Do you know that Mountain Dew contains brominated vegetable oil,
high fructose corn syrup, Yellow #5 and orange juice ?
Do you know what these things are? Or if they're good or bad for
The Museum of Science and Industry is out with an interactive
online game that attempts to answer those questions, giving you a
look at some of the additives in some well-known foods.
"Would you eat that?" is a digital extension
of MSI's "YOU! The Experience, which examines human life by
showcasing the connection between the mind, body and spirit.
The goal for the new online game, according to Steven Beasley,
director of digital media at MSI, is to tap into "that basic
curiosity about what our food is made of." Beyond that, says
Beasley, "We want people to look at the ingredient label on their
Just pronouncing the ingredients, or remembering them, is a lot
of work in this fun game, which is as highly addicting as a bag of
Doritos - which is one of the foods the game explores.
Sign on to some really cool sound effects and non-annoying music
(though good people can disagree on that point) and you get a list
of ingredients that are common to most packaged foods. Hover over
each ingredient and a pop-up will tell you what it is and what it
does. Then drag and drop four ingredients onto the "Mix It" section
to the right. Put them together and see which ones are correct and
which ones aren't. You get more chances, but eventually you will
run out. And each time you get it wrong, a screen pops up giving
you some decent, but not obvious, hints.
The hint message for Quaker Oats Maple and Brown Sugar Oatmeal,
for instance, is:
"Breakfast is the most important meal of the day and this will
get you VITAMINS that help your BRAIN, BONES, and HEART to be in
tip-top shape. Since it can be made in about a minute in the
microwave, an ingredient helps give it the THICK consistency of
The challenge is that while the ingredients that are correct
stay in the ingredients column, the ones you got wrong go away, and
you have to remember what they are so you don't choose them again.
This is not so easy. Beasley said an earlier prototype erased even
the correct answers and the hints, and a lot of adults they tested
it on complained that it was too hard. Since this is meant for
older kids as well as adults, they made it a little easier.
The balance between challenging and engaging seems about right.
As I was playing, I found myself reading the definitions of each
ingredient carefully and trying to match them with the hints. After
just a half hour or so, I now know that high fructose corn syrup is
made from corn but is sweeter than sugar and that ascorbic acid is
a vitamin that only humans and guinea pigs (among all mammals) must
get from food.
The surprising part to me is how many food additives are
actually made from real food, like corn. So, does that mean it's
good for you?
Beasley and his team decided early on not to answer that
"It was not our goal to tell you what is good for you or bad for
you. It is our goal to help you discover what the properties are,"
said Beasley. "When you tell people what's good and what's bad it's
massive controversy and it's not always right. What we wanted to do
is give people a basic understanding."
In fact, Beasley said that my reaction was spot on. They want
participants to wonder, "Is this good for me?"
Yet, there are some subtle hints about the relative health of
the additives. The definition pop-up for Yellow #5, for instance,
tells people that "some scientists think it should be banned due to
possible harmful side effects in children." ("In general," says
Beasley, "you might not want to eat anything that has a number in
And once you have selected the correct four ingredients for
Mountain Dew, the pop-up at the end of the round tells you:
"Brominated vegetable oil in sodas like this has actually sent
some people to the hospital when they drank inhuman quantities over
several months. Yellow #5 has also been accused of causing
hyperactivity when consumed to excess. And high-fructose corn syrup
can cause obesity. Drink soda pop responsibly!"
Beasley and his team worked with Patrick Di Justo, the What's
Inside columnist for Wired Magazine to come up with the most
commonly used additives. Di Justo also helped work on the YOU! The
Experience exhibit, which has had the same Twinkie on display since
it opened in the fall of 2009.
Click here to play the "Would you eat that?" game.
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