My Food Takes 3 Trees

Meet the Food You Eat is a kitchen scale that measures the environmental impact of food. The scale works by looking at the carbon emitted by transporting a particular product from its country of origin to Denmark. Place an RFID tagged product on the appropriate arm and try to balance the scale with the tree shaped weights. The amount of trees used to balance the scale represents the number of actual trees it would take to offset that product’s carbon emissions over one year.

Designers: Adam Little, Eilidh Dickson & Siddharth Muthyala

This scale is an exploration in how tangible interfaces can be used to interact with data on the web. With the increase in usage of RFID technology and as “everday” objects become networked, we anticipate access to untold amounts of information for things as simple as an apple. With appropriate ways to interact with this data, we hope people will be able to make more informed decisions that will help build a sustainable world.

As an exhibition piece, this scale will raise questions about the food you buy, where it comes from and how it is transported. With a subject as complex as carbon emissions and the global food economy, our scale is only an entry point and is intended to raise more questions than it will answer.

This scale can also be viewed as a hypothetical kitchen appliance or point to a future grocery store service. The data it uses is important but remains hidden to most people, and we hope this will not be the case for much longer.

The student design team faced many challenges in assembling the scale and in gathering the data behind the products, but most of our key learnings came in the beginning of the project. Rapid prototyping and user testing were essential for our team. We learned that building rudimentary models is the best way to test rudimentary ideas. Some models told us when an idea was going in the wrong direction while other models told us this only when in the hands of people outside our team. From the beginning, our project was heavy with metaphors – a scale and weights to measure data, and trees to represent this data. User testing was the only way to know if these metaphors were the right choice.


  • Luke says:

    There are two major flaws with considering the carbon footprint of transporting foods as the sole indicator of sustainibility.

    First and foremost is that locally grown foods are not always more sustainable than foreign imports. Example? British beef versus New Zealandic beef.

    Second, it says nothing of how the food was raised. I’d rather buy organic, field-raised beef from halfway across the world than local battery farm beef, out of both ethical and environmental concerns.

  • Ok so we have a pound of apples, thats about 1/10,000 of a container load and a big container ship can haul from 5,000 to 10,000 of them. So the incremental carbon (fuel burn) is going to be less than the plastic that is in the bag that you use to take it home.

  • Todd says:

    It would be a great business to sell guilt widgets to the feel-good crowd. This is exactly like posting crosses all over your house.

  • […] Source […]
    Oops…forgot to say great post! Looking forward to your next one.

  • Eric says:

    This is so stupid! I hate all these freaking ideas that “display usage” info on how much crap you use! These things can be figured out without buying more produced crap to tell you, mass produced or not. Even sending out the ignored spam e-mails to 5 million unsuspecting people about usage would have more impact than the few hundred/thousand people that MIGHT see this exhibition, and it also wouldn’t require anything to be manufactured for the same information. Great intent, but pointless.

  • […] Source […]
    Oops…forgot to say great post! Looking forward to your next one.

  • Arades says:

    I think they’re going too far…

    If we decided to purchase local goods in order to stop carbon-emitting transports, the global economic system (which is pretty damaged right now) would fall to pieces and countries that live solely on selling primary and secondary sector goods (developing countries: africa, south america, etc) would end up worse than they are now.

    So, with a simple example: would you want to kill all the coffee producing industry in Colombia and send hundreds of people to famine and chaos just to save a handful of trees? I thought you didn’t. You’re better off thinking about algae and iron

    Please do buy stuff from outside, that’s what reduces poverty.

  • Cromagnum says:

    1) What is the carbon footprint of my jar of sea-kitten? I hope its pretty big, because it is simply delicious. And trees float, my carbon told me so.

    2) Do i really care?

    3) When Al Gore buys one of these and measures his Caviar and Arguya, then i’ll consider it.

  • Hangzi says:


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