In the US today there are nearly 5.4 million vending machines and almost seven percent of them are located in elementary, middle and high schools. Scary, but even scarier is the fact that until recently most of those machines were not even close to healthy. Not that it really matters? Though school districts across the country are trying to bring healthy vending machines to their hallways, they are finding the same thing that fast food companies have found: People don't go to vending machines for healthy food.
When the Times went to check out a healthy vending machine in action at a Long Island high school, it got this wonderful quote instead: "This is way too healthy for a snack," said John Achnitz, 15, a 10th grader. "Kids want healthy stuff like baked Doritos, but not an apple that they can get at home free." Put another way, the school's "healthy machine sold 296 items totaling $388.75 from Sept. 1 to Sept. 19, less than one-third of the sales made by a nearby machine that offers less nutritious fare."
Nobody should really be surprised by those results—we were all kids once—but that doesn't mean that grownups aren't going to stop trying to make the young 'uns eat better. A number of school districts, including New York City, are adding healthy vending machines left and right. Which means a number of companies are trying to make their healthy food look appetizing. One company says it offers a “miniversion of Whole Foods" inside its machines and another has created an LCD screen for its machines that says things that hip, health-conscious kids dig like "Hey, looking for a sustained energy snack to get you through practice? Try this.”
So...really great that the country's schools are getting better about putting healthy food in their vending machines (it helps that the federal Agriculture Department is supposed to make rules about school vending machine content this year). But we still don't really understand one big thing about the debate between having healthy and unhealthy fare in school vending machines: why do school's even need vending machines in the first place? Back in the day, when we had to walk uphill both ways in the snow barefoot to get to and from school, the only snacks we brought in were the rawhide scraps we found on the side of the road. And we LIKED it!