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  • Obvious

    Posted by James R. Rummel on December 3rd, 2004 (All posts by )

    There’s vending machines in many schools across the United States. The kids can buy sodas, candy, chips. The school gets a cut of the profits. Works out well for everyone concerned.

    Lately, though, school administrators have been worried about public pressure. Parents have been complaining about the high calorie snacks that the kids have been buying while at school. They wanted the selection to be changed to a more healthy mix. (Why this is the school’s problem instead of an example of lax parental supervision is something I can’t answer.)

    So the schools got rid of the really tasty stuff and replaced it with, I dunno, organic fruit and soy energy bars. You know, stuff that no one buys for the taste.

    And the obvious happened. The kids stopped buying stuff from the school vending machines.

    Now the schools are upset. The money they got from the sales of all that sugary stuff has dried up. In some areas the loss is staggering, with schools in the San Fernando Valley losing $100,000 USD a month from soda sales alone! (There can’t be that many paper routes, so the parents there must really pass the cash out every morning. I wonder if they’ll adopt?)

    Supporters of the junk food bans say that they knew that there was going to be a loss in revenue for awhile, but that sales would pick up eventually. I suppose they figure the kids will get used to the crappy taste or something. Looks like they aren’t parents who ever had to convince a child to eat their carrots.

     

    29 Responses to “Obvious”

    1. Jonathan Says:

      Supporters of the junk food bans say that they knew that there was going to be a loss in revenue for awhile, but that sales would pick up eventually.

      This is the same argument as one that’s typically made by supporters of tax funded mass-transit: The customer is wrong, but he’ll come around eventually if we limit his options to ones that we prefer. People who believe in this kind of authoritarian elitism should not hold public office, IMO.

    2. incognito Says:

      Public schools can’t seem to get anything right. When I was at Berkeley, I worked for the dorms since they gave me free room & board. UCLA got it right. They were smart enough to know their dorm food sucks, so they outsourced their cafeterias to Marriott (iirc). Students liked the food, they had better choices, and the people who worked there looked cleaner/more professional. Berkeley, being Berkeley, would never let the free market decide. So we have crap food served by slobs… Chinese food = spaghetti with soy sauce, and the mystery casserole on Fridays didn’t inspire confidence (there’s a reason why it’s served on Friday.) All the while, Berkeley residential built posh new offices for the admin staff. But hey, it’s a workers paradise…

    3. Peter Says:

      Sure!! Schools should have the right to increase the choice in vending machines to make more money.

      Why not cigarettes!!!!

    4. Jonathan Says:

      Yes, Peter. If the schools allow choice in food, next thing you know the parents will demand cigarette machines. Then they will insist on school-supplied heroin. Who knows where it will end. Better not to allow any choice, or to provide only choices that the customers don’t want. The alternative — to provide, within reason, an array of snacks that kids will actually eat — is simply out of the question. After all, if we who know better can’t decide everything centrally, let’s not allow anybody else to decide anything for themselves. Right?

      You seem to have missed the point, as is frequently the case.

    5. Richard Cook Says:

      There’s a reason his name is Peter.

    6. Shannon Love Says:

      I think the real problem here is that issues in schools are actually just symbolic struggles over larger issues. The practicality of education or even student health gets subsumed in the larger struggle.

      I would imagine that the real opposition to junk food isn’t about the snacks themselves, which are harmless in moderation, but rather to their perceived corporate origins. School prayer, sex education and other major points of contention have nothing to due with educating children, rather they symbolize this or that groups political dominance within society itself.

      One good reason to move to a de-politized educational system is that it will prevent people from using school children as props in their little political dramas.

    7. incognito Says:

      Those who can, do.

      Those who can’t, teach.

      And those who can’t teach, teach economics.

    8. James R. Rummel Says:

      “One good reason to move to a de-politized educational system is that it will prevent people from using school children as props in their little political dramas.”

      I agree with you 100%, but we are talking about institutions that are funded by taxpayer money. That’s the definition of politicized.

