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The other day, we took note of a Fast Company story about designer Susie Lu, a senior data visualization engineer at Netflix, who has been rethinking the notion of what a paper receipt should be.

“What she created - using a grocery receipt of her own as reference - was a better receipt, with three distinct elements,” Fast Company writes. “On top, it features a bubble chart where spending is itemized by category. In her case, ‘meat & seafood’ is a big bubble, representing about a third of her spending, and ‘snacks’ is a tiny bubble, representing only 10%.”

The story goes on: “Today, a receipt is nothing but a piece of paper most of us throw away. But if it could actually be designed to explain our purchases, it could teach us to shop more mindfully over time.”

And I commented:

I’d never really thought of the receipt as something that needed reinventing. But this story makes the case for how it can be … though I’d be even more impressed if this were all digital, accessible via my smart phone.

If I could go on an app linked to my loyalty account, for example, and analyze my purchases, see where I could do better both nutritionally and financially, and maybe even segue from that information to getting advice from a nutritionist or a chef, let’s say … well, that’d be a game changer. But I’m not really aware of anybody doing that.

Well, I got a bunch of emails informing me that someone is doing it. One of them was from MNB reader Alex Henry:

I work with Kroger Health, the healthcare arm of The Kroger Co, which includes nearly 3,000 grocery stores and pharmacies, and over 22,000 healthcare practitioners in 37 states nationwide. Kroger Health serves 14 million people each year. One of the company’s most exciting new developments is the OptUP app, which personalizes and simplifies healthier grocery shopping.  OptUP offers a simple way to understand the nutritional quality of your food by scoring your grocery purchases on a scale from 1-1,000 and recommending better-for-you alternatives.  You can even contact dietitians or nutrition technicians at Kroger Health for a nutrition consult.  In short, OptUP does exactly what you claimed would constitute a “game changer” for you! The app is available for free download on the App Store or Google Play. And the rating system will begin making its way into stores, product packaging, and restaurant menus soon.

When the emails started to come in, I began to remember about the OptUP app … in fact, I wrote about it here last year.

So apologies for not remembering. I guess it slipped through the widening cracks of my memory, and since I live in one of the few places in the country where Kroger doesn’t operate, it wasn’t top of mind.

On another subject, from MNB reader Jim Huey:

We all should be doing everything we can to harm the environment as little as possible. I think though, that these discussions often ignore that our very presence, even in small numbers, adversely affects the environment. Once upon a time even a small village had an adverse effect on its environment because of human fecal waste. Eventually it was realized that this lead to the spread of disease. The solution was not to have less kids or start more small communities, but to develop sanitation systems that could effectively handle the waste. Necessity is the mother of invention. If we haven’t reached the moment of necessity as it pertains to the environment I think we must be close. I am confident that we will discover solutions to these problems, as we always have. In the meantime though I continue to use cleaning products that do not harm the environment. I wear my clothes forever and try to buy my food with as little packaging as possible, and I rarely get a straw when I get a soda at a restaurant.

The belief that our resources are finite is not entirely accurate. We have always found another to replace what we couldn’t get anymore. I suspect that our great great grandparents would be shocked at our level of consumption. I also suspect that our great great grandchildren will suggest that they need to return their level of consumption  to the more reasonable levels of our time. The earth is more capable of withstanding our presence than we give it credit for.

I share neither your optimism nor your confidence. Sorry.

And, from MNB reader Karen Shunk:

I have been thinking about your commentary on the topic of whether individuals receiving food assistance should be allowed to purchase sugary drinks and candy. Although there is evidence that SNAP recipients may not be any fatter than the rest of us, I have also read about studies that claim to show that obesity is a disease of poverty in part because nutritious food is more expensive than less-healthful processed foods. I don't agree, however, that the way to get people receiving food aid to make better food choices is to micromanage their use of the benefits.

I follow the writing of behavioral economists Sendhil Mullainathan and Eldar Shafir who identify three types of poverty: money poverty, time poverty and bandwidth poverty. Money poverty and time poverty create bandwidth poverty, which robs people of the cognitive resources people need to spend on daily tasks or to plan for future deadlines. Forcing individuals in a fragmented landscape of federal, state and local government agencies to prove their worthiness and need over and over again and then dictating their use of the benefits every step of the way only undermines the very thing we as a society say we want poor people to do: make better decisions so they aren't poor.
If we really want to help the poor, why not devote our energy to making sure that people can access the support they need in a way that is more streamlined and efficient and humane? And why not spend some public money to encourage the US agriculture sector to stop favoring crops "that yield unhealthful processed foods" and make nutritious food more affordable?

MNB reader Dean Balsamo weighed in about Pete’s Fresh Market inn Chicago, which continues to grow despite tough competition:

Saw your mention of Pete’s in Chicago. I met with them maybe four years ago about working with the magazine company I represented at the time.

Even though we didn’t get the business I came way impressed with her and the company’s sense of identity. I’d toured a number of their stores including the fine Oak Park store ( reminded me of Heinen’s a bit).. Each reflected the focus of the particular demographics in the area the store served. I thought it was quite a balancing act - not one you usually see - where typically every store in a chain is pretty much the same. But they’re tuned into their communities and it shows in their success.

Kudos to Pete’s.

On another subject, from MNB reader Tom Carroll:

Your article on feeding the hungry was very powerful. Regardless of the country there is a significant percentage of kids who go hungry.

I work with a company-Erin Bakers who donates 3% of every sale to feed hungry kids breakfast. Erin Bakers makes a breakfast cookie and we donate them to the Boys and Girls clubs of America. To date Erin Bakers has donated over 720,000 cookies to hungry boys and girls.

Responding to Michael Sansolo’s column about a travel debacle he experienced, MNB reader Chuck Jolley wrote:

I read it all, nodding in complete sympathy, but. . .it was American Airlines. After some thought and remembering my past battles with them on late and missing flights, I need to tell him that his experience was the norm for that terrible excuse for an airline. (Ask me sometime about teaching one of their gate employees how to read a clock.)

MNB reader Scott S. Dissinger added:

Been in the business over 40 years and travel about 40 weeks each year.  I totally empathize with Michael on the American experience and have had many similar experiences – without all the details had a similar flat tire story where United loaded us then noticed the flat – after a few hours we boarded with supposedly a new tire only to be told it was the wrong tire and we went back on the hamster wheel.  That was a few years ago.  Just two weeks ago had a juggling of planes and gates with United that I thought was handled well.  They kept us apprised on a timely basis, apologized frequently enough, and kept us plied with snacks and beverages.  All things considered the gate personnel really did a great job.  Unfortunately I was suggesting these types of actions 30 years ago to the airlines, I guess someone is starting to catch on.
KC's View: