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Hey, Designers: Our Food Labels Are Keeping Us Fat. Wanna Revamp Them?

Michael Pollan is co-judging a design contest to reconsider the nutrition label. Foodies swoon!

If you're a frequent reader of our site, you know we're not terribly fond of crowd-sourced design. It's an all-too-easy way for a company to take work away from professional designers, driving down the value of their services — and, more generally, the quality of design that the rest of us have to live with.

Rethink The Food Label is different. Yes, it's a crowd-sourced design competition. But the goal here isn't to get designers to work for free, at least not entirely. It's to goad the FDA and other powers that be into doing something about America's crappy food label.

Why now? Obesity and diabetes rates are soaring in the United States.

The contest — which will be co-judged by Michael Pollan, foodie culture's very own Jane Jacobs — asks folks to redesign the nutrition label. You know the one: That black-and-white column on all our packaged foods that's got the visual charm of a Microsoft spreadsheet and the readability of Beowulf. "It can be very intimidating," says Lily Mihalik, who organized the contest with Diana Jou, both fellows at Berkeley j-school's News21 program. "The FDA has even said that a lot of people look at the label but don't understand it. What we're saying is: Let's find a way to make the label easy for everyone to understand." (For Pollan's take on why the food label sucks, check out this post on Good, a partner in the contest.)

Why now? Obesity and diabetes rates are soaring in the United States, as anyone who hasn't been trapped under a large object for the past decade will tell you. But there is some promising momentum on food policy even at the glacial federal level, with Michelle Obama's Let's Move campaign and the FDA recently replacing its convoluted food pyramid with a much simpler (if not particularly attractive) food plate. These developments suggest that the time is ripe to mount pressure on the FDA to reconsider the presentation of nutritional facts by which people plan, or don't plan, their food intake — even if it doesn't result in a new label right away. "We would like to get the FDA's attention," Mihalik says. "We want to be able to say: We did it with crowd-sourcing. And look at what we got!"

The last day to submit an idea is July 1. Winners will be announced July 15.

[Top image: Sharon Core]

Add New Comment


  • Chris Fuller

    Humans are the only creatures on this planet that need eating instructions. Why?

  • Scott

    So, I made an account just because I wanted to comment on this post.  The idea that a label is keeping America fat is a kind of microcosm to exactly why Americans are fat.  Everyone wants to sit on their ass all day and take some pill or do a sit up to stay fit - our society doesn't permit that anymore.  In our day and age the vast majority of us can't simply do our daily activities and expect to stay fit.  It takes effort.  You have to get out a be active, changing some label on a can of beans isn't going to do anything.

    Not to mention I would vouch that most obese people aren't doing a lot of grocery shopping in the first place - get McDonalds to do an in your face HERES WHAT YOUR EATING campaign and we'll see if that helps.  My guess is no, people will still keep eating it because they don't care.  The true change would be showing Americans of all ages that it isn't ok to be fat, fat people on tv don't represent the idea social norm.

    I know this is getting a bit long but I'll share something that's very sad and scary at the same time.  The california building code recently changed to widen (by a lot) exiting stairs because we're all getting fatter and bigger and no longer fit in the frickin exit stair.

    Alright, end rant.  Stupid and meaningless idea... I read labels just fine.