The last post defined the term nuance and my premise that it resides in our physical and mental perception. Today I will provide an example of nutritional health labels and how they may be missing the smaller, more subtle point, to engage us.
The nutritional label system used on packaged food and beverages got an upgrade in May 2016 when the FDA required manufacturers to list added sugar in grams and as a percent-daily-value (%DV).
For the past 58 years since the Food Additives Amendment was enacted, sugar content only needed to be displayed in that illusive numeric; grams or milligrams– despite 17 or more other ingredients bearing both numerics. I know a large paperclip weighs about 1 gram but how does this help me understand the daily sugar consumption? It doesn’t add up so easily and the information exchange fails if we don’t comprehend the units of measurement. Although the new sugar %DV is a positive step, how might we introduce new tangible signifiers that grab people's attention and reach new audiences?
In 2011 when the Grocery Manufacturers Association created their own 'Facts Up Front' labeling system, it only required a passing glance to see up to 5 values– calories, saturated fat, trans fat, sodium and grams of added sugar. There have been a number of other quick-read signifiers over the years like PepsiCo's SmartSpot, Hannaford Supermarket's Guiding Stars, and the Whole Foods ANDI Rating System. When comparing items on the shelf, these labels allow consumers make health conscious decisions more quickly, right?
I am not sure if these labels do more harm than good. On one hand, they provide logical numerics but on the other hand it is similar to what Douglas Rushkoff observes in his book Program or Be Programed in that "not everything is a data point.” He argues that a data-point is a single reference in time and that it doesn’t contain the contextual substance for that particular point. Think of it as the abridged version of Cliff'sNotes. The nuance and understanding reside in reading the entire book rather than just data-surfing.
If numbers aren’t providing enough context for making healthier food decisions, then seeing a pyramid of sugar cubes pictured next to a can of soda should help. The shock value from these images is persuasive but they can further the abstraction if you can’t relate to outdated units like sugar cubes or teaspoons. For the first time in recorded history, consumers are spending more money dining out than at the grocery store. As less people prepare their own meals, they have distanced themselves from comprehending a measuring teaspoon– the slow antiquation of a ‘standard’ signifier of portion.
There are a wide host of wonderful apps and online sites that help us calculate, track and translate nutritional information and relate it to us in visual manners. I aim to create a conversion method for relating weights and measures to common physical objects– the most intimate of all, the smartphone.
I want to provide physical objects that convey weight, percent daily value, and portion into physical form. After all, what is the point of data and facts if people can’t comprehend it?