Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Snacks and Drinks

Many years ago my oldest daughter visited a high church Episcopal Sunday service where her grandfather was serving as sub-deacon. Afterwards she told me, "Grandpère was giving out snacks and drinks, but I didn't have any." It was a preschool description of Holy Communion that has stuck in my head to this day.

With the relentless posting and reposting of the HoCo Times story on Kittleman lifting the so-called "sugary drinks ban", I find my attention turning today to snacks and drinks. And not the Holy Communion kind, either. I think we forget that there was a time when vending machines were not ubiquitous. Now they seem to be expected.

In fact, eating and drinking as a leisure activity has become woven into our daily existence, which is why our cars now have more crumbs and more empty McDonalds's cups than ever before. And we expect that if we go to a County office building, or the library, that our right to snacking will be accommodated.


Why is this really necessary?

Is the County obligated to provide any vending machines of any kind? I say: no. They must provide plentiful and safe drinking water, functional bathrooms, and a healthy work environment. There is no "right" to vending machines. All employees and visitors are free to bring their own snacks and drinks, healthy or not.

All this carping about "the right" to buy a Coke misses the point. What kind of entitlement is this? Why rely on County vending machines at all? Why has no one said, "Government should not be in the vending machine business"?

I heard a discussion on the radio once about the ethical dilemma presented by movie theaters who sell exhorbitantly priced refreshments and maintain rules against bringing in food from the outside. The ethics expert pointed out that the patrons were visiting the movie theater voluntarily, that it was private property, and that owners had the right to enforce their rules. The interviewer countered that, if the patrons couldn't afford those high prices, they'd be forced to eat nothing at all.

"There's a place where millions of Americans go weekly, sit together in large groups for hours at a time, and eat nothing," the expert said. "It's called church."

Grandpère 's service at the high altar notwithstanding, I think the ethics expert has a point. We will not starve. We will not die of thirst. While I think the concept of using vending machines to offer healthier snacks and beverages was done in the positive spirit of benefiting public health, in my opinion we need to challenge a bigger icon: the vending machine itself.









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