Primal Numbers – Calorie Count

Calories. We need them to survive, but we hate having to worry about them. Are we eating too many? Are we getting the right kind? So far, the best way to keep track of your calories has been to count them, but a new handheld scanner promises to reveal exactly what your food is made of. Is this a fabulous new idea, or just one more way we’re obsessed with tracking every tiny detail of our lives?

The technology itself is impressive. As this National Post article
explains, the small gadget is “an infrared spectrometer the size of a thumb drive.” It’s called SCiO, and it will tell you the chemical makeup of any object simply by pointing and clicking.

SCiO’s database of recognizable matter is still being expanded, but its inventor, Dror Sharon, hopes to have his gadget available to consumers sometime in 2015?for the remarkably affordable price of $299.

Obviously, there are plenty of places where SCiO would be invaluable. At airport security, for example, or in hospitals. Engineers or farmers could use it for soil analysis.

But why on earth would the average consumer have any need to carry around a molecular analyzer, even one as small as a data stick? As a matter of fact, there are plenty of very good reasons.

Take your weekly trip to the grocery store, for instance. There’s a lot of concern about GMOs these days?genetically modified organisms, which are foods that have had their DNA altered. That could mean anything from a gene-spliced carrot to the GMO wheat used in your favourite cereal. In Canada, there are no laws about labelling GMO foods, so consumers have no way of knowing what they’re getting. A SCiO could let you scan that produce and find out whether it’s the kind your grandparents ate or a genetically altered hybrid.

Even if you only shop at places with unaltered, organic produce, there’s a good chance your apples and grapes are coated with residue from pesticides. As a CBC report reveals, “nearly half the organic fresh fruits and vegetables tested across Canada in the past two years contained pesticide residue.” (That’s no reason to stop eating organic though. Pesticides have spread so widely through our environment that they’ve even shown up in fetal cord blood.) A SCiO would reveal whether you’re getting a not-so-healthy serving of pesticides along with those peaches.

Allergies are another good reason for a gadget like SCiO. Think how much easier life would be for parents of kids with severe allergies. Buying food or dining in restaurants would be far less of a worry if you could simply do a quick scan of your child’s meal.

You don’t have to worry about GMOS or allergies? You could still use a SCiO to protect yourself from the old bait and switch. As this NPR report explains, there’s a one in three chance you’re being duped when you order that fish dinner from a restaurant or market.

A large study across the US analyzed “1,215 seafood samples from 674 retail outlets in 21 states.” More than one third were falsely labelled, with stores and restaurants often substituting cheaper seafood for the more expensive names on their menu.

Do we really need all those apps and gadgets to build colourful charts that track how many seconds of sleep we get? Probably not, even though they’re fun to use.

The SCiO, on the other hand, has almost unlimited uses, from airport security to grocery shopping. And the best part is, you might even burn a few calories using it.

S.D. Livingston is the author and creator of the Madeline M. Mystery Series for kids, as well as several books for older readers. Visit her website for information on her writing.