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Carting us off to better health
Scripps Howard News Service


May 05, 2005

Washington - Veteran conspiracy spotters sensed right away the government was up to something.

First, there was an escalating series of obesity studies saying that Americans, both children and adults, were too fat and too sedentary and facing serious health problems down the line because of it.

Sure, there was the study that showed people who were a little bit overweight lived longer than those who weren't, but we think the government sensed people were becoming suspicious and only wanted to lower the level of alarm.

Then there was the U.S. Department of Agriculture's new food pyramid, disarmingly called "MyPyramid," that urged us to eat fruits, vegetables, whole grains, seeds, weeds and lawn clippings.

Conspiracy experts knew something really was afoot when the USDA offered a MyPyramid Tracker where you could enter details about yourself into a government computer and it would assess the quality of your diet and the sufficiency of your physical activity. Right. Why do you suppose they gave it the sinister name "Tracker"?

Congress is expected to approve Real ID, a national driver's license that - in the interests of national security, mind you - will contain identifying personal data, name, address, a digital photo, height - and weight. All linked into a national database.

Clearly there was a pattern here - even the congenitally clueless could see it - but how did it all fit together?

The answer wasn't long in coming.

At the food-marketing industry's big trade show in Chicago this week, two companies unveiled "smart" carts, computer-linked grocery carts that can read your shopping list and guide you around the store by the fastest, most efficient route, pointing out bargains and specials along the way.

The cart tallies your purchases as you go, charges your credit card and wheels your groceries out to the car.

The carts are marketed under soothing names like Concierge and Shopping Buddy (made by IBM, as if further evidence were needed), names that radiate the message, "We're here to help you." Hah!

The Associated Press story on the carts is speckled with little giveaways. For example: "The Buddy won't advertise things that don't fit with a shoppers' buying habits." How does it know what those habits are? Because it can link into your home computer, and if it can do that, the cart can link into Real ID or USDA to get your diet and exercise habits.

In the second paragraph of the AP story, the reporter says of the carts, "They won't take over your trip to the store, as HAL took over the mission in '2001: A Space Odyssey.' " Now why would the reporter put a disclaimer like that right at the top of the story?

Because the whole point of the carts is to take over your grocery shopping until there's a leaner, healthier you, eating in accord with government-approved guidelines and meeting the government-approved Body Mass Index.

Through some sort of electric charge, the smart cart will freeze your hands onto the handle and haul you around the store, ignoring your shopping list of heavily sugared breakfast cereals, soft drinks, frozen pizza, prime ribs, butter, french fries and chocolate cookies.

Instead, it will load your cart with whole-grain breads that look like artificial firewood, broccoli heads the size of soccer balls, gallon jugs of prune juice, brown-rice breakfast cereal, free-range falafel and an institutional container of essential fatty acids. The government knows what you need.

USDA's Tracker has tipped off the cart about your near-total lack of exercise, so, with your hands still frozen on the handle, it takes you on several laps around the supermarket parking lot until it determines that you've had 30 minutes of exercise at your optimum aerobic heart rate.

And don't try ducking into another store on the way home for a quick box of vanilla cream snack cakes. The carts talk to each other.


Contact Dale McFeatters at McFeattersD(at)
Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service,

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