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Real-time flavor sensor and visualizer
This project aims to reimagine the metrics that we commonly associate with food- from one that scrutinizes and restricts the body, to one that encourages enjoyment of food and a more holistic understanding of what nourishment and nutrition is.
More importantly, the tool created from this project aims to promote a more compassionate and body-positive approach to food and to reclaim the female body.
Diet culture has convinced us that the "calorie-in, calorie-out" is a healthy way of thinking about food. It teaches us that when we eat food we should ‘burn’ it off or engage in exercise in order to ‘earn’ food.
Big pharmaceutical companies have been appropriating calories as a metric to encourage consumption of various dieting products. According to Boston Medical Center, over 45 million Americans (especially women) go on a diet, and $33 billion are spent on weight loss products every year. Moreover, 95% of diets fail, and most people regain the weight they have lost within five years. It seems as if the only ones winning in this system are the pharmaceuticals who prey on people's insecurities and receive a ton of monetary gain.
Screenshots of what came up when I searched "weight loss products"
Drawing on personal experiences
I started calorie-counting in 2014, and only stopped in 2022. That's 8 years of calorie counting! I was obsessed with tracking every number, and it gave me a sense of control in my life. Though counting calories is still pretty instinctive for me, I would say that my relationship with food has changed over the years. It's still a work in progress, but I now view food from a much more holistic perspective as compared to the past.
I then started thinking about the tool of calorie-counting- how it was discovered mainly as an innocent metric, but has been used by pharma companies to convince individuals to limit/ restrict their food intake.
Moreover, calories don't guarantee the nutritional value of food, and not all calories are the same. The act of weighing, and then tracking one's calories on an app often leads to unhealthy relationships with food. The use of calorie counting to control one's weight might also be ineffective as one's body composition is often genetically predisposed. One's physical health has a lot more to do than just calories.
Screenshots of how I used to track my calories + macros + workouts
I started wondering if there was another way of measuring food- one that isn't restrictive, and one that encourages a focus on taste, flavor, nourishment and nutrition!
Brainstorming + research
I imagined making a speculative tool that can sense and visualize the overall taste of various foods in real time. I hope this tool could be use in place of calorie-counting apps, so that users can focus more the taste profiles of the food they were consuming.
According to Human Biology of Taste, human taste can be distilled down to the basic 5 taste qualities of sweet, sour, bitter, salty and umami or savory.
I decided to integrate the use of hardware (to sense the 5 basic taste qualities of the food) and web development (to visualize the data in real time) as of such:
Saltiness: Salinity Sensor
Bitterness: pH sensor
Sourness: pH sensor
Sweetness: Sucrose Sensor
Spiciness: NIL (No sensor yet!)
Real time data visualization
Radar chart using chart.js
I used radar charts to show illustrate flavor profiles, as I wanted to illustrate the holistic flavor profile of different foods in a shape that is easy to visualize. I also liked the fact that you can compare and overlap the different shapes from different radar charts to one another, to see the differences and similarities.
Previous research into taste profiles such as the ones shown below have also used radar charts to illustrate the five basic states of taste in a holistic manner, and I wanted to see how the shapes from my charts compare to what has been researched on.
I made use of chart.js to create the radar chart.
Radar charts used in various research papers cited
Choices of sensors
All the sensors used are for speculative purposes, and are not fully accurate.
I also had limited resources and time for this project. I found that these materials were the best for me in terms of budget + proof of concept.
I used this total dissolved solids sensor as a way to measure the amount of salt molecules present in the solution. I understand that water conductivity is not directly proportional to salt molecules, but it is a good alternative. Tutorial here.
I used this very speculative DIY glucometer which basically made use of an INA114AP Amplifier. Very speculative, I know.
Bitterness + Sourness
This was probably the most accurate sensor I used in this project. I used this pH sensor, tutorial here.
There isn't a spiciness sensor right now. I decided to choose to test on foods that are not spicy.
I wanted to test on 3 liquids that had different bitterness, sourness, sweetness and salinity to see if my tool worked. I decided to test on:
- Coffee (bitter, not sweet)
- Apple cider juice (sweet, a little sour)
- Chicken Stock (salty)
Points of comparison
I made sure to have points of comparisons on my radar chart so that it's easier for the user to understand the shape that they are looking at.
I included two reference points
- Distilled Water (7pH for sourness + bitterness, around 2000ppm for salinity)
- Some foods that are high in that particular taste quality (eg. ocean water for salinity)
This project has many limitations:
- Inaccuracy of sensors
- Limited variety of food I'm testing on
- The physical structure of the radar chart suggests that having a perfect pentagon shape = neutral. However, it's not the case here.
- Foods at the various "maximum" values are not equal in intensity, but placed equidistant from the center pentagonal point
Sharing my code!
My github repository consisting of my laser cutting files, arduino code + web code.
Reach out if you wish to learn more!
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