Many of us have become pros at reading the labels on processed foods, digging through the chemicals that are good or bad, unraveling the hidden sugars and fats, and spotting allergen concerns. But it’s hard work, and there’s still a lot we can’t see on the label.
Researchers at Milton Keynes have developed and tested a promising solution. It’s called the Lambent Shopping Trolley Handle, a miniature computer that can clip onto any shopping cart, scan your groceries, and tell you, through 12 color shifting LEDs and an emoticon face, all sorts of things about your groceries.
Its primary use is for tracking food miles, or how far those coconuts had to travel to make their way into your bag of Fun Size Mounds bars. After a quick scan, if a lot of the LEDs are lit, it took a lot of miles to get that food into your cart. If fewer lights, the food is generally more ecofriendly. Shoppers don’t ever need to count. All values are relative.
This simple idea had a huge impact on shoppers in one study–72% of the time, shoppers were influenced to make lower impact shopping choices with these glowing lights of feedback. And while shoppers weren’t generally talked out of their favorite brands, they would often scan multiple products in a similar category and snag the one with the lowest miles.
Granted, it’s often been argued that food miles only account for a fraction of a food’s environmental impact, but bear with me: This LED graph could readily be refit for other uses. It can change color based upon other metrics–nutritional concerns like sodium content or calories from fat–and when coupled with that smiling/neutral/frowning emoticon I mentioned earlier, the shopping handle provides a feedback mechanism to offer a more polarized positive or negative assessment for those times when a relative graph might be too vague.
But a project like this has problems: As easy as it is to imagine the Lambent Shopping Trolley Handle making its way into Walmarts everywhere, it’s even easier to imagine how many roadblocks retailers and food lobbyists would throw up to anything remotely similar. After all, they did manage to get Congress to classify tomato paste as a vegetable, so that pizza could more readily be classified as a nutritious meal in a school lunch. And how many mainstream brands would ever sell to any retailer who offered consumers a chance to closely vet their wares?