Posts Tagged With: food

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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Artificial coloring: Cosmetics for food

Juushika Redgrave. Flickr. September 30, 2006.

Americans are all about visual appeal.  The risks of grooming vary from slight such as lipstick, eyebrow tweezing, and shaving through moderate such as hair coloring, hair plugs, and  dermabrasion to serious such as Botox, liposuction, and face lifts.  Is it any surprise that we like our food to be colorful?  Why else would neon green candies shaped like worms appeal to children?  If lime green fails to appeal, there are always electric blue frozen ice pops.  Teens may enjoy bright orange soda pop or vivid pink snack cakes.  For adults, sophistication requires pastels.  Strawberry ice cream must be pink.  Birthday and wedding cakes are decorated in pale hues of butter cream.  Think mauve roses, sky blue lettering, and lavender piping.  Salad dressings sport tints of orange or green unrelated to flavors of peach or mint.

If nature doesn’t provide our food with these cheery hues, food processors will add them.  Who wants to eat unadorned cold cereal, hot dogs, Jell-O, or crackers?  Would Lucky Charms taste as sweet without those marshmallows in delicate shades of pink, blue, green and yellow?  How would a transparent Jell-O do justice to a mold without its jewel tones of green, red, and orange?  Even milk becomes more appealing when rich brown chocolate syrup or powdered cocoa is added.

For the sake of safety, are we doomed to beige breakfasts of oatmeal or toast, cream-colored lunches of rice, tuna, or mashed potatoes, and drab dinners of tofu, pasta, or baked beans?  According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, food coloring is safe to eat, that is, as long as you have not joined a competitive cupcake eating team.  So, if you’re the sort of person who enjoys sprinkles on your doughnuts, you can feel confident no American food must leave the factory without food coloring.  What’s your favorite color?  Would you rather wear it or eat it?

© Laura Rizzardini, Inc., 2011

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The Microwave Oven: An Instant Success

Jim Mead. Lyppard Bourne, Worcester, England. Great Britain. Flickr. September 19, 2010.

Given the American demand for instant gratification, the invention of the microwave oven and its resounding success are no surprise.  Not only does it provide a hot meal in seconds, but it eliminates nearly all of the labor associated with meal preparation.  Chicken dinners, popcorn snacks, and hearty breakfasts of bacon and eggs are all prepared faster than a trip by the drive-through window of the local restaurant.

No more standing over a hot stove in summer heat, elbow deep in sudsy water and greasy pans, or hungrily at the kitchen door.  No advance meal planning is required.  Stocking up on frozen, canned, and packaged foods ensures a ready supply of instant, hot meals. There’s no need for kitchen company and camaraderie; the time spent there is minimal.  The postmodern kitchen can approximate a galley; all that’s needed is room for the appliances, the storage cabinets, and the button-pusher.

No more credit for creativity or presentation, either.  Eating from stylish, albeit colorless and disposable containers suffices.  Microwaved meal containers won’t burn the skin.  There are no leftovers to package.  Individual portions of foods are easily purchased and prepared.  There’s no setting the table with the family china, soft candlelight, or festive napkins.  The companionship of fellow diners is optional and, even, unexpected.

For this reason, no decorum in consumption is necessary.  Sitting or even standing at the kitchen counter while eating is acceptable.  Silverware and even table manners are unnecessary.  Worse, there’s no time to eat.  The instantaneous preparation time has reduced mealtime from a cherished family ritual to physical nourishment.  The computer screen and the keyboard are the postmodern source of sociability and conviviality.  By their pixilated glow and harmonic taps and clicks, we share experiences if not meals with the world.

© Laura Rizzardini, Inc., 2011

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Nitrites and nitrates: The price of lunch meats

Jeffrey Beall. Flickr. January 1, 2011.

Cigarette smoking used to be not only common, but also fashionable.  Today, a prolonged public relations campaign has rendered it harmful to both health and hygiene.  Mayor Bloomberg is garnering support for a ban on the sale of sodas over 16 ounces in size by New York City restaurants.  Public discussion of pink slime has prompted school districts to stop serving it in school cafeterias.  Could a ban on nitrites and nitrates be proposed in the near future?  It is these food additives that enable us to purchase hot dogs from our favorite street food vendor, fast food stand, or grocer.  The sliced ham, turkey, and bologna we enjoy on a crusty roll or dark bread in a brown bag lunch or at the kitchen table requires these additives. Roasting an entire ham or turkey and grinding meats for homemade sausage are disappearing with the kitchen range.  The microwave oven cooks meals much more quickly without heating the kitchen or the cook.  Even sans cooking, who wants to perform the manual labor of slicing a ham, turkey, sausage, or a loaf of bread to make a sandwich?  Meal planning isn’t needed; lunch can be prepared in minutes just by perusing the contents of the refrigerator.  For dedicated carnivores, would peanut butter or even cheddar cheese be as appealing?

The trouble with lunch meats is that nitrites and nitrates have not yet been proven to cause cancer.  It’s just that people who eat them tend to develop cancer.  Tumors, of course, are hidden deep inside the body.  They mostly grow slowly, too.  Unlike soda pop, they don’t manifest on one’s hips or waistline within weeks.  If nitrites and nitrates caused obesity, Mayor Bloomberg might be considering limiting the size of deli sandwiches.  Unlike cigarettes, the only compromise to one’s hygiene might be a mustard stain.  The price of bologna, though, might be a shorter retirement.

© Laura Rizzardini, Inc., 2011

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