The Temporary Expert

Part 1 - Energy Field Guide

After reading through Steve Easterbook's Systems analysis of GMO protests in the UK, I decided to approach the system mapping of Caloric Energy from multiple perspectives, understanding the different points of view and boundaries that could be applied to this topic.


Caloric Energy - Systems

Caloric energy can be described in several different ways and, expanding on those descriptions and their perspective, several systems can be mapped:

1. A system of units, measurements and conversion of energy

Scientists across fields established defined units of measurement that quantify and describe anything from time, distance, scale and magnitude. Energy, for example, is measured in Joules and various kinds of energy and energetic substances can be compared and standardized. Caloric energy, in this context, is defined as the amount of energy needed to heat up water by one degree celsius.

The international system of units does not, however, exist in isolation. It is subject to the progress and politics of science, such as the standardization of the metric and imperial measurement systems that are mutually exclusive and incompatible. The process of measurement itself is also dependent on factors such as scientific progress and environmental conditions, the process of measuring calories involves heating water, which requires different amounts of energy depending on local climate and barometric pressure.

2. A system of food, nutrition, nutritional values and physiological energy

Different foods, depending on their nutritional content, contribute differently to a balanced diet, sustaining the human body in both energy and micro and macronutrients. The way in which a certain food's nutritional quality is measured is usually via it's nutritional density, the ratio of caloric energy to nutritional value, calories that come from foods with low nutritional value are considered empty calories.

The calorie intake of an average human varies by country and is used as a benchmark for the average amount of food we must eat daily. Commercially sold foods must be labeled for their caloric value as well as nutritional value. Only some nutrients are detailed in the label and these depend on the governing health and nutrition policy of the local government.

3. A system of marketing, food industry, capitalism, labor and food politics

The food industry, and health foods as well as fast or junk food in particular, are focused on marketing nutritional value, and the impression of such, in their food products. Terms such as "low calorie", "diet" and "zero calorie" are frequently used to persuade consumers of health benefits or positive nutritional balance in these products. Such terms are now regulated in many countries around the world, defining strict standards for what constitutes a "low calorie" food.

Caloric value also plays a role in the actual ingredients of such foods, as economies of scale made it so that "empty calories" or calories from fats and simple carbs are cheaper. The fact that not all calories are equally priced are at the core of a health and obesity epidemic that impacts low income households the most, as they are often unable to afford high nutritional value food and opt for "junk food" that has more marketing value than nutritional one.


Caloric energy is an interesting subject for systems analysis, as different perspectives and system boundaries relate to science, health, politics, business and marketing. The systems described above are only three top-level and distinct ones, though many crossing systems can probably be identified as well.


A Taxonomy of The Science and Business of Food

In creating a taxonomy of The Science and Business of food (measurement), I decided to set a particular system boundary and perspective that will allow me to focus my guide and direct further research. I want to shine a light at how misleading marketing, use of nutritional terminology and buzzwords, fuzzy food science and an overwhelming range of food quality indices work in favor of large food corporations and against the individual trying to maintain a balanced and healthy diet.

In exploring this topic and forming a taxonomy it became ever clearer that the number of nutritional variables that are “scientifically established” are far more than can be expected of a casual shopper to memorize and consider. At the same time, I was surprised to discover how many terms have become regulated by the FDA due to abuse, misinformation and blatant disregard for consumer health by food manufacturers, these includes “low fat”, “zero sugar”, “low calories” and even “artisanal” for crying out loud!


The Science and Business of Food - A Visual System

 An initial taxonomy of Food Measurement Science and Business

An initial taxonomy of Food Measurement Science and Business