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Tom Ouellette

In Defense of School Vending Machines
By Tom Ouellette
Jan 6, 2004 - 6:24:00 PM

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Regarding the removal of vending machines in schools; I'm sure that improvements in food-service quality have made these machines unnecessary, but I remember a time when an action such as this would have been a major catastrophe, causing widespread malnutrition and possibly violent student protests. Here's why:

When I was in high school, 'junk' was the widely used term for cafeteria food; the unidentifiable chunks of  this and piles of that that no one could convince us were edible, even after years of brainwashing with a diabolical mind-control device known as the 'Food Pyramid'.This 'pyramid' frightened us (at least those of us who took Ancient History), because we saw what King Tut and some of the other Pharoahs looked like after spending some time in one of those things. Also, this so-called food was prepared and served by angry looking women who's intellects and personal hygiene practices could only be described as -- dubious. Most of us just 'brown-bagged it'.

This involved your mother stuffing a small paper bag with:

  • A micron-thin layer of something mixed with mayonnaise between two slices of chewy white bread;
  • A sandwich bag full of stale, greasy, six-month old potato chips from that huge can she insisted on buying because it was cheaper;A huge apple that served primarily to crush the sandwich and pulverize the chips as it was dropped into the bag--it was understood that this apple would not be eaten, at least not by you--but there was always a chance that it could be bartered; traded for something similar to the fourth and final item that Mom laid carefully on top of the rest, which was;
  • A Devil-Dog ! Ah yes, the piece de resistance in your still better than cafeteria-quality meal -- She always included this because (A) Devil Dogs were cheap, and (B) she knew that it took a minimum of 16oz of milk to choke down those specially formulated Devil-Dog cakes, even with that slimy white cream in the middle -- if nothing else, you'd get some calcium and vitamin D.

It's not like you didn't try the cafeteria food; several times, in fact. But it was discouraging. The tray you grabbed always felt sticky. You felt hurried in the line, forced to make snap judgements as you attempted to identify substances which, in any other setting, would qualify for federal research grants. Once you even had the courage to ask one of the angry-looking cafeteria women " Excuse me, ma'am ? What's that ? " Her reply was informative, yet non-commital; " We don't know what it is, but it comes in heavy, five-gallon pails, and that really ticks us off.. We got three pallets of it out back, so it's pretty much on this semester's menu. What, ya doin' a research project or somethin'? Now move along, before I get even angrier."

And at the table, most coversations went something like this; "Hey you guys, this chocolate pudding isn't very sweet."

"That's because it's not pudding, Harold."

"What is it then?"

"Well, we took a vote, and most of us think it's spinach."

"Oh ... Ummm ... Trade for a Devil Dog?"

Then one day, you noticed them. It was like a gastric revelation. There they stood, side by side, like silent demigods waiting for a 50 cent offering. You had stumbled upon the Altar of Vending. Before you, stood the Four Idols; Frito the deep-fried, Coke the ice-cold,  Reese's the sweet, and the Holy Hostess. For a mere handful of coins these gentle giants offered you protection from such perils as angry cafeteia women and five-gallon pails of brown spinach pudding, while doling out generous amounts of chocolate, sugar, salt, and partially-hydrogenated vegetable oil. Daily, these magnanimous machines accepted your humble quarters while faithfully dispensing the empty calories of your choice. You knew that you must choose your coins carefully, for the Vending Idols did not accept foreign offerings.

Then one day came the inevitable test of faith. The evil and arcane writings in the Nutrition chapter of your Health class textbook had tempted you to stray from your chosen diet. Even your favorite confections seemed unclean, somehow. Corn chips, Snickers bars, Suzy-Q's and Coke now seemed sinful and unhealthy. You were devastated. You stood before the Idols, filled with doubt. Just as you were about to take that first fateful step toward the dreaded chow line, the answer came to you in an epiphany of denial and self-justification that would serve you so well throughout the rest of your life. Yes! The Idols would provide after all! You gleefully pumped a few quarters into your two favorite machines and proceeded to enjoy a healthy, guilt-free lunch. Hostess fruit pies and a Sprite! The Vending gods were good!

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