Monday, September 27, 2010

Asinine Nutrition Facts

Last night I went to the store and bought a couple of frozen pizzas (it's always nice to have a couple on hand). Frozen pizzas are frozen pizzas are frozen pizzas, so I usually go the cheap route and get Tony's. When I read the nutrition facts label, you know what it said the serving size was? A third of a pizza. A third
Seriously? Does the box come with a free protractor?

Now I was curious - were any other frozen pizza manufacturers expecting their customers to carve their pizzas into ridiculous shapes and sizes? Unbelievably, a lot of the products followed suit. The most egregious example I found was a square Safeway-branded pizza that said its serving size was a fifth of the pizza.

The whole idea of having nutrition labels on food is to give you data and to help you gauge how much you're eating. They're designed to allow you to be responsible about your dietary intake if you so choose. But a trick that food companies play on you is to make the labels deliberately confusing. For instance, there are snack-size bags of chips that have "1.5 servings" in them and 20oz soft drinks tend to list somewhere between 2 and 3 servings on the label. Is anyone really expecting someone to eat 2/3 of a small bag of chips or 1/3 of a 20oz soda and then save the rest for a rainy day? I mean, isn't the whole idea behind making these products small to allow them to be easily carried around and easily consumed in one sitting? It's in the design for frak's sake!

Of course, unlike most of the UX issues I discuss here, none of this stuff is an accident. Believe it or not, there are companies that turn good UX guidelines on their head specifically to confuse you into doing something you might not otherwise do - many industrial food companies are among them.

See, these companies are counting on you to either be unable or unwilling to do the math because they're afraid that if you could figure out the nutritional values in the proportion of the product you'd actually planned on consuming, it would scare you out of buying it. You might - *gasp* - buy someone else's instead. As much as capitalism claims to hold dear to its heart the spirit of free enterprise and fair competition, it never really turns out that way, does it? Companies are obligated to be greedy frakkers for the sake of their shareholders and greed is fairly incompatible with the moral notion of fairness - in fact, they are polar opposites on the moral compass. So, especially when it comes to the food industry, obfuscation is the name of the game.

The sad part is the FDA is supposed to regulate this stuff. Its job is to do what most regulatory agencies are tasked to do: eliminate unnecessary complication to make informed decisions about things that affect our lives. Like, say, the food we eat. Clearly the FDA has a little bit more work to do.


Ari said...

1/5 of a square pizza is pretty stupid. That said, I frequently cut my round pizzas into 6 slices, so 1/3 = 2 slices. Of course I generally eat 3 of them... :)

Dustin Hodge said...

Good call. On pizzas that size (i.e. small) I usually only bother making two cuts. I never even thought about cutting it into sixths, which is why the 1/3 thing surprised me.

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