10 ÷ 3 = 0.

Your arithmetic lesson for today: 10 ÷ 3 = 0.

What kind of arithmetic is this? It is marketing math, a separate discipline from the mathematics you were supposed to have learned in grade school while you were reading comic books under your desk.

Ten calories per container. About three servings per container. Zero calories per serving. 10 ÷ 3 = 0.

How can this be? It can be because government labeling standards assign a very specific technical meaning to “zero.” In the field of food labeling, “zero” is defined as “not zero.”

This sort of mathematics is very useful. It would not have got us to the moon—we must admit that. If NASA had used calculations like these, the Apollo 11 astronauts would still be on their way to the moon today, confidently expecting to land any day now. But it is useful in fooling the consumer into thinking that something is what it is not, or vice versa, and that is the essence of marketing. Government labeling standards mandate the use of marketing math because the purpose of regulatory agencies is to protect manufacturers from consumers, who might otherwise demand food that is what it is and is not what it is not. We pay our taxes to relieve large manufacturing concerns of that embarrassment.


  1. Von Hindenburg says:

    NASA has a long history of playing down unpleasant news, often through creative math. Just this past week, an OIG report showed us pictures of the heat shield on the Orion capsule which did a flyby of the moon in 2022 and is supposed to carry a crew on a similar mission in the next couple years. The minor charring of the heat shield that they referenced turned out to be gouges that anyone but they and PennDOT would consider potholes.


  2. KevinT says:

    One of my favorite food labels is found on Dove Mini Ice Cream Bars. The carton contains 14 little ice cream treats, each of which delivers something like 60 calories. The Mars candy company, in a show of realism regarding Americans’ eating habits, states that the serving size is the entire carton!

  3. Dan says:

    My favorite is “fat-free” cooking spray.

    The sole ingredient is soybean oil, which is, of course, a “fat.”

    However, the serving size is “1/4 second spray.” That means that the fat in one serving is too low to be reportable.

    And that’s how you get 10 / 3 = 0: 3 1/3 calories is not reportable, so they don’t report it.

  4. Belfry Bat says:

    I would like to be assured that a Dr Boli article delivers zero soluble ions of mercury and zero Röntgen; how much cash is the Doctor willing to put up to prove that these are exact dosages?

    • Dr. Boli says:

      It would be best to assume that any article contains a certain amount of mercury, since Dr. Boli is nothing if not mercurial.

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