If you want a simple example of how vital a role infographics can play in our world, look at the food labels in your refrigerator. Do they really give you any sort of useful information? 20 grams of sugar. Is that a lot? 100 calories per serving. Doesn't sound like much. And 5 grams of protein. That's good, right? While the daily value percentages help a little, you have to know quite a bit about food for those labels to mean much. And even if you do, the labels, and their pile-on of statistics, make the information all-too-easy to ignore. And none of it tells us what our food actually is.
Particularly interesting is the label on the left, which shows exactly what the overall composition of the food actually is. Meanwhile, the label on the right uses overlapping area charts to put carbohydrate, fat, and protein content in the context of your larger diet.
The label on the right is probably too complex to make it in prime time. But something along these lines would be a great improvement over what we have today -- dumb lists of numbers that can be hard for even intelligent people to wrap their minds around. Sadly, we probably won't see anything approaching this level of utility anytime soon. Even though people have been talking about overhauling food labels for some time, it's unlikely that we'll get anything better given the power of D.C. food lobbyists. Just look at their own weak responses to making healthier labels. Not too different from the status quo, right?
We're not alone in this: The Europeans recently rejected one of the most intuitive ideas to come along in years, to simply give food labels a traffic light system, showing whether something was advisable to eat or not. (What food maker would ever stand for being branded with a red light?)
Maybe technology could solve these problems: We can imagine some sort of RFID identification system for your food which tracks what you're eating and how much, and then links up to an iPhone or iPad app tabulating your daily intakes. That way, you could watch your eating habits by the day and over time. Sounds futuristic, and it probably couldn't happen for many years. But somehow we have to get around the inability of food labels to address the biggest food problem today: Knowing how each thing we eat fits into the larger picture of eating healthy.
[Via Audree Lapierre]