      James

    9. Peter Says:

      Jonathan most of the time if not all the time you miss the point of my answer.
      Oh yes, you are so confident or is it arrogance due to overconfidence.

      The problem with vending machines offering junk food is that it adds up to the already low quality food offered in schools..
      In my son’s high school the vending machines are right in the middle of the lunch room.

    10. Eric Mastrocola Says:

      I almost ALWAYS go with freedom of choice. Freedom is severely curtailed in public schools in the name of education. If you choose to cut a class- you are reprimanded etc. Its been agreed on by Federal courts- even the 1st amendment doesn’t apply to high school student newspapers.

      The fact is the American diet sucks. We are shoveling garbage in our faces and then wonder why diabetes, heart disease, etc are so high compared to a many poorer nations. Its gotten worse in the last 20 years too- I remember a fat kid in every class when I went to school- but when I see some of the heffers waddling around the mall I want to cry. My sister used to teach in the inner city and many of the children never ate vegetables (they thought crack and Mad Dog were their own food groups)

      Changing this will be tough. Sure the soda machines may be more symbolic than real (although the money sure is real) but we have to start somewhere.

    11. James R. Rummel Says:

      “Open Letter
      Concord (Online) School of Law Experiment.”

      (SNIP)

      The above was the first line of a very loooong comment by some guy bitching about how he thinks he was denied a law degree because he’s African-American. (For some reason he wants to remain anonymous. Go figure.)

      Sorry fellow, but that has nothing to do with schools selling junk food through vending machines. Your comment (or letter, or complaint, or whatever-the-hell you want to call it) has been deleted and you’ve been banned.

      I want to tell everyone else who gets a wild hair up their fundament to stick to the topic.

      Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go to my college university and study for finals. There’s a vending machine there that sells donuts with that fake vanilla cream in the middle.

      James

    12. James R. Rummel Says:

      Its been agreed on by Federal courts-
      even the 1st amendment doesn’t apply to high school student newspapers.

      I see what you’re saying, Eric, but I think that’s beside the point. The subject is how revenue has fallen because the schools have switched to healthier and less tasty fare, which is to be expected. Economics is what I’m talking about, and how the outcome of their actions should have been painfully obvious before any decisions were made.

      ……but we have to start somewhere.

      Fair enough, but then the schools have to suck it up and stop complaining.

      James

    13. mishu Says:

      Sure we have more heart disease, diabetes, etc. compared to third world countries but lets not beat ourselves to death in guilt and hold the third world on a pedestal. These risks are associated with the relative affluence we have. While we have greater risk to these diseases, we also have far less risk of cholera, rickets, hepatitus a, and on and on. If you truly want to educate kids about having a disciplined diet, do you really think that hiding junk food from them and pretending it doesn’t exist is the best way?

    14. James R. Rummel Says:

      Oh yes, you are so confident or is it arrogance due to overconfidence.

      Around here, I’m the guy who’s arrogant because he’s overconfident. If you compare our two confidence levels, I’m like the high school football captain while Jonathan’s like one of those pimply-faced nerds who always get beaten up in the Men’s Room.

      Besides, your favorite tactic of taking any arguement to it’s most absurd conclusions is hardly a way to promote a reasoned exchange of ideas. In my opinion you deserve a little scorn.

      James

    15. lindenen Says:

      The real question is: the food they were previously eating has vanished to be replaced with new stuff the kids aren’t eating. So are the kids bringing junk food or healthy food from home? Eating less or eating healthier foods that you’d get through the lunch line instead of machines? Has there been an increase in sales through the lunch line? If it’s the last three, then I’d say this is a win for healthier eating. If it’s the first, then schools cannot do the job that parents should be doing.

      Also, regarding college food, my uni farmed out the cafeteria food and work to a company as well and the food was absolute SHIT. It sounds just like the Berkeley food.

    16. MatyaNoBaka Says:

      Incognito:
      I prefer the version that ends:
      Those who can’t teach, join the legislature.
      Though the third version:
      Those who can’t teach, run the Union.
      is pretty fine too.

