I’m dropping everything I’m doing right now to highlight something that I think is important.
Hot dogs and buns. No, seriously: hot dogs and buns.
I found out yesterday that Heinz (part of the Kraft-Heinz Corporation [KHC]) has started a campaign called the “Heinz Hot Dog Pact” to get manufacturers (apparently including themselves) to package both hot dogs and buns in counts of 10 each. (Ten each! This is just icing on the cake. Yeah, I make puns.) It’s hoping to clean up the mess made by having these mismatched, but usually paired items made equal—finally—and in sets of 10. Even better.
Why I think this is important
This extremely large organization is calling on others in the “production” end of things to make a change for the better for consumers. Isn’t that what every organization should attempt when it makes sense to do so?
Please also understand that it was revealed to me that one of the problems or “catch points” during our last metric system adoption attempt in the 1970s was grocers who didn’t want to be “on the front lines” if all the labels (and other things) in the stores suddenly changed to metric because consumers might yell at THEM about it. They did not want to put themselves in that position and I don’t blame them.
Let’s face it, Heinz could just make the change itself (within its own production lines) but instead, it wants to address and fix the underlying problem: A mismatch of usually paired items.
BRAVO to Heinz for taking such a proactive stand to fix a ridiculous problem that should have been solved decades ago. In my mind, this echoes what needs to be done with the metric system. That’s why I bring this subject up now.
According an Adweek story, the idea originated with a Canadian ad agency
Does “American Heinz” get credit for a campaign that originated with our Northern neighbors? In my opinion, having a great idea is important but only if it is recognized as a great idea once presented. It takes courage and foresight for companies to see a great idea and run with it. Frankly, in my opinion, most of them just F them up. I’ve witnessed the smoldering of good ideas ground down by company “liaisons” during my entire career.
It takes even more courage for a company to stick its neck out and try to change things in a meaningful way FOR A WHOLE BUSINESS SECTOR (food and beverage). I consider this exceptional work toward a good cause and KHC deserves all the good publicity that gets heaped upon it. (Any side issues, notwithstanding.)
What does this mean for this project? I have some thoughts. I need to mull them carefully before I will act. Part of it will be to try to follow the events of this campaign and it’s success rate.
However, this issue prompts new section of the blog:
Cheers and Jeers
Cheers to Heinz, Kraft Heinz and, if you like, you can join the dog/buns campaign on the https://www.change.org/ platform on this issue. Feel free to comment and include the words (hopefully in a smart way) “metric system.” Yes, I’m inciting people to “rise and comment.”
HOWEVER, please don’t start a petition on this site for metric adoption now. It will fail. I can almost guarantee it. I’m asking for a bit of patience while I try to “ramp things up.”
Cheers to Tim Kaine, a democratic Senator and member of the Armed Services Committee. Within the last couple of weeks, he had an interview with Rachael Maddow, (on MSNBC) when he unabashedly used the phrase “square centimeters” without apology or translation. The more people who think and talk using the metric system only, the better for everyone toward metric system adoption. Let Senator Kaine know that you care about this issue (politely please) even if he “doesn’t belong to you” as a Senator. In a way, all elected officials belong to us within a democracy. https://www.kaine.senate.gov/contact.
Oh, and this might be an “American problem.” My wonderful contact in Australia did a quick “scout” for me and relayed that there, buns and hot dogs come in equal numbers. Not a surprise to me.
What about your country? Do your packages of dogs and buns match in number? Hey, that’s what the comments section is for.
The Science Blogs Web Archive provides resources for scholars and others conducting research on science writing, research, teaching and communication, as well as scientific discourse in the United States. Science blogs are online journals or diaries and thus enhance the Library’s analog collection of science periodicals and manuscripts by providing content that reflects observations and understanding of science in the 21st century. The archive was created to ensure the preservation and collection of digital materials which produce original thought and observations in all major scientific disciplines (earth sciences, physical sciences, and life sciences) for all audience levels.
I’m collecting information and writing reports (and lots of other things)
In the works:
A communications plan to support my proof of concept (POC)* recapped below
A nonfiction book proposal
List of reasons people use to reject adoption of the metric system.
