What are these grams you speak of? Metric system still foreign

03/19/2013 05:19:00 PM
Tom Karst

U.S. readers who are befuddled with the lack of a common measuring stick for global per capita consumption can go here to an Food and Agricultural Organization site. This web page is the only site I found to compare fruit and vegetable consumption patterns between countries.

 From there readers can download country by country, commodity-specific per capita consumption figures. And, not surprisingly, the FAO database allows viewers to request the information in terms of either kilograms/per capita/year or g/capita/day.

 There they go again, with the kilograms and grams; it’s almost like the rest of the world is waiting for us to adopt the metric system. I'll give you my 12-inch ruler when you take it from my cold, dead hands.


Prev 1 2 Next All


Comments (18) Leave a comment 

Name
e-Mail (required)
Location

Comment:

characters left

JohnS    
March, 19, 2013 at 08:43 PM

The rest of the world only uses the metric system (in 1988 Congress declared it our "preferred" system too, Admittedly, they were lying as usual.). So because you can't be bothered, "somebody" is supposed to convert it all to pounds for you? Why? 453.59237 g = 1 lb 365.25 days = 1 yr (factoring in leap day every four years) OR, you could just compare the amounts to the nutritional guidelines and food pyramid which are in grams and recommendations per day. (I must admit that an annual pile of food would look intimidating. I eat all that in a year???) You claim Americans can't handle metric, but our farmers are pretty good at selling metric tons of stuff for export and bushels of stuff for domestic consumption. USDA reports all our food exports that way. If farmers can handle, I would expect journalists could too.

Jay M.    
Chicago, IL  |  March, 20, 2013 at 02:07 PM

JohnS., be kind. It wasn't long ago at all that Tom put his slide rule away in the closet alongside his abacus. :)

Tim Williamson    
Alabama - USA  |  March, 20, 2013 at 05:01 PM

Tom's blood pressure seems to be high. Wonder what it is? Oh! Wait, it's measured in Metric units. Well, maybe his blood sugar is high. Wonder what that is? Oh! Wait, it's measured in Metric units too. With all those high pressure things going on, if he's following his doctor's advice, he needs to take 2 81 mg Aspirin per day too. Obviously, Tom doesn't realize that we in the US are in great company by not fully using Metric (Liberia and Burma being the only other countries to not convert to the more rational Metric system), and that by continued parochialism we are hurting our chances at future innovation and competition on the world stage of trade, science, etc. in a world growing, pun intended, more homogeneous and connected where sustained grow will only occur in the margins. Anyway, Tom probably does not realize that the tire on his car are 2/3 metric. But, far be it from some to come out of the dark ages and move into the modern world.

Mark Henschel    
Rockford, Illinois  |  March, 20, 2013 at 05:15 PM

The problem with only being able to think in pounds and ounces is that first, it closes a lot of markets to US goods. 96 percent of the cooks on the planet Earth cook using metric units, grams and milliliters mainly. By not being able to think and work in metric units, we hurt our country because all the emerging markets of the world are all metric. Metric means markets is still true today as it was when the Metric Conversion Act was passed over 35 years ago. Also, we do our children a disservice by using only pounds and inches. When American children are exposed to metric units early in their lives, they are better able to deal with measurement units that are used in their science and math classes, and we help our country develop a more competitive educated population.

Mark Henschel    
Rockford, Il USA  |  March, 20, 2013 at 05:17 PM

Actually the Metric System was made legal in the USA in 1866, and the inch-pound system has never been legalized.

GoMetricAmerica    
Riverside  |  March, 20, 2013 at 05:37 PM

SI Metric, being the preffered measurement standard globally, means that until America adopts metric standards, our trade and education will continue to fall behind. British units served us good in the past. Now it's time for an upgrade.

Martin Vlietstra    
United Kingdom  |  March, 21, 2013 at 03:24 AM

Tom, when you wrote about gallons of milk, what size gallons were you talking about? OK, it was the US gallon, but here in the UK we use a different sized gallon. However we use the same size litre as you, the French, the Germans, the Japanese, the Chinese and everybody else uses. Not everybody spells it the same, we spell it the same way that the French do, you spell it the same way that the Germans do, but "100 L" is universally understood. If the United States want to be isolationist, continue to use the units that you borrowed from us in 1776, it not, please use the same units as the rest of the world.

