Food is a central part of our lives, and yet we tend to take it for granted. We’re often too busy to give much thought to what we’re eating or how it affects our health.

In the West, there’s a growing awareness about the harm of eating processed foods loaded with salt, fat and sugar, but awareness hasn’t led to widespread change: obesity rates are climbing, and since corn syrup came along, the incidence of diabetes has tripled. For the first time in many generations, life expectancy has decreased in America, and the main culprit is empty calories—processed, packaged junk foods promoted to us by big-budget commercials.

Bradley, 2016 © Gregg Segal

As the saying goes, the hand that stirs the pot rules the world. The hand that’s stirring the pot is motivated by profit, and it’s stirring a big pot—our contemporary food culture has created epidemics of obesity, diabetes, heart disease, colon cancer and a myriad of other health problems. This is not localized in the West but is being felt from Mexico to Qatar, China to Brazil, Australia to India—anywhere industrialization is on the rise. Indeed, sensing the sea change in attitude about diet and the physical effects of junk food, fast food companies have begun investing heavily in foreign markets, where public awareness isn’t as keen.

Chetan, 2017 © Gregg Segal

Before globalization overwhelms traditional regional diets, I’m making my way from Asia to the Middle East, from Europe to Africa and South America asking children to keep a journal of everything they eat in a week. Once the week ends, I make a portrait of the child with the food arranged around them. I’m focusing on children because eating habits, which form when we’re young, last a lifetime and often pave the way to chronic health problems.

Nur Zarah, 2017 © Gregg Segal

I believe there are better answers out there than the Western diet of processed foods that we’ve grown accustomed to in the last couple of generations. “Daily Bread” features many simple meals made from whole foods that can be prepared at home. The deeper goal of this work is to serve as a catalyst for change and link to a growing, grassroots community that is sharing information, learning from one another and moving the needle on diet.

—Gregg Segal

This project was a Finalist in the Magnum Photography Awards 2017. Discover more inspiring work from all 41 of the winners, finalists, and jurors’ picks.

If you’re interested in seeing more work like this, we’d recommend these articles: The Poverty Line, an award-winning project that looks at what kind of food you can buy if you’re living on the poverty line in 24 countries around the world; Where Children Sleep, a series of diptychs depicting the bedrooms of children in different countries; and I Have a Dream, a project where young people from diverse locales—Jordan, India, Haiti and beyond—talk about their dreams.