le kilogramme

by jemma margaret

Who invented the kilogram?

According to the always accurate Wikipedia, the concept was first theoretically introduced by an Englishman John Wilkins in 1668. A kilogram is 1000 times “absolute weight of a volume of pure water equal to the cube of the hundredth part of the metre, and at the temperature of melting ice.” Of course we all know how much that weighs…and if you don’t, go freeze yourself a cubic centimeter and weigh it while it unfreezes.

Like the liberty, equality, and fraternity advertised by John Locke, France decided to put British theory into practice with the use of the metric system. Unlike the 10 day week, the kilogram stuck and spread to pretty much everywhere besides the United States.

Because we humans rely on our eyes so much, I hypothesize we have a better sense of volume than weight. At least this is true for me. I am always surprised by how much spinach and how few strawberries constitute a kilogram (and unfortunately this is an expensive surprise). When I was first introduced to buying by the kilogram in Germany (I didn’t buy food except for oats and Lyle’s Golden Syrup during my year in Scotland), I was astounded by the price of vegetables. I had actually reached the conclusion that I couldn’t justify buying produce in Berlin by the time I reached the check-out counter and was reminded that a kilogram is roughly 2.1 pounds.

Canada is ambivalent with respect to the unit of weight. Cheese is advertised by the 100 gram (this is a marketing ploy), vegetables by the pound, grains by the kilogram. I guess people are supposed to know both, but from conversations with Canadians it appeared that the end result was a vague sense of neither.

When buying groceries or cement, I tend to just double the weight. In my book, a pound is about two medium large apples, so a kilogram is four to five medium large apples (what? you don’t measure weight in apples?). This strategy fails when I order 200 grams of cheese and end up with nearly half a pound. That’s quite a bit of cheese. And 100 grams of coriander is a lot of coriander. But a kilogram of asparagus? Actually just a larger than average bunch.

If Robespierre had asked me…