April 14, 2009

Schools Don't Need Vending Machines, They Just Need Money

It's a good thing that NYC is putting explicit calorie limits on vending machine products in schools. According to the New York Post (via Atlantic_Food):
In an aggressive attempt to combat the growing obesity epidemic, the Department of Education is setting strict guidelines for drinks sold in schools -- with a maximum of 10 calories per 8-ounce drink in elementary and middle schools and 25 calories per 8-ounce drink in high schools.

Under the new rules, schools will also expel juices and other beverages with artificial colors or flavors -- including some of those sold by the current drinks vendor, Snapple, under its expiring $40 million contract.

It's not just syrupy sweet beverages getting the boot.

Snack-vending machines at the city's schools will also face tough new health restrictions.

Treats must be no more than 200 calories, have less than 200 mg. of sodium and less than 10 percent saturated fat.

I'm all for restrictions like that (especially regarding artificial flavors and colors being that they're poisons), but let's not delude ourselves. The only reason we have to fight battles to keep junk food out of schools is because we simply refuse to adequately fund our schools. The false dilemma is presented in the article:

In addition to helping kids battle bulge, officials also want to expand education coffers.

The Snapple deal gave the city's fitness and sports programs an extra $28 million through fiscal year 2008.

I think those phrases should be reversed. FIRST came the decision to raise money by giving junk food snack and beverage companies access to our kids in school. THEN came the need to create whole bureaucratic regimes to control the crap these companies were trying to feed students. This problem has a simple solution -- ban all vending machines from schools and increase funding to make up for the lost revenue. There is nothing hard about this. Or, rather, there is if as a society 1) we refuse to take responsibility for the costs of educating our children and 2) we insist on handing over our nutrition to corporations in the business of making food-like products rather than food.

We have, in essence, made Coca-Cola, Pepsi/Frito-Lay and all the rest co-financiers of our educational system. Why are we now surprised that our kids are so fat?

[Update:] And as this article in the Des Moines Register suggests, the soft drink companies are bringing their A Game to this fight (at the national level) in the form of Susan Neely, who helped create Harry and Louise.

Photo by Lower Columbia College used under a CC license

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