Isaiah Dedrick, Long Beach, CA, (16 at time of photo) photographed March 20, 2016. Isaiah was raised by his mother and grandmother, who does most of the cooking at home. One day, Isaiah would like to have enough space to grow his own garden. Isaiah’s favorite food is orange chicken and fried rice and he loves the smell of apples sautéed with cinnamon. His mom doesn’t permit him to drink soda and after this photo shoot, Isaiah decided to eliminate snacks from his diet. Isaiah’s wish is that no one will go hungry in the world. He plays the drums and the flute and is studying acting. He’d like to be as funny as Eddie Murphy or Tyler Perry and be able to fly like Superman.
What is the biggest takeaway you had from the project?
The revolution in diet and sameness of what kids around the world are eating—ultra-processed packaged foods, empty calories. The children I met have distinct personalities and diverse hobbies, yet they’re often eating in eerily similar ways. Compare the diets of Paulo from Sicily and Isaiah from Los Angeles.
In the past, a Sicilian boy would have grown up eating very different foods from his counterpart in the US, but now their diets are converging. Both Paulo and Isaiah eat French fries, burgers, pizza, pasta, and white bread. They live continents apart, but it’s as if the boys’ parents have been shopping at the same global superstore!
Alexandra (9, left) and Jessica (8, right) Lewis, Altadena, CA, USA. Photographed February 21, 2016.
Alex and Jessica live in the foothills of Altadena with their daddy and papa who are engineers at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a NASA field center in La Canada, California. Their yard is filled with food: blackberry bushes, grape vines, and fruit trees – fig, peach, pomegranate, guava, mulberry, jujubes, and banana. They have chickens, too, and eat their eggs almost every day.
Jessica loves sweets and pizza with ham and is repelled by beans, peppers, sushi, and chocolate. She’s good at drawing and daydreaming and on weekends the whole family roller-skates at Moonlight Rollerway. Jessica is the richest person on her street beside their neighbor Mary Anne. When she grows up, she wants to be an author and university professor.
Alex makes Hot Pockets, pizza rolls, and quesadillas herself, but her favorite dish is macaroni and cheese. She refuses to eat Brussels sprouts or soggy leftover broccoli. She collects rocks and shells and is saving up for an Xbox 360 and Nintendo Switch. Alex makes people laugh without even trying because she’s a spaz, she says. Her long-range goal is to get a Ph.D. and have an outstanding career.
After the photo shoot, Alex and Jessica took much of the leftover food home to feed their chickens.
Where did you find your models and how did the creative process of working with them go?
I began photographing my son and friends of his from school in my backyard in Altadena, CA. I broadened the piece to include kids from other neighborhoods in Los Angeles and then decided the project would resonate more deeply with a global scope. I needed a producer in each country to find the kids. The goal was to represent a diversity of diets in each location. If the rate of obesity in a given country was 25%, I aimed to reflect this percentage in my small sample of kids.
One of the challenges working with many of the kids was the language barrier. In many cases, I had to rely on crew members to translate and interpret for me—and hope they were accurately conveying what I wanted them to.
Altaf Rabbal DLove Bin Roni, 6, Gombak, Malaysia, photographed March 26, 2017. Altaf and his family live in Kampung Kerdas, a small village of about 30 families on the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur. There are many children Altaf’s age. They chase each other around the neighborhood almost every evening and pick fruit from the trees: mango, rambutan, and mangosteen. If it’s raining, they’ll play marbles. Often, Altaf visits his grandparents who live five minutes away. Altaf’s father makes and sells satay sticks at his own stand and runs delivery for a Malaysian online platform part-time while his mom takes care of the house and kids; she’s expecting her 4th soon. Altaf’s favorite food is his father’s chicken and beef satay. It’s seasoned with ginger and herbs, roasted over a charcoal fire and served with sliced, cold cucumber. Altaf dips his satays in a tangy sauce made with roasted ground peanuts, chili paste, garlic, and lemongrass. Altaf will eat any “tasteful” food (made with a lot of ingredients and flavors) and likes raw, leafy greens like Ulam-Ulam, a salad eaten with anchovies, cincalok (a condiment made from fermented krill) and sambal (hot sauce). The only foods Altaf avoids are pickles and other sour things. Altaf collects parcel stickers, big, colorful ones, and likes to discover new things. He loves science because to him it is magic. When he grows up, he wants to be a pilot. He loves to fly like birds while watching the skies and clouds. As he falls asleep, Altaf thinks of what he’ll do tomorrow: catch fish, climb a tall fruit tree, or cycle far from his village.
Was there any particularly memorable encounter that you’d like the share?
There were many. When Altaf (the boy on the cover of the book) entered the studio in Kuala Lumpur, he was overwhelmed by the flashing strobe lights on set and the hubbub of the crew rushing about. Altaf is from a small community outside Kuala Lumpur and being thrust into this foreign environment surrounded by strangers was hard to handle.
In fact, he burst into tears and melted down. But we gradually and gently coaxed him onto the set, soothed him, and gave him time to acclimate. He felt more comfortable once surrounded by his familiar foods. In the end, Altaf turned out to be one of the most focused and poised kids I photographed and I think this comes thru in his portrait.
Rosalie Durand, 10, Nice, France, photographed August 18, 2017. 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 Mediterranean Sea and the French Alps from home. She has 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. The only foods she won’t eat are ratatouille, spinach, and cucumber. Rosalie gets her sense of style from her mother, a fashion designer, and plans to be an interior designer. Rosalie is into Thai kickboxing, rock climbing, gymnastics, and performs magic tricks. She’s a fan of actors Cole Sprouse and Emma Watson and in her free time goes to the cinema. She notices she’s getting older because she has a phone. There’s nothing missing in Rosalie’s life, though she’d like to go to Los Angeles and explore Hollywood Boulevard. If she had enough money, she’d buy a sailboat or maybe even a yacht.
What do you hope that people take away from the project?
For me, photography is a process that invites reflection from the subject of the pictures as well as the viewers. 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!”
A single mom in Los Angeles looked at all the junk food in her daughter’s diet and blamed her ex-husband. “Except for that bowl of broccoli! That was the night she was home with me!” Parents are blaming each other all over the world because of this project—which tells me that it’s helping move the needle on diet.
Greta Moeller, Hamburg, Germany, 7, photographed August 11, 2017. 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.
I have several projects in the pipeline but they all require funding which is not always easy to find! I plan to tackle a project on unsafe drinking water (nearly 63 million Americans are exposed to unsafe drinking water). I’m also developing projects around climate change and ocean plastic. And I’m not done with food—I’d like to continue exploring what kids eat around the world, focusing specifically on indigenous diets.
My Modern Met granted permission to feature photos by Gregg Segal.