      Eric and mishu:
      Diabetes and heart disease, like cancer, are degenerative diseases. Diet is a component of risk, as is smoking and alcohol and exercise and all the rest of the litany. But my memory says that when Bjorn Lomborg controlled for age, he found we have less cancer and heart disease than our grand parents and also less than in Africa and Southern Asia today. It’s only when you look at whole population statistics that we seem badly off.

      To some extent, the moral is that you gotta die of something,as mishu points out with reference to cholera, rickets and hepatitus a. Lomborg points out that with refrigeration and preservatives, we have pretty much eliminated food poisoning as a cause of death in the west, which should be added to mishu’s list for poor country problems. So when we lick cancer and heart disease and add another 10 years to our life span, we will start dieing of something else that is considered rare and exotic today, but the longer age gave enough time to develop.

      I wish i could check that for sure; i hate having so many books still packed…

      Matya no baka

    17. Jonathan Says:

      I’m like the high school football captain while Jonathan’s like one of those pimply-faced nerds who always get beaten up in the Men’s Room.

      Maybe I should take one of James’s self-defense classes.

      ;>

    18. Rob M Says:

      Why is this issue so hard for some people to understand. At the school I teach in we have soda along with fruit juice and gatorade/powerade and water from vending machines. We force Coke and Pepsi into one year contracts or at most two year contracts so that we can get them to bid against each other and increase the schools revenue. The kids have a healthy choice to Coke products. The school just got new scoreboards for the football/baseball and softball fields (new contract from coke) and makes about $80,000 from sales.

      Kids have healthy choice. School can induce competition to keep our part of the contract as high as possible and pays for and extra 2 teachers. Where is the problem?

    19. chel Says:

      Parents today have so little control over what their children eat. Many kids eat breakfast, lunch, and snack at school. Most parents want their kids to eat heathy. It helps them learn and have energy. It also starts young people with healthy eating habits that will benefit them through their lives.

      Schools are supposed to teach positive, healthy lessons. When schools work against the heath of children and against the hopes of their parents, that’s no good, even if a school gets $1,000 out of it.

      I’d like to point out that no one is saying that kids can’t eat their X-tra Spicey Supersized Spongebob Fritos. Kids can bring them in their lunch. If parents really want their kids to eat these snack they are free to pack a sack lunch for their kids with them.

    20. Wade Says:

      James,
      Jonathan may APPEAR to be the uber-nerd, but trust me, he’ll tack on a pack of bullies on their turf – I’ve seen him do it

    21. Wade Says:

      I meant “take” on a pack of bullies.

      WRT children and relying on personal responsibility to eat healthy foods or relying on parental guidance – I think both are weakish arguments. Studies like those that are discussed in Pinker’s Blank Slate show how around puberty children are more influenced by their peers than their parents. Couple this with the tendency for children to believe they are virtually immortal and you have a recipe for very unhealthy eating if given too many options, at least in the younger years.

    22. incognito Says:

      It seems no matter how much money we shovel into the public school system, it always seems to need more money. I think in my northern california city, each classroom averages $216,000 in funding. Do some simple math here. Pay the teacher $50k a year, benefits of $16k, and you still have $150k left over per classroom. Assume facilities costs of $2k a month (electricty, water, cleaning, etc, which is pretty generous), you’re left with $132k. That’s a ridiculous amount of money. Of course, the surplus goes to “administrators” who push paper. I wish the public schools would run their schools like real businesses. But that’s never going to happen. Which is why school vouchers is the way to go. $216k per class, 30 students per class, that’s more than $7k per year – a good starting point for vouchers imo. Let the free market decide and take the money away from these bums.

    23. Pogo Says:

      This appears to be a mix of several related concerns, and the “point” of the story varies according to the facet observed.

      1. Our Behavior Police have latched onto the newest “ultimate evil” in our society, being fat, and will continue to endorse increasingly coercive methods to achieve this “communal goal”.

      2. Schools do indeed act “in loco parentis”, and we empower them to supervise the care of our children. Teenagers certainly do not make wise choices on many issues, beset as they are by the seemingly inescapable rule of their peers.