Tom K    
Lenexa  |  March, 21, 2013 at 05:52 AM

Interesting that 2-liter bottle of pop has gained widespread acceptance but the gallon of milk remains unshaken. Americans like the way we like it, I suppose. Change will come, but slowly.

Paul Trusten, Vice President, U.S. Metric Association    
Midland, Texas  |  March, 21, 2013 at 07:54 AM

Mr. Karst, The world does not have to wait for the U.S. to adopt the metric system of measurement. We did that in 1988. Under Article I, Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution, the Congress has power to "fix the standard of weights and measures." The Omnibus Trade And Competitiveness Act of 1988, signed into law by President Ronald Reagan, declares it U.S. policy that the metric system is the preferred system of measurement for America's trade and commerce. Not only would these comparative consumption figures stated in your article be crystal-clear to you if they were expressed in grams, they would also be quite American if they were. The U.S. IS metric. However, we have not yet completed our national transition to it. We at the U.S. Metric Association continue to stand ready with metric education for government, academia, and industry, as we have done for nearly a century. For more information, please visit www.metric.org.

JohnS    
March, 22, 2013 at 07:29 AM

I think the two reports are not very comparable, and not JUST because of grams vs pounds. The European report is specifically about daily dietary recommendations. It is stated to absurd precision, but rounding to 197 g fruit and 186 g vegetables, total 383 g, Europeans fall slightly short of a recommended total of 400 g/day intake of fruits and vegetables. The USDA report is based on what farmers grew, not what people ate, and is focused on change from prior years. We know a lot of food is wasted in the US. The US recommends 2 cups daily of fruits and 3.5 cups daily of vegetables. There is no easy comparison to change in pounds farmer grew per year. (There is a handy graph at the bottom that claims Americans only eat 40% of recommended fruit, 60% of recommended vegetables and overeat meat and grains, although it is not clear how they did the math. It is also difficult to compare US and European recommendations. However, using USDA data, a lot of fruits and vegetables, cut up, average around 150 g/cup (variation 125 - 180 g/cup). If this is reasonable data, then the US recommendation is around 825 g/day total fruit and vegetables, appreciably higher than the WHO recommendation of 400 g/day. (Do we consume about 50% of 825 g/day, just over the 400 g? Who knows.) It is like comparing apples and snap beans. Recommended dietary guidelines vs total farm output. However, if the Europeans had included farm output, it would have been grams per person per day and I could compare to what they ate. Comparing cups consumed to pounds grown really works poorly. like most comparisons in Customary where different units are used for different things, when common measure could be used.

ACWM    
Wiscasset, Maine  |  March, 22, 2013 at 09:27 AM

Hi. That isn't true. The last two times United States Customary were legally defined or refined to bring them into alignment with the UK and Commonwealth were in 1893 and 1959, respectively. They have been legal for trade since they arrived here in the 1600s. Duh. That's why they are the same units that England had until the 1820s, when they redefined their dry- and liquid-measures around a 10-lb. gallon. Bash USC as much as you want on here, but at least don't make your side look foolish by coming on here and posting nonsense like this.

ACWM    
Wiscasset, Maine  |  March, 22, 2013 at 09:30 AM

How does it make you feel, Mark, when you can click a button and automatically switch back and forth from one to the other? All off the cooking sites we have seen on here, recipe sharing sites, allow users to effortlessly switch back and forth. We imagine where there'd be trouble is when one is in a country where goods come in a certain size or quality and the recipe is written using goods that are packaged in another size or quantity.

ACWM    
Wiscasset, Maine  |  March, 22, 2013 at 09:36 AM

@JohnS We're pretty sure that each and every nutritional label in the United States uses grams. In fact there was an article a year ago about changing the label BACK, allowing the use of drams or grains where appropriate, or teaspoons/Tablespoons so that consumers could actually visualize the amount of a substance in the food they consume. What are we doing wrong now? Not capitalizing calorie, not using ridiculous energy units like the joule? It's a bowl of cereal not a nuclear reaction! That our standards are written differently than the EUs isn't of any concern to us. The FDA, USDA do an excellent job keeping us safe, whereas sometimes when you buy ground beef in the EU, the "horse" is implied by the price.

