FINAL PROJECT: FRUIT VENDING MACHINE
In the first century A.D., an Alexandrian mathematician constructed the world’s first vending machine. It used no electricity or power, relying on the gravity of a deposited coin to open a valve and dispense a measured amount of holy water to temple-goers. In the twenty-first century A.D., vending machines are constructed by large corporations. Refrigerated models can require a lot of electricity to operate, and rather than giving out cups of holy water, they spit out bottles of sacrilegious sodas. However, this is starting to change. Public policy is shifting in favor of healthier vending options, following government bans and restrictions on junk food vending machines in public schools. Studies by the CDC and others have found a positive link between good nutrition and academic success, while the USDA is urging schools to adopt higher nutritional standards. In light of these facts, we decided that Michigan State University ought to invest in a vending machine that sells fruits and vegetables. While produce vending machines are not a common sight in the United States, we believe that the adoption of such a machine can allow MSU to prove its commitment to student welfare, and act as a role model for other colleges and institutions in providing healthier options for their students. Although our initial efforts met with resistance from administration, we remain confident that student support of the issue can incite change.
The number one concern that stymies the implementation of fresh fruit vending machines is the fear of losing money. While it’s true that junk food sells, the implication that fruits and vegetables will not is incorrect. Recent reports by the Congressional Research Service note that fruit and vegetable exports continue to rise each year, but the United States is facing a trade deficit in this category because “growth in imports has greatly outpaced export growth.” Such findings imply greater demand for fresh produce both domestically and worldwide. Additionally, the USDA reports that the sales of organic fruits and vegetables alone have more than doubled in the last ten years. However, we now come to a dilemma. The demand for fruit and vegetables is rising, but the demand for vending machines with fresh produce is not. The reason for this is best explained by George Ritzer’s book “The McDonaldization of Society.” Consumers display a preference for things of uniform quality. In our interview with MSU Vending Manager Chandos McCoy, he explained this by saying “a Snickers bar is a Snickers bar. You don’t have to check it to make sure it’s fresh and not bruised.” The fear of receiving inferior items is one of the most debilitating stigmas that hamper fresh vending machine adoption from the consumer standpoint. Though this concern is valid, it can be greatly reduced by modern vending machine technology. Today’s machines utilize refrigeration and elevator lift systems to keep produce fresh and unbruised. Additionally, wireless communications allow managers to control product expiration. The founder of Sprout Healthy Vending said “the machines are smart. One that is running low on snacks will notify [me] via [my] computer. We’re going to fill machines based on actual need, not a route schedule.” Thus, there is a demand for fruits and vegetables, and despite concerns from both administrators and consumers, vending machine technology is up to the task.
However, we do not advocate the adoption of this technology simply because it is there. Health and wellness of enrolled students are both the concern and the responsibility of MSU. Despite their commitment to student welfare, vending machines filled with soda and candies are a convoluted reality of the current system. The replacement of such obvious junk foods with healthier (but still processed) options is a worthy goal, but it is not good enough. Snacks that are deemed “healthy” in the eyes of regulatory policies often fall short of their label. Michael Moss’ article titled “The Extraordinary Science of Addictive Junk Food,” calls out the hollow lengths that manufacturers will go to create “healthy” products. He describes Yoplait brand as having “transformed traditional unsweetened breakfast yogurt into a veritable dessert … and yet, because of the yogurt’s well-tended image as a wholesome snack, sales of Yoplait are soaring.” This marketing manipulation is not limited to yogurts. In “Pandora’s Lunchbox,” author Melanie Warner makes similar claims about many processed products. After pulling the veil away from products marketed as healthy, she goes on to say that “the active ingredient in broccoli is broccoli.” Thus, we are not advocating for healthier options in vending machines, but for fresh fruits and vegetables in particular. To this end, our group created a survey to determine student stances on fresh vending options. Additionally, we spread fliers informing students of the healthy benefits of fresh produce and urging them to share their opinions on our survey. We found that only 20% of students would not buy fruit out of a vending machine, a favorable response. With our data in hand, we interviewed the MSU Vending Manager, Chandos McCoy, about the possibility of placing a fruit and vegetable vending machine on campus. Although he did not see the idea as being feasible at this time, he admitted that “if there was money in it, believe me, I’d do it.” We were a little disheartened, but convinced that if we could show enough student interest, he could be persuaded.
Our group began crafting our final video as a call to action of sorts. The health of MSU students is out goal, and our proposed vending machine is the first step in furthering that goal. Our video conveys the importance of health, and shows why our machine will be more beneficial to maintaining their health. We also show the difficulties we face in accomplishing our goal, and how their support can affect change. The closing scene of our video urges them to sign a petition we created, in hopes that we can show the administration that our request is in line with the desires of the students. Our group feels confident that we will be able to generate interest and make the administration more receptive in the future. Throughout the course of this project, we have learned a great deal about how the vending system works, and the ways in which we can go about improving it. In our eyes, the nutritional value of the food offered is the most crucial thing to fix, as it will benefit the health of MSU’s students while positively affecting their academic success and thus the university’s prestige as well. We hope that others will come to see this issue as we do, and will be convinced to lend us their support in accomplishing this change.