A situation analysis
I’m building out this webpage so I can include additional resources and information
They are all interrelated.
The importance of the proof of concept
My idea of a proof of concept in this situation is bigger than the book proposal (however, I will need to a book proposal to “sell” the metric system idea to agents/publishers).
My idea of proof of concept is based, in part, on the idea that all good ideas should begin with:
“Don’t tell me, show me.”
In the case of this project, the “tell” is “The United States should switch to the metric system.” The “show me” rests with the potential and demonstrative improvements to our medical and education systems, time and productivity savings, and even things like environment impacts. And then, of course, I have to spell out why these “shows” are important and that the concepts are connected. These ideas will have a substantive place in my book America’s Biggest Miscalculation.
If there is no good “why” behind why an idea/concept is important and relevant, it’s unlikely to move very far forward in a legitimate way.
Is that why, as children, we were invited to “Show and tell” and not just to “Tell” or “Show”? Did we not learn nothing from that early experience? Context matters, history matters, good sources matter.
Science works on proof of concept
Within the science-based environment from which I came (Los Alamos National Laboratory), these concepts could be earth shatteringly important, cost millions or billions of dollars and add to our fundamental understanding of how the universe works. And for the really big stuff (think high-energy physics sorts of things where you have unbelievably expensive and complex custom equipment) it takes more resources, partnerships (national and international), and some of the smartest and most dedicated scientists in the world to pursue their work.
Luckily, my bar is FAR lower than that, but I will still need to compete for funding and attention from agents and publisher to get this work done, and if these folks pick the metric system work, they’re likely passing on other opportunities. To be successful, I have to convince people that this work is important, could contribute to the health and education within our society, but it has be be able to sell copies of the book. That’s last but not least.
With some new concepts and ideas in mind (from the Nonfiction Authors Association conference, see previous post), I’ve realized just how much the situation analysis feeds into my needs for the book. The better I understand this issue, and from every possible angle I can think of, the better off I will ultimately be.
The purpose of my situation analysis is to coalesce my ideas and observations into a “bite-sized” report that presents the current lay of the land.
Recall, our last real attempt at metric system adoption was in the mid-1970s. The federal government generated thousands and thousands of pages of reports on why switching to the metric system was a good idea or rather “A decision whose time has come [PDF].” (Caution: It’s one of the 1970s documents and it’s 191 pages.) Then came failure—not complete, but in many, many ways.
Fast forward almost 40 years and here we are, but where is that exactly?
That’s what I propose to put on paper in a rudimentary way. I want to illustrate MY understanding of the current environment and how the book project fits into that environment. I need to demonstrate that people (you specifically) care about this issue enough to support it through a book purchase.
Of primary importance for this report is: “Who are the current players and what roles do they fulfill?
It’s all about barriers, opportunities, resources, and the need to make course corrections by monitoring the environment and responding quickly and appropriately.
I’ll also include a “gap analysis” in some form. The point of a gap analysis is to strongly consider where an “entity is” with relation to resources (in any form, human or financial capital, for instance) and a desired end-state. What needs to fill the “gap” between current resources and the goal? Where could those resources come from? Are there assets not being properly leveraged? What are all the interrelations between other organizations in the environment (usually business competitors) and the entity? You get the idea.
I can tell you this now. There is more federal legislation in place than you think there is and I think that’s really, really important to metric system adoption.
This project’s biggest asset is you, dear reader
Me, I’m no one. I’m just someone who happened to realize (because I’m old enough) that we are constantly making our lives more complicated in the United States since we don’t routinely use the metric system for our measurement units. Let’s make things easier for our medical community and our students AND EVERYONE. I think it’s the least we can do.
Thanks for reading down this far.
The proof of concept I laid out last week:
* “I hope to demonstrate there is enough interest in the United States’ lack of metric system adoption (or there will be once people actually “see” our current mess) to buy a copy of America’s Biggest Miscalculation and make it commercially and financially viable enough for an agent/publisher to favor of THIS project when allocating resources.”
…is a catalogue of more than a thousand years of European and U.S. cookbooks, from the medieval Latin De Re Culinaria, published in 800, to The Romance of Candy, a 1938 treatise on British sweets.
