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What’s the rhythm of your food?

Speed read
  • Google News Lab partnered with Truth & Beauty to develop a food visualization
  • Visitors can search for foods that are popular at particular points in the year
  • Data was taken from Google Trends and the FooDB 

In February, many internet users search for nachos, chocolates, and strawberries. During the next month, they search for grasshopper cocktails, beer, and cabbage.

How do we know this?

Thank the Rhythm of Food project. The Rhythm of Food is a partnership between the Google News Lab and Truth & Beauty, a data visualization lab founded by Moritz Stefaner. The site collects source data from Google Trends about what hungry, inquisitive eaters are searching for throughout the year.<strong>Consuming media. </strong> More than 3 billion Google searches per day across 12 years inform the Rhythm of Food interactive visualization. What is your favorite food? Courtesy Google News Lab and Truth & Beauty.

Visitors navigate the site by clicking on a month. Then, the most commonly searched food items appear, along with an interactive graphic of when the same food items are searched for at other points during the year.

“When Google News Lab approached me to work with Google Trends data, it became clear early on that we wanted to investigate a complex cultural phenomenon through the lens of Google search queries,” Stefaner says. “Food was a natural choice – everybody eats, every day, and looking at food queries turned out to be an amazingly rich resource to explore all kinds of interesting cultural and social phenomena.”

Among the interesting phenomena is the discovery that people search for pumpkin spice lattes well before Halloween, with some looking as early as August.

Other queries also depend on the season – blueberries, for example, see a spike in searches between June and August, which is typically when they’re ripe and ready for picking.

This visualization shows how something as simple as a search for food can reveal fascinating trends around how we think about what we eat. ~ Simon Rogers

Other foods and beverages such as spaghetti, pho, beer, and tacos are popular throughout the entire year and don’t see a seasonal drop.

“We show year-to-year trends through the coloring of the elements,” Stefaner says. “This allows you to see not only how consistent the seasonality is over the years, but also which foods are rising in popularity, and which are falling.”

Food database

One resource for Stefaner and his team was the FooDB. The FooDB is a project of the Metabolomics Innovation Center, funded by Genome Alberta, Genome British Columbia, and Genome Canada.

<strong>Warch your mouth!</strong> The Rhythm of Food is as much a visualization about human society as it is about food. Maybe we are what we eat after all. Courtesy Google News Lab and Truth & Beauty.

Stefaner used the site to analyze ingredients, recipes and food-related search terms. It contains information about 195 different topics related to food, such as their macronutrients and micronutrients. The site also features 130,048 data points, presenting a large dataset to work through.

Stefaner took advantage of over 12 years of weekly Google Trends data to compile data for the visualization. The data is anonymized, categorized, and aggregated, which allows visitors to explore specific topics within the trends.

Simon Rogers, the data editor for Google News Lab, says the Rhythm of Food project was an excellent way to use data to tell compelling stories about the food we eat.

“We want to work with the best designers to really push at what is possible with visual design,” Rogers says. “Google Trends data is huge – over 3 billion searches per day are made using Google – and incredibly honest. We wanted this visual to show how something as simple as a search for food could reveal fascinating trends around how we think about what we eat.”

The next time you’re curious about, say, when fruit salad is popular, fear not; the Rhythm of Food has the answer for you. 

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