In Lake Ontario Hall, there’s a line of vending machines loaded with varieties of delicious sweet and salty processed junk food. Last year, my fingers seemed to code in their numbers all too often as I was running late from class to work on an empty stomach. Ripping open a bag of Gardettos, speeding down the hall, I wished I had something a little healthier and more fulfilling, but the option didn’t seem to be quickly accessible. Still, I knew the product was a pretty wasteful and unsatisfying way to start the day and I felt some guilt, but I had to eat something on those days scheduled back-to-back.
This year, I try to bring my own snacks to campus to save money while also being a bit more nourished and less wasteful, but I still pass these machines every day. However, I recognize that a quick, relatively cheap snack is often needed or wanted by many students. It suits the college lifestyle. Sit-down, pricey campus dining and time consuming homemade meals aren’t as easily weaved into our schedule as is snacking. Of course, these eating habits have their effects and Grand Valley State University is very much aware of the prevalence of weight gain and therefore they attempt to make notices and add services to aid student health such as fitness pal for Campus Dining and a nutritionist at the Rec Center. These support systems can be really helpful in the difficult arena of college meal planning.
The other day as I passed the freshman fitness snack galore, I noticed one of these aids had been implemented into a machine. However, I’m not quite sure exactly how much help this particular change really is. Normally, candies and chips are obtained as fast as you can move your fingers. Code the item in and it’ll fall to your hands soon enough, but now the change seems to act as a little pause. A little “are you sure?” This is done through the addition of a calorie calculator. After coding the item in and receiving the calorie intake numerically, one can decide if they want to fulfill their purchase and consume that number.
As I saw this new attempt for campus health, I couldn’t help but think back to my own entrapment within calorie counting freshman year. After naturally gaining a few pounds, I signed up for Myfitness Pal and began inputting whatever I ate on campus. I became very articulate about how many calories I wanted to eat based on the recommendation. Soon, though, I began feeling like my whole goal was wrapped around eating less and less. Each day was an attempt to get a lower number. Luckily, I began reconceptualizing what health meant to me and regained sense of moderation.
Through this experience, though, I saw this machine and thought of the people who would decline the purchase. I thought of those like me who had a low paycheck and a busy schedule. I wondered if they decline this snack, if they would have the ability to eat at all. I wondered if they would go hungry. I wondered if this would instill unhealthy habits.
I also thought of the people who would fulfill the purchase. Would the ones who clicked “yes, I will consume hundreds of calories” be forced into more guilt? Would they be ostracized by this machine into shame for being rushed? Or shame for just wanting some yummy comfort food? Or shame for not having another option? For them, would this too heighten risks of eating problems?
I walked away unsure and unhopeful about just how ethical, how helpful, a calorie counting vending machine was when no other healthier choices are accessibly presented in the place of a rejected purchase.