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Food: A Cultural Journey with Penny de los Santos

By Anthony Todd in Food on Oct 24, 2008 2:30PM


“Most of my assignments started in the kitchen. It’s where people like to talk. Then I find out who they really are.” - Penny de los Santos

Wednesday night was the inaugural lecture of the 2008-09 National Geographic Live Series at the Field Museum’s James Simpson Theatre. National Geographic Live is a collaboration between the Field Museum and the National Geographic Society which showcases photographers, filmmakers and naturalists discussing their work outside of the pages of National Geographic magazine. We’d never been to one of these talks before, so we weren’t quite sure what to expect.

Penny1.jpg Penny de los Santos is a food photographer who works for National Geographic and Saveur who has traveled to 13 countries photographing food and landscapes. The event turned out to be less of a “lecture” and more of a narrated slideshow, showcasing her amazing photographs of food taken all around the world. All the food she photographs is edible – no hair dryers, glycerin sprays or shaving cream mashed potatoes. And most of it is taken in the markets and kitchens of ordinary people and chefs.

We heard stories of riding with a lizard hunter in Peru (and eating the resulting Lizard Tortilla), visiting the most dangerous market in the world (in Mexico City) and wandering the South Side of Chicago looking for the best Soul Food. Her latest visit, to Beirut, was to visit a group of Iraqi refugees and photograph their meal breaking the Ramadan fast. But, she didn’t have the official permission of Hezbollah to be there, and the neighborhood was heavily patrolled. She had to take all the pictures by candlelight, lest rooftop spotters notice her camera flash.

It was, in short, an incredibly entertaining evening. de los Santos's pictures made us want to go home and eat everything in our house – but not until putting into incredibly beautiful arrangements and taking pictures of it. If this is an indication of the quality of these presentations, we’ll certainly be back. The next National Geographic Live will be on November 18th and is entitled “Borneo: Paradise Under Siege,” featuring wildlife photographer Mattias Klum.

You can see some of Penny’s photographs here. Be sure to check out the “food” section – many of the pictures from the lecture are there. Tickets for National Geographic Live are available online.