The Energy Issue is a Columbia University GSAPP initiative to make energy a cultural issue, launched in partnership with Oldcastle BuildingEnvelope®.

Everyday Energy: What People Around the World Eat on a Daily Basis


37-year-old Ecuadorian mountain farmer, 5’3”, 119 lbs, typical daily caloric intake: 3,800 kcal. Food staples: Empanadas, barley flour soup, roasted potatoes, plantain, hard brown sugar mixed with hot water.


45-year-old American NASA astronaut, 6’0”, 205 lbs, typical daily caloric intake: 2,700 kcal. Food staples: freeze-dried foods, granola bars, split-pea soup with ham, vanilla pudding, tuna salad spread with crackers.


32-year-old Tswana mother living with HIV/AIDS, 5’5”, 92 lbs, typical daily caloric intake: 900 kcal.


20-year-old US Army soldier, 6’5”, 195 lbs, typical daily caloric intake: 4,000 kcal. Food staples: Instant ready-to-eat meals, Gatorade sports drinks.


38-year-old Maasai herder, 5’5”, 103 lbs, typical daily caloric intake: 800 kcal. Food staples: Maize meal, milk


47-year-old Spanish shepherd, 5’7.5”, 154 lbs, typical daily caloric intake: 3,800 kcal. Food staples: lamb, cured pork belly, baguette, omelet with canned tuna, Mahou Clasica beer.


54-year-old Tennessean former school bus driver, 5’9”, 468 lbs, typical daily caloric intake: 1,600 kcal. Food staples: Quaker Simple Harvest granola bars, iced tea with Splenda sweetener, Lean Pockets stuffed sandwiches, steamed broccoli, Ronzoni Healthy Harvest whole wheat blend pasta.


51-year-old Vietnamese rice farmer, 5’4”, 110 lbs, typical daily caloric intake: 2,500 kcal. Food staples: Rice noodles with fish sauce, pork back, eggs, white rice, green tea.


21-year-old Minnesotan The Mall of America staffer, 5’7”, 130 lbs, typical daily caloric intake: 1,900 kcal. Food staples: Burger King Chicken Fries and french fries, Taco Bell tacos, Dr. Pepper, Mountain Dew Baja Blast.


40-year-old Egyptian camel broker, 5’8”, 165 lbs, typical daily caloric intake: 3,200 kcal. Food staples: Eggs with butter, fava beans, country bread, potato chips, feta cheese, soup, rice, black tea.

Photojournalist Peter Menzel and his wife, Faith D’Aluisio, have spent the last ten years exploring the global cultures of food and diet. After photographing families with what they ate over the course of one week in Hungry Planet in 2005, the duo traveled to over 30 counties to document what individuals ate on an average day. The resulting book, What I Eat: Around the World in 80 Diets, shows subjects with their daily food along with information on their age, occupation, height, weight, caloric intake, and other details. The project highlights not only the stunning variety in diets around the world, but also how larger issues of energy consumption and industrialization affect cultural norms. 

Intolerable Beauty: Portraits of American Mass Consumption

For his series Intolerable Beauty, photographer Chris Jordan peered into shipping ports and industrial yards around America. Though these sites remain unseen by the majority of the population, they hold the stunningly massive remains of our collective consumption. Jordan’s findings include seemingly boundless troves of cell phones, e-waste, circuit boards, cell phone chargers, cars, spent bullet casings, cigarette butts, and steel shred. Jordan describes the immense scale of our detritus as simultaneously “desolate, macabre, oddly comical and ironic, and even darkly beautiful.” Like Edward Burtynsky’s photographs of our vast industrial landscapes, Jordan’s images portray a staggering complexity that verges on the sublime. The photographs reflect the loss of individual identity that results from actions that occur on such a large scale, but Jordan hopes his work can “serve as portals to a kind of cultural self-inquiry” and inspire people to reestablish a personal stake in issues of energy consumption.

Project Echo: NASA Experiments with Space Orbs and Global Communications

During the late 1950s and early 1960s, NASA researchers considered two possible technologies for space satellite communications. One was “active” satellites, designed to receive a signal, amplify it, and then transmit it back to earth. The other was “passive” satellites, which only served as a reflective surface from which signals transmitted from the Earth were bounced back to the ground. Though active satellites ultimately proved much more effective, NASA’s experiments in passive satellite technology provided some interesting technical challenges. These explorations, called Project Echo, resulted in the creation of two massive metalized balloon satellites acting as a passive reflector of microwave signals. Launched in 1960 and 1964, the Echo satellites were essentially balloons which were sent into orbit folded flat and then inflated. Echo 1 was a 100 foot sphere while Echo 2 was a slightly larger 135 foot sphere. 

Coal Runs America: West Virginia Senate Candidate’s TV Ad Sends a Strong Message

West Virginia Secretary of State and U.S. Senate nominee Natalie Tennant recently launched a bold TV ad portraying her as an independent leader who will buck her party and “stand up to President Obama” to fight for West Virginia coal jobs. Making energy the centerpiece of her campaign, Tennant states “You and I know it’s our hard-working West Virginia coal miners that power America.” As Tennant makes makes clear in the spot, coal is not just a significant energy source, but a “way of life”: a culture and identity that opposing political leaders threaten to destroy. Over shots of power lines leading back to a coal-fired power plant in West Virginia, Tennant asks “Where do they think their electricity comes from?” In the ad’s final moments, Tennant is shown shutting off a switch in a West Virginia coal plant which apparently leads directly to the nation’s capital. Just before the White House is seen going dark, Tennant says “I’ll make sure President Obama gets the message.”

