Clever Inventions That Can Change Eating Habits

self heating mealImagine this: 1) a fork that tells you how fast you're eating and when to slow down; 2) meals that are packaged with a self-heating element. These innovations are not impossible or even futuristic. The first one is about to go on the market any day, and the second has been available for about 10 years. You may wonder how they work, how much they cost, and who would want them. Let's find out.



The Smart, Buzzing, Maybe Annoying HAPIfork


Despite the name, I suspect HAPIfork and I wouldn't make each other happy.  I'm usually in a hurry and apt to eat fast; HAPIfork would make its objection known.  Furthermore, if I overindulged, HAPIfork would give me such a guilt trip that I'd be likely to bite its tines brutally hard.  But enough about me; we must move on to what this novel gadget actually does and why.


According to the HAPIfork website, the product is an electronic fork that helps customers monitor and track their eating habits.  Each time the HAPIfork enters someone's mouth, it records what's called a "fork serving."  The gadget measures how much time the diner spent eating a meal, how many fork servings were taken each minute, and the length of the intervals between bites.  If a person eats too fast, the website says, "HAPIfork alerts you with a gentle vibration and indicator light to discreetly remind you to slow down."


HAPIfork comes with an app, so users can put the information it records on a computer or smartphone. Data from the fork can be uploaded via bluetooth on a mobile device or, with the included USB cable, to a computer. Owners of the HAPIfork are encouraged to share their data with other users of the utensil, following their progress and cheering them on. Also included is a coaching program.


This smart device is the product of a Hong Kong-based tech company called HAPIlabs.  It was first displayed by the French-based startup company Slowcontrol at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas in January, 2013, and this novel product stole the show, winning attention and awards.   According to the New York Daily News, HAPIfork's inventor, Jacques Lapine, hopes his invention will help solve the problem of overeating.


But what's the point of recording eating habits?  It's not only to help those who want to lose weight. The HAPifork website lists four types of problems the tool can help with.  Here they are, paraphrased:


  • ŸUnwanted weight gain:  The theory is that, since it takes about 20 minutes for the food you eat to make you feel full, if you eat more quickly, you'll wind up eating more.  This idea is commonly accepted, but the following article--"Slow Eating and Weight Loss: Does the Science Support it?"--points out that some studies suggest slow eating doesn't always work or has only a modest effect. 
  • ŸDigestive problems: The point here is that when people eat too quickly, they don't chew the food sufficiently, so the digestive tract has more work to do. 
  • ŸGastric reflux: The HAPIfork site claims that several studies have shown that the faster one eats, the more likely is the possibility of gastric reflux [an unpleasant backup of gastric acids which can also damage the esophagus].  
  • ŸPostoperative complications: Says the site, eating more slowly decreases stress on tissues weakened by surgical procedures.


So, if you have any of the above problems, for just $99 (approximately) you can enlist the aid of this new technology. HAPIfork should be available in September 2013.  The first batch manufactured will go to contributors to the project's development and marketing. For more info on becoming a "kickstarter," visit the HAPIlabs website.


Let me play devil's advocate and point out a few limitations to HAPIfork:  First, you're not likely to use it when lunching with clients or having dinner in an elegant restaurant with friends, so it won't be a full record of your daily bites. Moreover, finger food--appetizers, sandwiches, chips, nuts, and so one--wouldn't be counted.  And consider this:  Even within the embarrassment-free zone of your own home, it wouldn't be easy to eat soup, chocolate pudding, or ice cream with HAPIfork. 


But wait. Problem solved.  There is also a HAPIspoon. But how can you track your smoothies and milkshakes?  I don't think the company has a prototype HAPIstraw. 


Self-Heating Meals--Fast!


A company named LaBriute (Hebrew for "to your health") has been producing self-heating meals for about 10 years.  I happened upon them in the kosher section of a Jewel supermarket in a suburb of Chicago.  "Self-heating?"  I asked myself.  "How does it do that? How does this little package create flameless heating?  And how does the company keep these perishable foods shelf-stable for 3 years?"


