Tag Archives: spring 2022


Conventions (and Disrupting Conventions) on Nutritional Labels

The nutrition facts label. A familiar sight, and a cause of angst for so many people. 

Under the Nutrition Labeling and Education Act (NLEA), most foods that you buy in grocery stores are required to have nutritional labels; notable exemptions include produce items. 

These labels, found on anything from oatmeal to canned beans and oreos, are highly standardized. In academic writing, conventions describe “the accepted standards of various elements…such as paper format, voice, tone, diction, and citation style.” Nutritional labels are a fantastic example of the role conventions play outside of an academic context. 

Nutritional labels are required to list the various nutrient values for one serving of the product, including calories, a fat breakdown, a carbohydrate breakdown, cholesterol, sodium, protein, Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Calcium, and Iron. The labels also calculate “daily value percentages” of these nutrients based on FDA nutritional guidelines. There doesn’t seem to be much that can be changed on the labels, save for the actual numbers displayed in each category based on the product. 

In academic writing, conventions can feel like a monolith: to be taken seriously, you have to follow certain stylistic rules. But, there can be ways to stray from the rules that are beneficial. This is also true in the realm of nutritional labels (and I’m just talking about the nutrition facts box, not any external claims or labels like organic, gluten-free, etc.)

Take the nutrition label for a package of Dulse, one of my favorite kinds of seaweed. 

One of the first things you may notice about the label is the blue: the “Nutrition Facts” title and the lines around and within the box are not the traditional black. It probably depends on the person, but I’d say the light color makes the label a bit less frightening and monotonous. Another remarkable difference between this label and one that follows conventions more strictly is the list of nutrients at the bottom. Although they are unrequired, this list includes iodine, riboflavin, vitamin B6, Chromium, Magnesium, and Vitamin B12 – showing off the nutritional powerhouse that dulse is. 

You may have noticed certain elements are missing from where they usually are on the label: saturated fat, cholesterol, Vitamin D, among others. Instead, underneath the rather lengthy list of nutrients that are present, in small print, is the line “Not a significant source of: calories from fat, saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol, sugars, vitamin A, vitamin C, or calcium.” These changes are allowed by the FDA and produce a simplified label that focuses attention on what may be seen as the “healthy” aspects of the product. These ways that the dulse flakes disrupt conventions of nutrition facts are somewhat common among a certain niche of products marketed as “health foods.” In this way, while breaking general conventions of food labels, this product does adhere to another, but much more exclusive, set of conventions.

Thus, even on nutrition facts labels, there is room for creativity – to make the argument pop out. That said, when you go grocery shopping, please be wary that sellers aren’t breaking too many of these conventions. 

– Joe Himmelfarb, ‘24


Tortoise Tuesday: A Tutorial in Orienting

I have played a lot of Pokémon. 

Not just as a little kid, but also as a middle schooler. And maybe also as a high schooler. And then possibly again during freshman year of college—hell, my entire R3 was about Pokémon! And now as a second-semester post-secondary school sophomore, I’ll probably ask my parents to ship me my old 3DS from home so I can play some more Pokémon over spring break instead of speedrunning all of the internship applications that I’ve been neglecting for the past few months. 

The Pokémon video game series is great. From its first release in 1996 to its most recent in January 2022, the franchise has been blessing the world with generations of entertainment for people of all ages. Each game has its own storyline, characters, settings, and Pokémon, which are creatures with mythical powers that inhabit the world. But one of the mechanics that is always central to and consistent across each and every Pokémon game is catching Pokémon. 

That’s why every Pokémon game will give you a tutorial for it. 

So every time I start another game, I always get pawned off to some unmemorable NPC1 who holds my hand through the process of catching Pokémon even though I’ve been (metaphorically) kicking ass and taking names and doing exactly what the tutorial is ‘teaching’ me before the NPC was probably coded into existence. The tutorial doesn’t even take that long—maybe a minute at max, with all the button-mashing I’m doing to get it over with. But it’s boring, repetitive, and unnecessary, and it gives me a window during which I have the time to contemplate whether or not I should just go fill out those internship applications.

I can only feel relief when the NPC is done with their spiel and I’m finally free to frolic around and create chaos and save the world. To me, having an unskippable tutorial for catching Pokémon seems more like an inconvenience than anything remotely helpful. But then again, I’ve been playing Pokémon for years. The tutorial certainly seems useful for a person who is completely new to Pokémon; after all, catching Pokémon is a necessary tool for players to progress in the game.

In a way, this Pokémon catching tutorial is reminiscent of orienting. Imagine: you’re an author. You’ve been in the weeds for weeks, months, digging your hands into the dirt and bringing your discoveries to light. You’ve been analyzing your evidence, stringing connections and bridges like no one has ever seen, and you’re ready to share what you’ve learned with the rest of the world. Your audience wasn’t with you when you were picking out a topic. They weren’t with you when you were getting acquaintanced with your scholarly sources. They weren’t with you when you were trying to parse out and piece together definitions of key terms. 

It might seem boring and repetitive to you to provide orienting. But it’s important to remember that your audience is as unfamiliar with your work as you were when you first started, and they didn’t have the weeks or months of experience to get to know your topic like you do. Orienting doesn’t have to give everything away, but it should at least provide readers with the necessary knowledge that is required to understand and engage with your work.

1a non-player character, or any character in a game that is not controlled by a real person

–Emily Wu, ’24