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Invasion of the Healthy Vending Machines 

Recently I spent a few days with family in a suburb in the South, and by the time I returned, a few extra ounces were clinging to my middle. Memories of childhood visits with my Southern clan are filled with Pepsi, grape jelly and American cheese sandwiches. Last weekend's fare was an upmarket variation filled with yummy but artery-clogging hamburgers and muffins, as well as visits to McDonald's and Cold Stone Creamery.  

Not wanting to detox too quickly upon my return, it seemed natural to seek solace in the arms of a fresh! healthy vending machine. If you haven't yet seen or heard of such a thing, these colorful, glowing beasts originated in San Diego in 2010, and have been spreading eastward as franchisees snap up territory. Chittenden County franchisee Brent Farrell has installed 20 machines so far. "Our machines offer over 400 choices of organic and natural snack and beverage choices. With obesity and diabetes at an all-time high, we think it’s important to provide an opportunity for the people of Vermont to have healthier choices,” explains Farrell in a press release delivered via the parent company. I found one of the machines at the edge of the food court in South Burlington's University Mall.

What's not to love about healthy alternatives to fat- and sugar-laden vending machine dosh?

But, rather than basking in the glow of fruit cups, I was faced with crunchier fare seemingly aimed at half-pints. On the top row were three flavors of Kettle chips as well as Pirate's Booty; below that, Annie's Bunny Graham Friends, Stacy's Pita Chips, and Back to Nature Chocolate Chunk cookies. Drinks ran the gamut from Hansen's Juice Slam in Burstin' Berry to Knudsen Organic Very Veggie Juice, Honest Tea Lemonade, and Horizon Organic Strawberry Lowfat Milk. Nestled in one corner, almost lonely in its purity, was Chobani 0% Greek yogurt.

I blinked at the choices as quarters grew warm in my palm. If I was a mom, I might be thankful for treats that could bump Sour Patch candies from the mind of my 7-year-old. This spread, however, seemed to hover somewhere between junk food and healthy fare, unable to make up its mind as to what it wanted to be. 

On the rare occasion that I hit up a vending machine, I prefer to choose between Cheez-Its and a Kit-Kat. I ended up walking away with a $3 Vita-Coco Coconut Water, then migrated 15 feet to the brand-new Samosaman in the food court. "People love us because we have the healthiest food here," said the girl who sold me a deep-fried veggie samosa, without a hint of irony. I guess it's all relative.

 

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Corin Hirsch

Corin Hirsch

Bio:
Corin Hirsch was a Seven Days food writer from 2011 through 2016. She is the author of Forgotten Drinks of Colonial New England, published by History Press in 2014.

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