This got me thinking about how we take precise measures for granted in our current cookbooks. If we look back, specific amounts of ingredients are a more recent development.
Based on my preliminary research, even by 1796 recipes had some measurement references. However, when I started looking at older recipes, the “amount” gaps became apparent. For instance, from The Commonplace Book of Countess Katherine Seymour Hertford (1567), you get things like:
Take a quantitie of barlei well rubbed & clensed wth a faire cloth from all dust & boile the same o[n] the fyar wth a good quantitie of faire water in a new earthen pot lettinge it seath till the barlei…
But even in this 1567 reference, there is mention of pint and gallon units:
Distel a pint of the water of everie of these by them selves and put to them a gallon and a pynt of good malmesei… [Note]
Back when ingredient lists were sequential and basic
While I didn’t research exhaustively enough to find the exact dates of when measures were routinely included, I can tell you one of earliest sources (1340) referenced on medievalcookery.com, has ingredients, sans units, listed succinctly as:
Almond milk, rice flour, capon meat, sifted ginger, white sugar, white wine; each one in part to be boiled in a clean pot, and then put in the vessel in which it will be done, a little light powder; pomegranates planted thereon.
How much of each? Who knows? According to a 2017 article in The Atlantic, cookbooks from the 1400 and 1500s were more memory aids for chefs in the world of the royals, rather than “how-tos” for common folk so measures weren’t missed.
I dare you to try to sell a cookbook today without including measures. People would go crazy.
The trouble is 95 percent of the world doesn’t know what our U.S. customary units are. Therefore, drawback number one: Our cookbooks will only sell overseas to people willing to take the time to convert units to the metric system. (A poor strategy from an international distribution standpoint for any printed versions.)
From a sausage cookbook.
Some cookbooks try to get around this by printing ingredients down a center column with quantities to the left and right. While that works, why do it at all?
If everyone was using the same units (metric) it would make it our lives much easier and people wouldn’t have to worry about the current differences between the U.S. and U.K ounce units, for instance. (See photo below.)
Note the difference in volume between the U.S customary and U.K. ounces. Ours is bigger!
Drawback number two: Scaling recipes up and down becomes MUCH more difficult with our three teaspoons to a tablespoon and eight ounces to a cup business. Since the metric system is based on tens, scaling up and down is much easier.
Drawback number three (of those that immediately jump to mind): We use volumetric measures in this country, with our teaspoons, tablespoons, cups, and so on, and these can cause all kinds of problems as I cite in an earlier post. With the metric system, you use a liquid measure for liters (and fractions thereof) and a scale for mass in kilograms and its fractions. That’s it.
Let’s consider just how difficult we’re making things for ourselves and pick a more sane path moving foward.
More exciting posts are in the works. Please stay tuned.
Note: While I couldn’t find a definition for “malmesei,” it turns out “malmsey” is a sweet, fortified wine. That would make sense in this context with a liquid measure cited. I’ll leave it to you to look up the other confusing ingredients.
This was really difficult to photograph since the units (cups and ounces on one side and milliliters on the other) are only embossed. Most measuring cups use ink for contrast. Hopefully, the visual complexity of one side compared with the other still comes across.
Every once in a while I come across something that really lives up to the cliché of “a picture is worth a thousand words.” I thought I’d share the images above with you since it relates directly to our lack of metric system adoption.
Most glass measuring cups are fairly cleanly designed to show U.S. customary units on one side (no, we don’t use the Imperial units we originally brought over with us from the U.K) and those of the metric system on the other side.
However, the one I recently bought really puts our awkward system into full light.
Interestingly, when I pointed my find out to the person at the cash register, she indicated that she wanted one as well. Alas, as I was shopping in a discount store, I had to inform her that I was buying the only one I saw. (Frankly, I was pleased that someone else wanted something that I considered a fairly unusual item.)
Keep in mind that the whole point of having liquid measuring cups is to avoid spilling whatever one wishes to measure. In theory, the volume-based measure of, say a cup that can be leveled off at the top containing dry ingredients, should be exactly the same as for a liquid measure. The only reason for a liquid measure is to prevent spilling once the measurement is made.
Americans have both “dry” and “wet” measuring cups is so, if you need a full cup of a liquid, you don’t spill it. A liquid measuring cup provides “slosh” margin above the full-cup measure. Also, liquids tend to level themselves. “Dry” cups makes it easy to push off any excess material and make it level. That’s why you don’t normally see half and quarter cup measures listed within dry measuring cups—you couldn’t level them. [Note the ml printed on the dry measuring cup.]
Once I decided to write a blog post about the measuring cup posted at the top of the page, I tried to do some more research to find out why the designer veered off toward visual complexity for something that is usually designed with simplicity in mind. Unfortunately, I was unable to find out much more from the paper price tag on the bottom of the cup, but it indicated that its origin was Turkey (even though, according to the U.S. Metric Association, Turkey adopted the metric system [or SI as it is known by most of the world] back in 1930. So apparently the cup was intended only for the U.S. market.
There was no identifiable marker’s mark other than something that looked to me like almost a ying and yang mark. A mystery to me, but if someone else can shed light on the maker so I can get some more background—preferably in English—I’d be happy to hear it.
A formula with fractions. Can we just decimalize everything?
I’ve been told (as in second-hand information) that many countries that have switched to the metric system don’t really need to teach fractions anymore because pretty much every fraction can be decimalized. Additionally, I’ve had first-hand conversations with middle school teachers and students who find teaching and learning fractions is a nightmare. Do we really need fractions or, once we switch to the metric system, can we just lay them aside? Over time, I’ve come to question that and here’s my current thinking…
Ultimately, a fraction is part of a thing
We will always need the concept of a less than a full measurement unit. Just as a pound cake was known for its ease because it was based on the ratio of a pound each of butter, sugar, eggs, and flour, it was pretty crude in terms its result. Whether we only need part of a measure of fabric or a piece of wood that is less than a meter long, it is important that children learn (and adults understand) the notion of something that is less than “one” of something.
A fraction has a built-in “math problem”
Maybe some of the resistance to fractions is the inherent idea that it is, as its heart, a “math problem.” (Would we think about things differently if they were called “math challenges” rather than “math problems”? Let’s see…) A fraction is a division “quest.” It can ask a practical question, as in “If I have a half a cup of flour left in this bag and I need a whole cup for my recipe, how much more do I need to borrow from my neighbor to get the full amount needed?” It is a division “question” that needs to be solved if we pair it with anything else (as in add, subtract, divide…).
Consider the following two math “dares”:
A traditional math “problem” on the left that includes fractions with uncommon denominators. On the right is the same math problem decimalized. The top number in the decimalized addition has only been carried two places to the decimal point, otherwise, it would go on forever.
When I hold up “flash cards” side by side with both types of problems shown above during my metric system demonstrations, almost invariably, people choose the one that has been decimalized because it eliminates the issue of uncommon denominators that are such a stumbling block for both children and adults. It also eliminates the steps to get to common denominators because all decimals already have common denominators in the form of 10s, 100s, 1,000s etc.
For the decimalized addition, just add up the columns as you would any math “action,” just making sure you keep track of where the decimal point goes in the final result. Pretty easy if the original equation is properly aligned as above.
In answer to the question “Can we get rid of fractions altogether?”
No. While most things will work just fine if you even go two or three numbers to the right of the decimal point, for some things it just won’t work since many decimals are frequently “rounded” and don’t fully express a numerical concept. While I am not a scientist, I do work with quite a few and when I posed the question of just decimals, “No” was the answer that came back to me. That’s because many fractions just don’t work as decimals for scientific formulas. Consider the fraction in the second math image. If you try to convert it to a decimal you have a problem because, technically, it trails on forever as in .3333333333333333333….
Scientists and mathematicians can’t work like that and need the compactness of fractions to visualize and express their work. (See the graphic at the top of this page for equation fractions.)
That said, let’s keep them where we really need them and stop needlessly torturing students, teachers and our population in general.
Even U.S. stock markets no longer report losses and gains with fractions down to the 16th. It changed a few years ago when the Securities and Exchange Commission ordered that all stock reports convert to the decimal system prior to April 9, 2001.
