Should Emoji Be Used To Warn People About Food Allergens? The Baby Bottle Doesn't Cut it For Milk
Imagine you have a serious food allergy and are travelling across country borders to a place where you don't speak the language. You're not able to read food labels or ingredients lists to make sure you're avoiding what you can't eat. Now imagine if there were some sort of universal way to denote allergens in food — like, say, emoji that warned people with food allergies when they were about to consume something containing shellfish or peanuts. You'd understand then, wouldn't you? Almost everyone with a smartphone is familiar with emoji, so why aren't emoji allergy warnings already a thing?
Google engineer Hiroyuki Komatsu is one of the people who wants to make this glorious idea a reality. He recently proposed a new line of emojis to the Unicode Consortium (the people responsible for the emojis on your phones) geared toward warning people about potential allergens — because even though words may vary across country lines, images are more likely to be universal. Although there are a lot of food-related emoji available, Komatsu's set includes options for items like milk (currently only denotable via a baby bottle) and soybeans.
This wouldn't be the first time the emoji has been used outside of the confines of our screens. Emojis are being used in the real world for all sorts of purposes, including anti-drug campaigns, parody documentary trailers, and advertisements for companies and organizations like McDonalds, Domino's, PETA, Bud Light, and Goldman Sacks; as such, extending them to allergy warnings isn't that far of a leap to take.
Unfortunately Komatsu's proposal was not approved this time around; in the meantime, though, is it possible to use our existing keyboards to talk about common food allergies and dietary restrictions? Let's take a look:
Sadly, there is no peanut emoji. There isn't even an emoji of a pea and one of an ambiguous nut I can combine to make a peanut emoji. If you really want to stretch it, though, you can download this Peanuts emoji pack for $2.99. But seriously, we want a free Unicode peanut, please.
A current "I can't eat dairy" emoji message might look a little something like this, since ice cream and milk are both dairy products; to the untrained eye, though, it might instead look like, "Don't feed my baby dessert."
The "I can't eat gluten" combination is more effective than the milk/dairy emoji one, in my opinion, because most people think gluten is just found in bread. Though gluten allergies extend far beyond bread (people with celiac disease can't eat wheat, barley, or rye, which prevents them from consuming things like blue cheese, oatmeal, soy sauce, and beer), the emoji is a decent representation of the intolerance.
Not bad, eh?
While it's pretty evident that the current emoji keyboard doesn't really accommodate food allergies, you can certainly tweak it to make it work for some of the most common ones. Even so, though, the proposal itself is a good idea; being able to depict allergy information via such a familiar sight could be incredibly useful as our world continues to shrink. Besides, we're already seeing emoji pretty much everywhere else — it's about time, right?