I’ve seen a glimpse of the future — and it frightens me. Behold “H.U.M.A.N healthy vending”machines. You know, H.U.M.A.N as in “Helping Unite Man And Nutrition”?
The company, which has received praise from the likes of Forbes, bills itself as “a healthy vending company whose mission is to eradicate childhood obesity through education and healthy eating”.
Their commitment? “To increase access to healthy and fresh vending snacks, foods, and drinks”. They also donate ten percent of their proceeds to unnamed charities that “fight obesity and malnutrition”.
Progressive and paradigm-shifting? Far from it. This is tried-and-true healthwashing with a sprinkle of social conscience-washing.
For starters, consider this nauseatingly obsequious news clip about the H.U.M.A.N machines. While the voiceover and interviewees heap endless praise about the “healthy snacks” and “better for you options”, the machines we are shown are stocked with:
- Vitamin Water: Sugar water with tacked-on vitamins. A 20-ounce bottle contains 8 teaspons of added sugar. The sugar-free varieties contain Reb-A, a Stevia extract that is 300 times times sweeter than sugar (I consider ‘sweeter-than-sugar’ extracts to be problematic, whether they are “natural” or artificial).
- NutriGrain Bars: One of Kellogg’s most healthwashed products. Fake dyes in the fruit filling (which contains more high fructose corn syrup than fruit puree), genetically modified ingredients, and partially hydrogenated oils in the yogurt-filled variety.
- Pop Chips: “Fitness” and “health” magazines practically trip over themselves to speak wonders of these chips (usually with meaningless qualifiers like “guilt-free” and “Hollywood-favorite”). Sure, they are a better choice than Flamin’ Hot Cheetos, but they are nevertheless a highly processed potato product with very little nutrition. Consider them Baked Lay’s 2.0.
- Late July Cookies: While these sandwich cookies are made from organic ingredients and avoid the Big Food usual suspects (trans fats, artificial dyes, artificial preservatives), there isn’t anything truly nutritious about them.
Remember, H.U.M.A.N Vending’s motto isn’t “to provide processed foods that are less-worse-for-you”, but rather to “increase access to healthy and fresh vending snacks, foods, and drinks”. Do any of the examples listed above make you think ‘healthy’ or ‘fresh’?
As you can see from the company’s product listings (which range from “immune boosters” to “kids’ juices” to low-carb bars and premium waters), the emphasis is mainly on processed snacks.
Fruit and vegetable trays are apparently available, but every video I’ve seen features machines stocked with the likes of Stacy’s pita chips (a PepsiCo “good-for-you” product) and Hansen’s “natural sodas” (the absence of high fructose corn syrup is a moot point since each can provides 11 teaspoons of added sugar).
One version of these H.U.M.A.N machines, we are told, also “educates children on how to be healthy” via LCD screens. By educating, they mean advertising (i.e.: pointing out that a particular brand of animal crackers is “all-natural”, or that a certain soda brand doesn’t contain high fructose corn syrup).
If education is the goal, I propose cooking classes, gardening projects, or — dare to dream! — a visit to an actual farm. A slew of health claims on an LCD screen does not an education make.
It’s a tragic testament to our current food system that the “eradication” of childhood obesity and community building are supposed to happen through machines that dispense “slightly less-worse-for-you” snacks. Despite the company’s claims that they can “help raise healthy kids in America”, it is disingenuous to peddle this as a viable public health solution or educational tool.