of ancient Romans didn’t eat huge feasts: instead their diet was millet, a grain more appropriate for livestock.

8. And while this may or may not be a surprise, it also looks at contemporary America.

Henry Hargreaves / Caitlin Levin

Henry Hargreaves / Caitlin Levin

 

As Henry points out, a significant proportion of Americans face hunger due to poverty. He cites figures showing that households with children reported a significantly higher food insecurity rate than households without children in 2011: 20.6% vs. 12.2%. Over 50 million Americans struggled to put food on the table that year.

9. Henry says:

We want people to literally and figuratively sit down and look across a table to see the glaring disparities between the “haves and have nots.” The world has clearly changed tremendously in just a few short decades. Swathes of the world’s people, once routinely afflicted by sweeping hunger, have more regular access to food than before. Indeed, even some poor populations now face a greater threat from obesity than from starvation.

Yet tremendous imbalances exist in places both far away and closer to home. Many throughout the world are still forced to survive on the most meagre of meals, or nothing at all, while a powerful few lavish in absurd culinary luxuries.

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Alan White is a news editor for BuzzFeed News and is based in London.
 
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