ACWM    
Wiscasset, Maine  |  March, 22, 2013 at 09:44 AM

@Paul Trusten: Is the Ronald Reagan you speak of the same one who defunded government funding of metrication? Not that I am a fan of politics (although they is present wherever more than one social animal is gathered), but being that we are both involved in advocacy groups, it should be obvious to you that signing a piece of paper saying one thing and eliminating the funding that has the opposite effect shows an attempt to play to both sides, but a clear cut support of in.-lb. industry.

JohnS    
March, 22, 2013 at 02:48 PM

I have complete confidence in our farmers' ability to grow too much food (we are a major exporter). The Food Availability Report tells me little about how Americans are doing eatting per the Food Pyramid guidelines. It is not a matter of grams vs pounds, it just doesn't answer the right question. But I agree with you, the amount of food actually analyzed on a nutrition label IS the amount in metric. The amount in Customary is just an approximation, with rounding rules that aren't terrible, but are probably more rounded than I would prefer. I would prefer the USDA to have weight-based guidelines (or BOTH, if they consider the cups important) vs the vague cups that depend on how you cut up the fruits and vegetables. There are guidelines on using SI properly and I am not overly concerned if "the man on the street" makes minor errors, but I would hold those in charge and in the media to a higher standard to set a good example. Is that unreasonable? Should they held be held to a lesser standard? Do you seriously think many Americans understand drams and grains? I think teaspoons, tablespoons, and cups are about the limit of understanding. Once you have to educate people, a world-wide system sounds better than a one-country solution.

JohnS    
March, 22, 2013 at 03:04 PM

@ACWM Always legal, never legalized. The old British units were in place before we became a country, and no one ever bothered to legalize them (unlike Metric Act of 1866). Everyone just "assumed" they were legal. Congress insisted NBS "define" them in the Federal Register around 1970. (If you disagree, please quote the laws that legalized them.) The 1893 Mendenhall Order was specifically to get away from poor quality British physical standards for weight and length and to define our Customary units as fractions of our metric prototypes. We stood alone on that for a long time. Finally in 1959, six English-speaking nations agreed on common values for the foot and pound, defined in metric. They weren't really "International" as most countries were really metric, we six were the main ones who cared how big a foot and popund are, and collectively, we six were arrogant enough to call them "International."

ACWM    
Wiscasset, Maine  |  March, 23, 2013 at 05:14 PM

So you admit, at least, that they were defined in 1893? You are aware that the United States was one of the first signatories to the Treaty of the Meter and was keenly aware of measurement legislation, right? We are. . .

JohnS    
March, 23, 2013 at 07:31 PM

Yes. they were defined in 1893 by the Office of Weights & Measures over the authority of the Secretary of the Treasury. The Mendenhall Order actually opens with a statement that Congress has never definitively exercised its authority to fix the system of weights and measures. Everything was simply adopted by the Treasury Department as part of setting import duties. The Mendenhall Order is one more step in that sequence. (Congress sometime later officially delegated this responsibility to the Dept. of Commerce) Of course, they were previously defined relatively to physical standards purchased from Britain. I am NOT saying they were never defined, I am saying they were set by a Federal agency (which was really only empowered to collect Customs duties) and were never established by Congressional action. In 1832, Treasury chose to stay with the Queen Anne wine gallon and Winchester bushel, ignoring the Imperial gallon of 1824, which is why we are different than Imperial. (The Mendenhall Order is an appendix in NIST SP447, which you might enjoy downloading from NIST. It is a history of W&M in the US.) Yes, we signed the Treaty of the Meter before the UK, and then proceeded to metricate MUCH more slowly. Your point? (since you advocate Customary) We overthrew the rule of King George III, but not his ruler.

Feedback Form
Leads to Insight