Canadian Vending

Features Consumer Behaviour Trends
From the Editor: December 2007

Of Stale Bread And Brussels Sprouts


February 29, 2008
By Cam Wood


Topics

Recent news surrounding an American study into the eating habits of
schoolchildren brings some positive indication that common sense can
co-exist between legislators and the general public.



Of Stale Bread And Brussels Sprouts


Recent news surrounding an American study into the eating habits of schoolchildren brings some positive indication that common sense can co-exist between legislators and the general public.

The study, which appears in the December issue of the Review of Agricultural Economics, assembled five years of data collected from 330 St. Paul, Minn., public school districts. The data revealed that students will eat healthy foods.

However, the Minnesota study is only partly correct: schoolchildren will eat healthy food when it is available in the institution; much like prisoners of old would eat stale bread and water – because it’s the only thing available.

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The conflict, according to many previous studies, is that when presented a choice between high-calorie, fatty foods and, say, Brussels sprout soup, kids will opt for taste over nutrition. But then again, who wouldn’t.

Sadly, the vending machine has always been the leading culprit – according to partisan tainted research. It has been easier to blame the mechanical dispenser than it has been to raise conflict with human cafeteria workers. All this despite the food suppliers and manufacturers leading the way in developing new, healthier snack options.

So, out the boxes went … all the while officials turned a blind eye to the acrid aroma of fried foods behind the counter. It didn’t matter how much the vending industry did to show it could be an effective part of the solution, most governments chose to demonize the machines and ignore the grease pits in the school kitchen.

Many could tell them that simply removing the vending machines would not dramatically impact the health of our children overnight – especially when the foodservice component was left to its own devices.

The study has shown that healthy cafeteria options can be offered at reasonable costs, dispelling the myth of what came before: it was too costly. In addition, the results and input from educators and administrators in St. Paul further the argument our industry has been trying to get governments and special interest groups to see for years. As one principal stated, just because they now serve healthy foods doesn’t mean hotdogs aren’t on the menu anymore, they’re just low-fat turkey-based wieners.

Innovative food products have been in the vending machines for quite a while now. The Minnesota study gives strength to the vending industry, in that we can now return to the school board negotiating table with the same innovative products and hopefully find our place in the system restored.

It’s our role to be skeptical of legislation and those who enact laws in the belief they know what is best for us. But there’s not much doubt that children in modern society need some guidance in what it is they eat. Vending has been leading the charge with reformulated and healthier snack foods – now let’s hope we can all get back to business on a more level playing field.


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