Vending machine snacks: Food or fun?

Paolo Ordovez. Flickr. July 9, 2009.

For parents, school districts, and local governments, vending machines are considered a tempting source of empty calories and future obesity.  Chocolate bars, cookies, chips, and soda pop hold a minimal amount of landscape on the USDA Food Plate.  For hungry overtime workers, relatives of hospital patients, and college students, vending machines offer a convenient source of warmth, comfort, and, even nourishment.  Hot coffee and soup, burritos, cold sandwiches, apples, and cartons of milk and juice are just steps from the pod farm, intensive care unit, and library study room.  How can an inanimate, automated vendor have such a varying reputation and inventory?  Are vending machines a conspiracy of major food corporations to spoil our dinner, diet, or waistline?

Likely, both economics and social norms contribute to their offerings and locations.  If the demand for apples and burritos is low, the spoilage of these perishable foods will diminish the profits of the vending machine company.  The longevity of salty and sweet snacks render them more profitable as long as a competing fast food restaurant isn’t nearby.  Of course, our self-respect, companions, or the culture of our location may influence our food choices, too.  If our boss is a gourmet, perhaps, we’d be too embarrassed to chow down on vended chili.  Instead, we’ll order wood-fired pizza for delivery or bring homemade spinach quiche for dinner.  If a college education is financed by a track scholarship, perhaps the athlete brought bottled water and a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for a library repast.  Of course, hospital posters and white lab coats may remind visitors of their most recent glucose, cholesterol, and blood pressure levels.  These memories may prompt a trip to a nearby grocery store instead of a vending machine purchase.

Despite concerns about “the nanny state”, in our free market economy, marketers are intensely interested in our needs, wants, and preferences.  The dawn of the Space Age in the 1950s brought powdered orange juice and frozen dinners to American shoppers.  Thanks to the natural foods movement in the 1970s, whole grain rice and bread, yogurt, and organic produce are widely available.  Globalization beginning in the late twentieth century has expanded and increased the supply of our tropical produce choices.  Consumers who want more or different choices can vote at government elections, purchase their preferred foods, choose their preferred health care providers, and suggest preferred benefits to their employers.  Choice may be confusing, but it offers us both food and fun.

© Laura Rizzardini, Inc., 2011

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