Fresh Ideas: Dispensing nutrition instead of trouble

February 6, 2014

During my high school days, which consisted primarily of attempts to dodge the discipline administered to our unruly lot, the powers-that-be made an inexplicable decision. One day, just around the corner from the office door, two vending machines magically appeared. One contained soda, the other a variety of sugary and salty snacks.

Even though it was the 1970s and we were a country school, we had seen plenty of vending machines before. We had just never seen them in our school. Soon they became a gathering place between classes and — to the chagrin of more than a few teachers — during class.

The tipping point came during an honors course I was in, reserved for the top one-third of our class. The teachers thought they would try an “open classroom” experiment with us, meaning we could come and go as we pleased. The operating theory was that, as the crème de la crème, we would stay in class and apply ourselves.

Fat chance. We were much more likely to be found en route, returning from or adjacent to those vending machines. When the teacher needed Tom for a classroom exercise, Tom was gone in search of a sugar high.

The “open classroom” experiment was halted in favor of more traditional means of education. Shortly after that, the vending machines were gone, too.

I wonder if the outcome of the great vending machine experiment would have been different if we had the kind of delivery system described in Kathy Gibbons’ story “Dispensing Fresh.” Instead of sweets and salts, these machines dispense fresh-cut produce. This type of “micro marketing” has found success in places such as hospital commissaries and we can only wonder whether these machines will find their way to places like high schools.

If so, a teacher might need Brittney for a classroom exercise, only to find her gone in search of sliced apples. Compared to the 1970s scenario, this would be graded as a tie in terms of attendance but a clear victory for nutrition.

Lee Dean, editorial director

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