Why did it use fractions of quarters, eighths, halves, and sixteenths? According to the article from Investopedia, it dates back to the “pieces of eight” that Spain used some 400 years ago when it decided to exclude the thumbs for the purposes of counting…
The scene when the Spinal Tap’s manager discovers the prop is MUCH smaller than he expected.
In a scene in Rob Reiner’s mockumentary, This Is Spinal Tap, the rock group’s manager (played by Tony Hendra) goes to pick up a piece of scenery that is meant to evoke Stonehenge in connections with one of the group’s songs. He indicates that he’s quite pleased with the model with which he’s been presented with until he finds out that it is the finished piece and not a model. He expected something 18 feet high, not 18 inches high.
The designer (played by Anjelica Huston) seeks to defend herself and pulls out the napkin she’d been given to work from to show that the specifications indicated 18″ by 18″. She’d done exactly as instructed.
A zoom in on the napkin held in the character’s hand reveals the specifications she was given was, in fact, not 18 feet but 18 inches.
Within our measurement system, the difference between (“) and (‘)* is huge. In fact, the difference is 279.4 mm or 11 inches!
“Well,” defenders of our current measures might say, “that was done for comic effect and bears no relationship to the real world.”
I beg to differ by way of an example supplied to me by a coworker.
Her husband needed a metal bar fabricated and specified on the order “3/4″ x 3/4” x 1/2′ Long.” However, instead of getting a bar that was three-quarters of an inch wide and three-quarters of an inch thick and six inches long, he instead received a small block since the (1/2’), or a half foot, direction was read instead as part of an inch rather than part of a foot.
The instructions as provided to the fabricators.
Instead of a six-inch-long bar, he ended up with a block slightly smaller than an inch in all dimensions.
As if that isn’t confusing enough, the (“) and (‘) symbols can denote both lengths and durations. Thus, 5’ 4” could mean either five feet and four inches or five minutes and four seconds if there were no context indicating which measure was intended.
So, along with the many stumbling blocks of education and medicine, and other errors related to commerce, this particular vendor had to record the original order as a loss and make and send an item that actually conformed to what the customer had originally specified.
Such errors would be greatly reduced if orders were written in “mm” for the measures rather than in the easily mistaken (“) and (‘) units.
Thus, the order could have been written: “19.05 mm x 19.05 mm x 152.4 mm.”
A lot less ambiguous.
I wasn’t able to find any information on how frequently such errors are made, but if I only had to look to the office next to mine to find an example, can they be very far away from any of us in this country?
U.S. rulers often contain a confusing mix of whole, half, quarter, eighth and sixteenth units. Metric system rulers usually just mark on the whole (10) and half (5) counts.
In conducting research for this piece, I also came across information related to “how to read a ruler/tape measure.” One source went into detail about how to distinguish between the half- and quarter-inch marks on such tools. In contrast, metric system-based rules only have differing marks to help count the “fives” and “tens.”
As I continue to look, the more examples I find of how we’re making our lives more difficult since we don’t use the metric system exclusively in this country.
Have an example of confusion/problems you’ve encountered due to our lack of metric system adoption you’d like to share? Feel free to comment on this page or send an email to me at email@example.com.
Stay tuned. Right now I’m researching our very early history with the metric system in this country. Luckily, prior to the last metric system push in the mid-1970s, our government put out a 200+ page document that goes into just such history. I’m now rereading it within the context of the book I’m writing.
Thanks for getting all the way down here.
* Note: Marks for feet and inches should always be indicated by straight lines, rather than by using quotation marks, which are usually curved. Did I have to look up how to make the straight lines to indicate feet and inches to write this article? Yes, yes I did.
When I talk to people about a future where we switch over to the metric system, many bemoan how difficult the change would be. The problem with that perspective is that most people have no idea how much of our time is wasted due to our using U.S. customary units. I’m highly confident that after a few months of using just metric units, our response would be: “What were we thinking? Why didn’t we do this ages ago?”
Ounces made it into two top 10 questions for recent Google searches.
Just last week I came across an infographic titled “10 Most Asked Questions on Google.” It included queries searched for during a previous six-month period and was global in nature. The graphic belies the assertion that Americans understand their current system (“So why go from something we know to something we don’t know?” they ask me). Bottom line: Because questions eight and 10 are about how many ounces there are in a cup and a pound (respectively) so we really don’t know our units, despite what we say. (Money amounts refer to the cost of ads on the answer landing pages.)
