Public health messaging often takes the form of boring posters or ineffective scare tactics. But while lots of people might ignore that subway ad on the dangers of the Big Gulp, nearly everyone cares about farts. Hence, the Fart Code app: A barcode scanner that will tell you about, say, the lactose or fiber content of that protein bar you’re about to eat. You can even share the rank of your fart (ranging from “stinky” to “toxic”) with your friends!
The app comes by way of creative trio Chris Allick, Hanna Wittmark, and Pablo Rochat, the collective brain behind projects like Touch Room and Lick This. Originally, advertising agency Goodby, Silverstein & Partners tasked them with riffing off of a teaser for a kids’ TV show that focused heavily on farts.
“Pablo was talking about how it would be really funny if we could capture kids’ farts and put them in a can, but then we started talking about food and it veered toward nutrition,” Allick says. “And then we thought, let’s scan food, show them what’s in the food, and how it makes them fart.”
The app, which measures the fart-ability of different foods, is more scientific than you might think. Allick programmed the app to pick up on barcodes and communicate with nutrition site nutritionix.com to learn about the various ingredients. Each ingredient was then assigned a kind of fart weight. The more fart-generating ingredients a food had (like dairy, or more processed items like sorbitol), the higher it ranked on the stink. Allick and his colleagues took a week and a half to research these relationships, then consulted with half a dozen nutritionists and doctors to see if their analyses passed the smell test.
Finally, it was time to test the app at the grocery store. Allick says he and the team were genuinely taken aback by the findings. Some foods they thought would rank as relatively wholesome actually contained a bevy of processed ingredients. “We didn’t think scanning the food would be that fun, but it was really fun,” he explains. “It was really surprising to us when we would scan a thing like a granola bar and it would have hundreds of ingredients in it.”
Even though the app was originally developed for kids, Allick says it’s helped him pay more attention to his own intestinal character, too. “Almost every single thing you eat makes you gassy. But every person has unique fauna and flora in their gut,” he says. “A little TMI, but broccoli makes me really gassy. Who knew? I didn’t know that broccoli could do that before I started using this app.”