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The Daily Diets of Different Nations, Squeezed Into One Awesome Chart

The United States and China eat the most meat, and poorer nations tend to subsist on cereals and starchy roots.

What world cultures consume the most meat and eggs? Where are people more likely to munch on "starchy roots"?

The answers to these questions can all be found in this crazy visualization, which shows the daily diets of different cultures in a way that wouldn't look out of place in a modern-art museum. The impressive graphic was whipped up by Knoema, an open-data platform with physical headquarters in Washington, D.C., using information released in 2010 by the United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization. Countries are ranked according to 2009 gross national income per capita, with First World powers like the United States and The Netherlands stacked near the top.

Here's the key:

What can be gleaned from this unusual data buffet? In no surprise, it turns out that denizens of wealthier countries consume foodstuffs generally seen as more tasty and desirable, like steak and milk. Poorer countries subsist heavily on rugged stuff like plant tubers and "oilcrops," meaning for the most part soybeans and their derivatives. Knoema explains a bit more about the patterns of international noshing:

People in high-income countries consume more vegetable oils, sugar and sweeteners, milk and meat. With the decrease of income among countries, consumption of cereals accounts for bigger share of daily diet. People living at extreme poverty level consume much more starchy roots.

Some interesting notes: Mali seems to be the world leader for the ingestion of cereals (excluding beer, sadly). More than two-thirds of what a Malian eats every day might be grains. The biggest slurper of animal fats is carnivorous Canada, where such viscous substances make up an average of 7 percent of a person's daily diet. The United States' hunger for meat is outshone only by China's – dead animals constitute 12 and 14 percent of the typical day's meals, respectively. Japan and the U.S. are tied for consumption of "stimulants." The most offal-loving nation appears to be South Africa.

Oh, and the planet's No. 1 chugger of alcohol? That would seem to be Russia, although it has heavy competition from the European Union and Uganda. Here's the full-screen version of the graphic; have fun uprooting other toothsome factoids.

Visualization by Knoema

About the Author

  • John Metcalfe
    John Metcalfe is CityLab’s Bay Area bureau chief, based in Oakland. His coverage focuses on climate change and the science of cities.