Cool New Nutrition Labels Will Never Appear on Actual Food


The food-obsessed folks at the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism held a public contest to improve the nutrition labels on ordinary food, which "distracts and confuses with unimportant information, and obscures the important facts." Plus, "as a table of numbers, it's also difficult to read and interpret."

Here's the winner—according to both the judges and the popular vote:

peanut butter is delicious on apples. less so on mac and cheese

Pretty neat, right?

Too bad that—barring the initiation of a massive months- or years-long process involving hundreds of federal employees—we're stuck the current mass of unless clutter and nutritional red herrings. Because those labels aren't just bad design—they're mandatory bad design. Food manufacturers can't experiment much with nutritional claims on their packaging without running afoul of the law, so contest like this one are purely recreational.

(Fun KMW fact: When I was 15, I participated in one of the first Take Your Daughter to Work Days. My mom took me to a conference chock full 'o federal nutritionists. One of the feds cornered me at the buffet table and quizzed me on whether I liked the (then new) labels. Suck up kid that I was, I shook her hand, looked her in the eye, and said I loved them. I was totally lying.)

(Fun Wikipedia fact: Bill Clinton bestowed and award for design excellence on the designer of the current nutrition label in 1997.)

Via Flowing Data.

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  1. Food labeling is just another example of a good idea that becomes awful through the magical alchemy of government mandates.

    1. Pretty neat, right?

      Uh, no.

  2. Those labels are so ’11.

  3. “Bill Clinton bestowed and award for design excellence on the designer of the current nutrition label in 1997.”

    I had to read this a bunch of times to figure out “and” is supposed to be “an”.

  4. Note what hasn’t changed: fat and sodium are still “bad” (they have a thumbs down next to them), as much as that stupidity has been debunked. But hey, why change the stupidity behind the stupid labels when you can just change the stupid labels themselves?

    1. Needs more stupid.

      1. You never go full stupid.

    2. It looks like they only put the thumbs down if the totals of those substances are disproportionate to the amount of calories.

      In any case, I thought fat calories were still bad.

      1. There’s increasing evidence heart disease is more closely related to refined / simple carbs than fat.

        1. trans fat>sugar>simple carb>saturated fat.

          Order of badness, although saturated fat is genetics moderated. It was shown that fat could contribute to insulin resistance lately – thought that means everything can somewhat.

          Salt has always been neutral to bad, so it is hard to argue that it is outside the bad category, even if it is minor to some % of the population.

  5. Apple has more stamina, but peanut is high on strength, broccoli has good wizardry skills, wheat flour is is the best all around skillset.

    1. Apple levels up faster and gets a +1 to charisma. Plus, it has ultravision.

      1. Dude, my buddy tried to play an Apple Rogue once. Worst Campaign Ever.

        1. Well, that’s because he’s a retard. Everyone knows that apples are best suited for fighters or multiclassed fighter/clerics. Or a Waldorf salad. Duh.

          1. yeah my Ranger Pear was weak.

  6. Did you see who the judges were? The Two Michaels, Pollan and Jacobson. Aggggh.

  7. They’re so beautiful, so colorful – and still unreadable and useless.

    1. This. I took several design classes in college, and they (professors, “serious” designers, etc) don’t seem to grok functional design. They don’t understand that if you’re creating something in order to convey information, then the best design is the one that conveys the information in the most intelligible and efficient way, not the one that simply looks the best aesthetically.

      1. Tell that to “Reason”, which changed ~15 yrs. ago from a very functional layout, font, etc., to one that they thought “cool” but is much harder on the eyes especially for the bifocals set. Pages with dark backgrounds all the way out to the margins, page numbers in brown close to the gutter, numbers like those on US coins — descending all cockeyed, can’t distinguish 1 from I — not enough space after periods (not sufficiently made up for by the cannonball periods), a dysfunctional table of contents, columns of uneven width, stupid jumps from margin to margin. They thought they were going back to their design roots that they’d gotten away from in the 1980s and especially the ’90s, but that’s got to be the last thing anyone would read the magazine for.

        1. I wasn’t around for that one. The current one isn’t too bad, as far as websites go. The biggest criticism I have is that the text is too damn small, even on 1024×768. Since I rock 1280×1024, it’s a good thing Firefox has a zoom function…

      2. It usually doesn’t look good aesthetically either. They go for “modern”, “creative”, “unique”. Which in most peoples’ tastes, results in complete shit.

        1. True. Another big thing in design right now is the soviet propaganda look. Which I suppose is fine if you’re designing for Soviet Propaganda (or parodies of Soviet Propaganda), but more than a little creepy for anything else.

    2. As a designer type I actually think these are not that bad. A little garish colorwise… But the idea of presenting the ingredients as a proportional diagram is clever. This of course would all go to shit if you tried to represent more than a few ingredients… But well… I give em some props.

      1. Of course they are also wholly impractical as the sheer size required would take over the entire label of the produ… Oh wait… Maybe these are genius after all…

  8. Given the absolute roller-coaster that is nutritional science, not to mention individual variations on nutrition, how about they just list the facts, ma’am, and dispense with the opinions?