Between the two of them, they accounted for 900,000 questions in that six month time frame. So how does that play out? Let’s say you’re working in the kitchen and you decide you want to scale a recipe up or down and need that “How many ounces in a …?” question answered. The first thing I’d do is search my memory bank to see if that was something I already knew. Then, if I didn’t know, or was less than confident in my answer, I’d need to either whip out my phone or mosey over to my computer to get the answer.
While the actual Google search might seem almost instantaneous, the process of getting to enter the question is not. Let’s say that it takes about 90 seconds before you get to the Google search part (I have nothing to back this assertion up but it is probably conservative). If so, that means we (and by “we” I mean either Americans or the poor souls who find themselves confronted with our crazy units here or elsewhere in the world) spend 45,000 hours each year searching for this information. Put another way, every year we spend more than five years of our time reminding ourselves how many ounces there are in things.
This amount of time, of course, doesn’t include all the time spent looking such information up in a cookbook only to discover (in most cases) that conversions between metric units are sometimes included but not how many ounces, for instance, there are in things.
Most cookbooks include units between U.S. customary and metric system, not within customary units.
I can’t confidently promise that we’d likely spend any saved time on something productive but at least we’d have the opportunity to spend it on something less wasteful.
Confusion in the kitchen
Our units make scaling ingredients very difficult
As if that wasn’t bad enough, I also recently came across the cheat sheet on the right.
It’s just nuts that we put ourselves through these machinations when using the metric system is so easy. Unless you’re really slow, you wouldn’t even need such a chart.
1/4 liter = 250 mL
1/3 liter = 333 mL
1/2 liter = 500 mL
2/3 liter = 666 mL
3/4 liter = 750 mL
Given that we already use decimalized currency, most everyone could immediately tell you that half a dollar is 50 cents and a quarter of a dollar is 25 cents without a calculator or a Google search. It’s the same with metric system mesures.
While it might take some thought and effort to switch over to the metric system initially, once there, our lives become a whole lot simpler.
If only more people knew. Help spread the word please.
I’m now working on book with the title “America’s biggest miscalculation.”
It was almost five years ago that I began down this road of working to bring awareness of the harm we are doing to ourselves through our lack of metric system adoption. The plan has been to do it via a documentary on the subject. (I thought it was only four until I looked it up!)
During that time I put quite a few things in my life on hold while I devoted considerable time and resources (including my own money) toward making metric system awareness a reality. I recently took some time off as a greatly needed it for multiple reasons.
That said, I am far from giving up. This is the first time that I’m saying this publicly but I’ve had discussions with a couple of different producers over the years but the funding to make the documentary has yet to materialize. As a result, I’ve decided to take a different tack.
Part of the reason I started this blog in the first place was to give you some “behind the scenes” looks at the process as it evolves. So here’s what I’m thinking…I need money to produce the documentary and, ultimately, the onus to do that falls on my shoulders.
I had originally thought that I would reach more people through a documentary than through a book but now I’m thinking I need the book to raise the money to make the documentary. I had always thought about writing a book but expected it would be more of a companion piece than the catalyst.
The additional research it will take to write the book will be considerable. For instance, something that I could gloss over in a script like, “When early man began to settle down for agriculture, measurement tools became increasing important” now needs a whole chapter that I have to back up with references and notes. At least if I want it to be any good—and I do.
I have already begun work on the book. I even took some time off to do additional work on it a couple of months ago then came down with pneumonia, which put some kinks in that plan. Still, I think (with the help of my boss, Linda Deck), we came up with what I think is the perfect book title. I needed something that would catch people’s attention, be as unique as I could get it but also not mislead anyone.
Its main title will be America’s biggest miscalculation. Not only does it perfectly describe the situation but I was unable to find another item with that exact title. I did find things named America’s biggest mistake and other such titles but the use of “miscalculation” appears to be unique. I’ve already purchased the domain names.
