Sam Slover tracked everything he ate for 10 weeks and learned he had ingested 3,548 unique ingredients.
There’s no shortage of information on what we should be eating—whether it comes to us as a book, website, or seminar—we have access to plenty of readymade guidelines for dining. The only diet dos and don’ts that aren’t readily available are ones for the food that we’re actually eating. Wrap-Genius is a personalized framework for our food that provides just that.
Traditional meal plans typically outline what amounts to a diet ideal for us to strive for, but whether we get there or not is up to us. Instead, Wrap-Genius would take account of what we’re already eating and provide us with a clear view of the good and the bad. From there, shaping our own ideal diet is easy as remembering to grab some apples, or forego those frozen burritos, the next time we shop.
Sam Slover, a graduate student at NYU, created Wrap-Genius by tracking his own shopping habits over the course of nearly three months. The impetus for this project arose from a frustration with the meager amount of information provided on product labels. Sam resolved that “we, as consumers, deserve to know more about our food,” and set out to do just that.
What Sam learned was that in the course of just 10 weeks he had purchased 10 different countries, and ingested 3,548 unique ingredients ranging from the common, like salt and water, to the vague, like microbial ferments or natural and artificial colors. With data at hand, Sam designed the Wrap-Genius dashboard which allowed him to visualize the products as well as his own habits. He even assigned helpful superlative awards to the items like Best Price-To-Nutrient Ratio or Unhealthiest Overall.
PSFK caught up with Sam to find out more about his experience working on a project like Wrap-Genius:
Do you feel that this project changed your eating/purchasing habits?
“Absolutely, it definitely changed my habits. After tracking my purchases in such detail I became much more aware of many aspects of groceries we don’t always think about: how far they travel to reach us, how many ingredients they have, whether or not they have GMOs. For example, I would find that on a typical store visit, my bag of groceries would include products from 20 different locations, representing over 10 different countries. As the project went on, I tried to be better about buying local products, with less ingredients, that were hopefully GMO-free. As a busy graduate student, it wasn’t always possible, and the frozen meal aisle remains tempting, but it’s been interesting to see that it isn’t actually that much more expensive to buy more wholesome, local products. It just takes a bit longer to prepare the meals.”
How could this sort of concept be implemented on a larger scale?
“The platform was initially designed around my personal data, mainly because that’s the only data I knew I could get reliable access to. The idea and bigger vision is that this system could be used by anyone and everyone to better learn about and track their grocery habits. There’s a couple ways I see it evolving. The first is to work with grocery stores. Every time you check out of a grocery store, that could be a data transaction where your food is automatically synched to your personal dashboard. This would allow you to see interesting trends, tips, and visualizations, and all of it can be personalized to your unique interests and diet. For example, a bodybuilder would have a different dashboard than a mother of 3 young children.
Also, while I see this more as an “in-home” Web dashboard, I’ve also been working on an in-store scanning app where you can scan any barcode and see the ‘real’ label — which includes not only the nutrition information, but also other data about the product as crowdsourced by a community. We will use crowd-sourcing to start developing even more interesting data cards like the food’s Carbon Footprint, Social Impact, Environmental Score, Interesting Recipes, and so on. There’s so much interesting information about food, and a new label should take that into account.”
What’s the next step?
“The current design framework I’ve done is a proof of concept using my own personal data. I am now building out this new labeling framework into a system that everyone can use. You will be able to look up a food and see its new label in a way that is personalized to you. There will be different profiles for different user types, and the label will adapt accordingly. For example, someone training for a triathlon will have a different label than someone recovering from a major surgery. You will also be able to indicate what you’re most interested in seeing, and the label will prioritize showing that information to you. For example, someone with food allergies will always want to see that information front and center on their label.”