Hyperlapse of the Supermoon over Los Angeles

The TimeLAX project, started by video-making duo RandyFX and RandyGM, is a growing archive of timelapse photography of the Los Angeles metropolitan area. In a recent video made for the project, the so-called “supermoon” from August 10, 2014, can be seen rising eerily over the electrified cityscape. A supermoon occurs when a full moon or a new moon is at the point of its elliptal orbit when it is closest to Earth, resulting in a super-sized appearance. According to NASA, the moon appears 14% larger and 30% brighter than it does when farthest from the Earth. Though supermoons have been associated with increased risk of events such as earthquakes and volcanic eruptions, there is no scientific evidence to back up this claim. Incidentally, the next and closest supermoon of the year will be tonight, September 9, 2014, so remember to keep an eye out.

Wim Wender’s Pina: The Surreal Beauty of Site-Specific Dance

Pina Bausch was a German contemporary dance performer and choreographer known for her unique style, a blend of movement, sound, and prominent stage sets, and her elaborate collaboration with performers during the development of a piece. Now known as Tanztheater, the style became a leading influence in the field of modern dance from the 1970s on. Director Wim Wenders documented Bausch and the dance company she created, Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch, in his 2011 film Pina, which showed dancers performing not only inside the theater, but in locations around Bausch’s home city of Wuppertal, Germany. The production is particularly moving in the way it juxtaposes Bausch’s choreography with the famous industrial landscapes of the Wupper valley, placing the massive scale of geologic transformations against the intimate scale of human dancers. Among other locations, performers can be seen on the platform of the Wuppertal Schwebebahn elevated railway; the Zeche Zollverein coal mine industrial complex; the brown landscape of an open-faced coal pit; and SANAA’s airy concrete Zollverein School of Management and Design

Caught in Motion: Shinichi Maruyama’s Nude Time-Lapses

Japanese photographer Shinichi Maruyama is known for the way he captures and expands moments in time. For his “Nude” series, he re-imagined the traditional nude as a portrait also of movement and human vitality. The resulting images abstract the human body into swirling vortexes of skin, sweeping patterns that offer the viewer an alternative view of what it means to capture the energy and form of the body. 

"Catch of the Day" Campaign Presents Trash Fresh from the Sea

To bring attention to the issue of ocean pollution, the Surfrider Foundation teamed up with advertising agency Saatchi & Saatchi LA to create the “Catch of the Day” campaign. Actual trash collected from beaches around the U.S. was re-packaged as food and left on display at farmer’s markets to create a impactful, site-specific message. By addressing consumers at the point of purchase, the “Catch of the Day” reminds seafood buyers that ocean pollution isn’t someone else’s problem; rather, it impacts individuals on a daily basis. Some of the repackaged items include cigarette butts from Venice Beach, California; aerosol cans from South Padre Beach, Texas; and condoms from Newport Beach, California. While environmental campaigns often emphasize shock value above all else, the Surfrider project tempers startling subjects with a restrained presentation and refined target audience. 

Sea Soup: Mandy Barker’s Photo Collages of Ocean Trash

Scientists have informally dubbed the discarded human waste accumulating in our oceans with a number of names: “soup,” “trash vortex,” and most nobly, the “Great Pacific garbage patch.” The last term makes particular reference to the exceptionally high relative concentrations of pelagic plastics, chemical sludge and other debris that have been trapped by the currents of the North Pacific Gyre, one of the five major oceanic gyres on the planet. Gyres, large systems of rotating ocean currents, are the largest ecosystems in the world and, more recently, ground zero for massive accretions of plastic trash. In researching this phenomenon, UK photographer Mandy Barker developed a series of images entitled ‘Soup’ which depicts these plastics and discarded items salvaged from beaches around the world. Presented in beautifully precise, color-coded arrangements, the collected objects appear as a taxonomy of unique species in a toxic “ecosystem.” The images also underscore the longevity of even the tiniest pieces of trash: though haphazardly discarded and forgotten, they form an ever-growing environmental issue. Barker’s project, by bringing a seemingly remote subject into clear view, compels us to address this elephant in the room.

Found Typologies: Bernd and Hilla Becher’s Photographs of Industrial Architecture

German conceptual artists Bernhard “Bernd” Becher and Hilla Becher, who worked together as a collaborative duo, are perhaps best known for their extensive series of photographic images of industrial buildings and structures. The images were often organized in grids according to a particular “typology,” such as water towers, grain elevators, coke ovens, and warehouses. In displaying what might typically be considered “banal” or lacking in design, the Becher’s elevated industrial architecture to subject worthy of formal aesthetic and artistic consideration. The photographs also bring light to an architectural ecosystem based on the production and transformation of energy that is paradoxically both hidden and ubiquitous. The Bechers would go on to influence generations of documentary photographers and artists as the founders of what has come to be known as the ‘Becher school.’