I am writing the book to fit that title. At my daughter’s suggestion, I purchased Scrivener software and am at almost 20,000 words into the book’s contents. Given that the average non-fiction book is around 70,000 words, I still have a ways to go but there is much more subject material to cover.
Given that I’m writing and project managing full time AND writing a major book on the metric system AND still have to do things like laundry, food prep, cleaning and organizing (where I got really far behind—I hate cleaning), etc., I plan in future to only post once a month. But I do plan to continue posting.
Just the make sure I keep my promise, I plan to write a couple more posts today so I have them ready while I work on the book.
If you want to write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org to suggest topics for columns, I can’t promise I can immediately address them, but I will consider all comers.
I have previously written about how the Food Network’s popular chef Alton Brown has praised the ease of the metric system for kitchen use as far back as 2012 in my post called Not the End of the World:
It is impossible to measure these ingredients with consistent accuracy by avoir dupois—that is, volume. Heck, I’ve seen a cup of flour weigh anywhere from 3 to 6 ounces. If you want to measure flour, you have to do so by weight. End of story.
I’m Just Here For More Food, Alton Brown, p. 14.
But, bless his little Southern heart, in his latest book, Every Day Cook: This Time It’s Personal, he’s taken things a step further:
Despite the grumblings of my editor, I’ve decided to quantify these recipes the way I do in real life…For instance, I combine weights (metric no less) with standard volumetric measurements, that is, tablespoons, in the same recipe…However, when I do weigh, it’s always metric because…I hate fractions. I also hate working with decimal points, and that’s the nice thing about grams. No one ever says 18.4 grams unless they’re weighing out something that’s controlled either by local/state/federal laws or by international treaties. Now, I know that there of you who say food isn’t worth the trouble of purchasing a decent, multiformat digital scale with tare function (allows weights to be zeroed out), but you’d be flat-out wrong.
Of course, I could quibble with the fact that the metric system is based on mass rather than weight (weight varies by the gravity of the planet you happen to be on—mass is mass, regardless), but I suppose he could quibble back our scales actually go by a weight equivalent of mass—and I couldn’t prove him wrong.
There are lots of scales on the market. Pick one that catches your fancy to start with.
But here’s the important bit: not only is he urging cooks of various persuasions to buy and use a scale in their kitchens (you can’t consistently use the metric system without one, and very few people have a proper kitchen scale), but he also includes recipes that are based on metric units!!!!!!!
For instance, his recipe for Always Perfect Oatmeal includes 120 grams of rolled oats, 25 grams of quinoa, 475 grams of water and 7 grams of kosher salt. Yes, he does provide a couple of those ingredients with U.S. customary equivalents but for the quinoa and salt, he does not, thus forcing the use of a scale or a conversion. Where there are conversions, there will be conversion errors so hopefully those with the mistakes will see the error of their ways.
I urge you to take advantage of the coming holiday season to 1) buy lots of copies of Alton’s book for those you love; 2) and buy them a scale to go with it to get folks familiar with weighing things in the kitchen. Then, when we do convert to the metric system, more people will be ready. Tell you what, if this post gets more than 2,000 views before the end of the year, I’ll make a short video showing just how easy a scale is to use for cooking.
A couple of words about kitchen scales
Three years ago I wrote a post called Someone’s in the Kitchen with the Metric System where I extolled the benefits of using scales in the kitchen. While Alton said something about getting one for under $100 (yikes!), most of the ones I’ve bought for the kitchen and demos are between $10 and $15 each and—when I checked them against a calibration standard they do a respectable job all the way down to a gram.
In the post I put up a few years ago, I also pointed how there are some very cool scales you can get to present along with his book. Hardcover is currently $23.57 from Amazon. Throw in a scale for another $10 and you’re good to go. Buy a nifty scale like the one above and bump the package price up by an additional $20. Hey, do whatever best suits your gift-giving needs.
However, I do urge you to buy and use his book to support someone brave enough to include metric system units in an American-based cook book that also supports my work by getting people familiar with using scales in the kitchen. Every little bit helps and this is more than a little bit!
If I loved him before (and I did), I love him even more now.
Also, do let him (and his publishers) know that you support his use of metric system units through social media by using #EveryDayCook along with #USAgometric.