Vol. 1, Issue 11, July 29, 2003
Get Away From It All

Metric System to Blame for Increased Food Portions

The recently documented rise in food portion sizes over the past three decades can be directly tied to the nation's half-hearted flirtation with the metric system, according to an audit just released by the U.S. General Accounting Office (GAO).

"There is a direct correlation between the degree to which a company attempts to employ the metric system, and the portion sizes of food products produced by those companies," said Zachary Camara, adjunct director of food and agriculture at the GAO. "Since no company has been able or willing to entirely dispense with the traditional units of measurement, strong efforts to use the metric system have only met with increased confusion and chaos."

Part of the problem lies in the disparity between the kilogram and the pound. Although both are standard units of weight, the kilogram is actually equivalent to over 2.2 pounds. Surveys have demonstrated that Americans assume the two measures are approximately equivalent.

"Who can keep track of this stuff?" said Roger Deromedi, Co-CEO of Kraft Foods Inc. and President and CEO of Kraft Foods International. "If you put 2.2 pounds of macaroni and cheese before the average consumer instead of 1 pound, they are actually very happy." As a result of confusion over metric measurements, for example, the average size of a large soda has increased to 5 liters, or almost 1 1/3 gallon - technically enough soda to kill a person ("Only if they drink it all," said Deromedi).

The United States has authorized the use of the metric system since 1866; the most serious attempt to systematically replace the English measurement system of pounds and inches was in the 1970s. Americans balked at "having to learn anything new," however, due to the malaise gripping the country at the time. Today, both metric and English systems are used indiscriminately.

The problem extends beyond portion sizes. In 1999, NASA lost a $125 million Mars orbiter because a Lockheed Martin engineering team used English units of measurement while the agency's team used the more conventional metric system for a key spacecraft operation. But with growing documentation of increasing obesity in America and the gigantic metric portions being dished up in restaurants and grocery stores, new concern has been focused on the troublesome alternative measurement system.

"The problem," said White House spokesman Scott McClellan, "is that the metric system was invented by the French." The widespread (and correct) use of the metric system throughout the world only bolsters the Administration's support for banning it. "Let's face it; the metric system is the system terrorists are most likely familiar with. If we went back to pounds and cubits, we'd be doing America a service."

"Invented by the French," reiterated McClellan. "Think about it."

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