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Calorie-Counting Machines Are Pure Evil

GE has developed a device that can analyze the calorie count of your dinner. Good for science—but we're already in a bloody mess with our diets, and we don’t need anything else that turns food into a mathematical equation.
July 10, 2014, 5:53pm

If I could, I'd drop to my knees and wash the feet of the person who created the cheese grater. If it weren't grounds for immediate sectioning, I'd probably make a pilgrimage to the French town of Fresnoy-le-Grand–where Le Creuset was founded—and conduct a terribly private meditative retreat in a one-man tent outside, as a mark of respect.

Sometimes, though, people invent really stupid shit, especially when it comes to food and kitchen gadgetry. Those wire cutters that you can slice a boiled egg with? Please. A device that clicks a neat square of butter onto your toast? Fuck you, knives! Don't even start me on garlic peelers.

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Now, scientists at General Electric Global Research in Niskayuna, NY, have developed a device that uses microwaves to tell you how many calories are in your plate of food, calculating the weight, water, and fat content of a given dish. So far, after nearly 50 tests, they've come within a five to ten percent margin of a food's actual calorie count.

The product's inventor, Matt Webster, was struck with the idea after asking his wife whether she'd like an activity monitor to track her calorie intake. May no fool tell you that romance is cold and dead.

A rendering of General Electric's calorie-counting device. Photo via GE on Youtube.

"To my surprise she answered, 'Does it automatically track the calories I eat?' I told her that that was crazy and not possible," Webster said on the General Electric Global Research's website. "For her birthday, she still got an activity monitor from me (and loves it), but I got something as well… an idea was born as I began to challenge whether this really was crazy and impossible."

Impossible? Clearly not. Depressing? God, yes.

We are a fat world and getting fatter. Worldwide obesity has nearly doubled since 1980. The facts are terrifying. But there has never been a more confusing time when it comes to eating as there is now. Fat was once the enemy, but now it's not. (We're even mixing butter with our coffee as a performance-enhancer now.) Sugar is Lord Voldemort. We praise protein like a deity. Food has, apparently, been polarized into two camps—"clean" and "dirty"—and it's all dizzy-making

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Still, despite all the paleo-ers, clean eaters, VB6-ers, juice cleansers, and raw fanatics out there, calorie counting is one of the longest standing truisms of dieting. It's why 6,000 Weight Watchers meetings are still held in the UK every week.

For some, this kind of points-based system—often regulated and motivated by a bubbly fifty-something in a tracksuit in a local school's assembly hall—works. It's easy to stick to because you can eat what you crave, so long as you make up for it by having, say, half a chicken breast and a handful of sugar snap peas for dinner. Techincally, nothing is off-limits. The rules are laid out like paving slabs, and a path paved by someone else is far easier to follow than a trust in our own ability to regulate our diet.

The idea of there being a mass-market product that you can stick your dinner under to calculate its calorie content is horribly sad.

Women are still constantly told that the simplest way of maintaining a healthy weight is to consume no more than 2,000 calories a day, but of course, this is a wobbly logic. Oily fish, for example, is full of calories. Same with nuts, coconut oil, avocado, and quinoa. You could easily hit over 800 calories with a plate of quinoa, half an avocado, some smoked mackerel, and an olive oil-dressed salad with a bit of feta cheese in it followed by a handful of nuts, but those calories are from things that are going to do you a lot of good.

I can't help but think that inventions like this one would only serve to propel what Susie Orbach calls "disordered eating" in her book On Eating. We're living in an age where teenage girls are begging for healthy diets in boarding schools and obsessing over thigh gaps, where orthorexia nibbles away at the minds of smart, high-achieving women, where we've become so out of tune with the natural rhythm of our appetites that the idea of actually being full, properly full, from a meal is almost repulsive.

All this isn't to say that things like calorie counting apps, the MyFitnessPals of this world, aren't very helpful to some. Lots of people aren't confident in what to do with food. There are women of a certain generation (my mum's) who are still stuck in the Rosemary Conely fat-is-the-devil school of thought. So if there's an app, a wristwatch, or a meeting you can attend to help keep you on the right track with food, fantastic.

However, the idea of there being a mass-market product that you can stick your dinner under to calculate its calorie content, and maybe scrape some of it away into a container because it exceeds your limits, is horribly sad. Mostly because it would be so successful. You can see the taglines now: Think that sandwich only has 400 calories? Think again! Keep an eye on your behind with our new, handy calorie counter.

We're already in a bloody mess with our diets and we don't need anything else that turns food into a mathematical equation.