It used to be, in ancient times (and probably still today, in some cases), that kings, rulers, tyrants, and other suspicious types would have someone else usually an enemy taste their food for them, just to see if it was poisonous. Not all of us have access to powerless enemies to sample our food and make sure it is safe for us to consume these days, which is a real shame because with so many food allergies and intolerances and unknowable ingredients, we often don’t know if what we’re going to eat actually will do us harm.
Well, maybe not now, but soon possibly as soon as August 2014, if entrepreneur/mother Isabel Hoffmann has her way. Hoffmann has been working with her friend Stephen Watson to develop a device that can discern the contents of food just by pointing at it since her daughter became very sick when they moved to the United States from Europe an illness that was found to be related to mold toxicity and which can cause allergies and sensitivities to glutens and dioxins. The result of their labors, a spectrometer called TellSpec that can read the chemical makeup of the food and translate it into something useful, reached (and exceeded) its funding goal on Indiegogo last week.
The device seems like something out of a science fiction story: you simply point it at your food, press a button, and wave it around a bit. Within seconds it sends the resulting data to your smartphone. You can see if those chocolate truffles might have any harmful ingredients lurking in their decadent centers, or if some peanut dust may have gotten mixed in with your corn chips by mistake.
This seems like it would be a godsend to so many people those with severe allergies, or celiac disease, and other serious food-related health risks. I almost can’t believe they’ve lived so long without something like this. But I wonder about the implications for the rest of us. First of all, do we really want to know? Will we panic every time the reading from the food scanner tells us there is something to be wary of? I think it could be a pretty severe wake-up call as we realize what exactly it is we are eating right down to the pesticides and preservatives. I imagine that it could cause some pretty big shakeups in the food industry if enough people decided that the way food is processed and packaged and preserved in this country just isn’t acceptable.
However, I’m sure that for most people, owning one will either be a necessity because they do have severe health risks or a luxury. It doesn’t seem like the kind of thing that you could just pick up at the checkout racks at your local grocery store. At least not yet. And until it is, most of us will just have to trust that what we are eating is safe, and won’t do us any lasting harm.
image via TellSpec