    1. The science is settled!

  9. Hey, I have an idea to improve health: let’s massively subsidize junk food production for years, and tell everybody that the worst shit is actually good for them. And then once everybody weighs 400 pounds, we can tinker around with labels and jerk each other off while we tell ourselves how we’re saving the fucking world.

    Jesus Christ, fuck these autofisting little do-gooder pricks.

    1. This is almost perfect but could use a mention of the proposal to tax the consumer for buying the subsidized junk food.

    2. Your reasoning is spurious, as your argument contains the premise that humans are not volitional.

  10. Those labels look pretty and all, but fuck me, there’s a lot of blank space broken up with tiny print and itty bitty logos. Not very user-friendly, and I can just see the aisles of my local supermarket clogging up with old folks peering at the teeny-tiny print.

    1. these were created by students at one of America’s elite university. You want functional? You go to a shop that creates stuff like that for paying customers.

  11. Actually, these suck hard. The design does not function well for its intended purpose. The general color of the product is not an important nutrition fact, it is arbitrary and will leave some stupid people wondering what the color represents, besides distinguishing between the ingredients and showing the ratio. The layout takes up too much space for a setting (food packaging) where space is already small and cluttered. They just took the same horseshit (like serving size, which is just used by manufacturers to massage the “facts” to their liking) that is already on the government label and gave it a trendy graphic student cliche look. The other ones that didn’t “win” are also awful.

    1. Yep. These designs are trash, I can’t believe anyone would award them shit. This is the kind of crap a stoned undergraduate in a first semester class would puke out in inDesign 15 minutes before it was due.

      But just more evidence that were doomed, that so many people are too fucking stupid to understand the current nutritional lables and think they need to be retardized.

      1. That’s the spirit!

  12. They seem to have redefined “carbohydrate” to no longer include sugar. This is judging from the apple label, which shows 9 g carbs and 18.9 g sugar.

  13. Kids don’t change their personalities much after age 15. Lying to impress nutritionists and lying to assuage the Kochs are not really that different.

    1. So you were a Congressional page at 15, Dan? Sucking government cock became a way of life?

  14. They seem to have redefined “carbohydrate” to no longer include sugar.

    I can’t imagine how they did it. “Carbohydrate” means fucking sugar. That’s what the shit is.

    1. Starches, too.

  15. Damn, the 2nd place labels were much better (from a readability standpoint, anyway).

  16. Remember how this came about? Customers and makers each wanted to supply more info, makers but couldn’t be sure they’d be allowed to, so a long process of interest politics & compromise led to this solution, i.e. allowing more info by requiring it, and requiring it exactly this way, to be fair.

    Sometimes the compromise on the way to greater freedom is a new mandate.

  17. Seems like government’s ability to handle things as simple as redesigning nutrition boxes (a good thing to do) should be more flexible. You can’t deny government power to do something (particularly by deliberately gumming up the system like the office-holding small-government advocates), then bitch about government’s ineptness at doing it. Unless it were some sort of cynical strategy, of course.

    Because I can’t think of many things more obviously dumb than turning over nutrition info design to the food companies themselves. Seems like they’d be incentivized to make them about as clear as credit card agreements.

    1. Because I can’t think of many things more obviously dumb than turning over nutrition info design to the food companies themselves.

      So the only two options are government and companies? Fucking shit, who designed HTML?

      1. Government can hire contractors to do graphic design. They have to do it because nobody else is going to force food companies to be open and honest.

        1. wow, you’re really dumb, aren’t you?

          1. I’m trying to figure out what HTML has to do with anything. Maybe there are alternatives to government and the businesses themselves, but who cares because the only one that can require nutrition information standards is government.

            1. Its a standard developed entirely without the input of Congress(thank goodness, or we’d still be using 100% text browsers to this day)

              Its certainly not the only standard developed in this manner…thousands of industry standards exist. Most are enforced by the consumers.

              So, what mystical voodoo super special circumstance makes food companies incapable of coming up with a good standard on their own.

              1. The circumstance that their role is to make profit, not provide nutrition info. Those two things don’t always necessarily go together.

                1. Their role is to make a profit….and one way they can pimp their food is by selling on its nutritional content.

                  So, providing nutritional information can go together quite well with making a profit actually.

    2. “You can’t deny government power to do something……”

      what could go wrong?

    3. Government good! Rest bad!

  18. I have three different brands of peanut butter in my kitchen, and they all warn thusly:



  19. “Amount of Ingredients”

    No, you idiot. It’s number of ingredients. Cuz they can be counted. You idiot.

  20. Where the hell is the protein?

  21. I’ve lost insane amounts of weight on a low-carb diet and at the same time improved my cholesterol profile. The fat in peanut butter gets a thumbs up from me. The carbs in peanut butter (usually a combination of peanut starches and refined sugar or molasses for flavor) gets a big thumbs down. But the typical nutritionist thinks that everybody should eat low fat, low protein, and high carb. So somehow to a nutritionist the best part of peanut butter is the empty starches and needless sugars, not all the healthy fats and proteins. And somehow an apple, which is basically pure empty carbohydrates mixed with vitamins, gets several thumbs up. If I mix flintstones vitamins into a pile of starch and sugar, does it also become healthy?

    I want information about the nutritional profile of my food. I don’t need to be condescended to by self-righteous little icons that encourage me to adopt a high-sugar, low-fat diet I’m never going to use.

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