LaBriute meals are fully cooked at extremely high temperatures. That's the company's explanation for the long shelf life.  They're perfectly safe to eat unheated.  However, the company's goal is to supply a warm meal in situations where one might not otherwise be readily available, for example, for families on camping trips, for other outdoor types such as hunters and football fans, for someone traveling or living in an area where the food supply might be contaminated, for office workers or students who want to create a quick hot meal, for observant Jews, and for military personnel.   These products, the company claims, are handy "wherever life takes you."


How is the food heated?  Preparing a LaBriute meal is fun; it may make you feel like a magician.  Everything you need is included.  Just put the entrée into its pouch, pour in the enclosed sodium water, and tape the bag shut with attached tape. The product will produce steam for 1-2 minutes and warm up the food in about 14 minutes. What's actually happening? When the sodium water combines with the minerals in the pouch, the result is--voilà --a warm meal. 


LaBriute meals come in an assortment of entrées: meat, chicken, vegetables, and cheese as well as meals for special diets--vegetarian, kosher and kosher for Passover (when observant Jews cannot eat any foods containing wheat).  (The kosher for Passover products are gluten-free.) The self-heating meals include the entrée, the heating mechanism, a flavorful soup (a powder to which you need to add boiling water), a small bag of tiny, tasty cookies, and cutlery.  In addition to the complete self-heating meals, the company also makes entrées only products. These need to be heated in a microwave or in boiling water.  It might be wise to try the company's entrées-only selections before investing $10.40, the price of each self-heating meal at my Jewel supermarket in Evanston, Illinois. Purchasing the entrée only packages would be a less expensive way to discover which ones you like best.  However, your local supermarket may not carry the entrée-only versions.  Mine didn't.


How do LaBriute meals taste?  My husband and I tried two of the products.  First, we made the cheese ravioli in Marinara sauce.  It couldn't compete with a made-from-scratch homemade ravioli lovingly cooked by an Italian mother.


A few days later, we tried the vegetarian pepper steak with vegetables in gravy. We liked this product better than the ravioli even though we are not vegetarians and are not fans of faux meat products. Still, the dish was in a pleasant-tasting sauce and was fine once I heated it further in my microwave oven.


"Aye, there's the rub," as Hamlet must have said a few million times. The self-heating mechanism was (in my opinion) insufficient and uneven, with parts of the meal getting warm and other parts only lukewarm. (Perhaps the fact that I spilled a little of the magic water on the floor reduced my success.) I called the company to ask what temperature my food should have achieved and spoke to Abe Halberstam, the company's vice-president and sales and marketing executive. He kindly provided this explanation: The entrée is supposed to heat up 40% warmer than its original temperature.  If you store the item at room temperature or keep it in a comfortably heated car, when you prepare it, the result should be nice and warm (not hot).  If you take the product from a cold environment (a refrigerator, freezer, or frozen tundra), it will not produce a warm dinner. Remember, you don't need to get this product hot to make it safe to eat.


If you have a need for edible products that can be prepared anywhere, don't let our comments discourage you from trying LaBriute meals. We liked the ease and speed of preparing the meals and the fact that everything was included. The price of each meal kept us from sampling  the entire line, but the opinions of two people about just two of  the company's many products do not result in a meaningful survey. Moreover, obviously, what tastes good is a matter of opinion. Some of the main courses we haven't tried might taste great to you--and to us.  Halberstam says that the two most popular La Briute meals are meatballs and spaghetti and chicken with noodles, so those may be good choices to sample first.  


Are you game to try LaBriute?  See the website's store locator to find out where to buy these in your community.  In supermarkets, they're likely to be in the kosher foods section.  Alternatively, you can order by phone by calling 866-432-8522. 


NOTE: When I told a friend about LaBriute, she said it reminded her of the MREs (meals, ready to eat) that were passed out to Hurricane Sandy victims. For more about the history the U.S. government and self-heating products, see Wikipedia ("Meals, Ready to Eat").



Source(s): "Welcome to LaBriute Meals"


Abe Halberstam, vice-president, LaBriute (telephone interviews). "Hapifork, Eat Slowly--Lose Weight--Feel Great" "Meal, Ready to Eat",_Ready-to-Eat "Slow Eating and Weight Loss: Does the Science Support It?" "No Self-Control?  This Fork Will Tell You to Stop Eating" "Buzzing Fork Offers Ultimate First-World Solution to Overeating" "Internet-connected fork tells you when to stop eating"


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