      3. Publicly-funded schools represent the absence of choice, and the epitome of central decisionmaking. All of the economic failures described by Hayek and Mises are on display, and dutifully recorded by local newspapers. Once or twice per year, we are greeted with “referenda” demanding greater funds to support ever-larger operating losses.

      3. Because schools are ostensibly run for the sake educating children, the adminstration and teachers mistakenly color all of their activities and desires with a moral tone, and portray their detractors as being against children.

      4. There are some people whose world view makes them unable to understand some elementary and inviolable economic principles. To argue before them that education funding (and succcess) is based on those same principles will be perceived by them as arguing that black is white and 2+2=5.

      5. The people who want to control education collectively are usually the same people who want to control behavior in other aspects, such as food choices, tobacco and obesity.

    24. John Anderson Says:

      A candy bar or a soft drink per day is going to make kids obese? Good trick. Especially if the vending companies stock the machines with low- or no-sugar varieties, which most do have. But no, replace them with imported water and “organic” no-salt no-butter popcorn (at the same prices!) and complain that not as much is sold.

      It’s like the chuckle I get in the candy aisle at the supermarket: almost every package now stridently proclaims NO FAT! I await a package of lard that announces No Sugar!

      Yeah, our diets are not the healthiest they might be. We eat like horses, which will eat and drink everything available to the point of death if allowed, when we should eat like pigs, which will stop well before that point.

    25. pedro Says:

      They’re kids — they need guidance and teaching. They need to be protected from crap that’s bad for them, and that includes unhealthy foods. I don’t care about a great new scoreboard, Peter’s point about “why not cigarettes?” is a good one, and right on topic.
      And a guy named Richard is making fun of a guy named Peter?
      Minors don’t have the same rights adults do for a reason — they’re not ready. For the same reason they can’t make contracts, vote, or get credit cards, they shouldn’t be preyed on by the schools for easy money. Yes, sugar sells, but that’s no reason to sell it at school.

    26. James R. Rummel Says:

      “They’re kids — they need guidance and teaching.”

      One of the points I made in the original post was that the kids do, indeed, need teaching and guidance. From their parents, which should be teaching the kids healthy eating habits.

      There’s another point that I’m waiting for someone to pick up on. The schools are complaining about losing some pretty hefty amounts here. The schools in the San Fernando Valley are saying that they’re not getting $100K a month that they used to, but since they only receive a portion of the profits from vending machine sales that means the kids are spending lots more than that.

      Where are these kids getting that money? They have jobs after school? They get out of the classroom and go off to the boardroom? Some of them could have paper routes, but other than that they have to rely on money they get from their parents.

      If the parents, who are ultimately responsible for the kids’ well being, want them to eat healthy then they should pack a lunch and withold the folding cash. If they’re passing out some allowance money then they should stop complaining because the kids are spending it on stuff that tastes good.

      James

    27. A Scott Crawford Says:

      “Where are these kids getting that money? They have jobs after school? They get out of the classroom and go off to the boardroom? Some of them could have paper routes, but other than that they have to rely on money they get from their parents.”

      James,

      I was one of those kids who made a lot of money by providing an alternative to my public schools overpriced, poor quality, ‘well balanced diet’ lunch menus. To be honest, this is basically how most school yard racketeers get their start, as there’s always a demand for candy amongst children. From selling candy, we progressed ever deeper into more sinister and taboo produce… like pizza, fire crackers, soda-pop, and pixie sticks!

      Then one discovers that there’s no better platform upon which to run for student government than the electorates hatred of cafeteria food. Once elected one then has access to things of much greater value. Hall passes, ‘official’ fund raising events, extra lockers, sporting event kiosk licenses… all sorts of revenue streams for things that adults, being adults, fail to see the value of to teenagers. Please allow me to assure you that school bake-sales, ice cream socials, talent shows, and etc. are NEVER EVER audited. The beauty of student goverment is that an organized group of class officers never has to personally break rules (or laws) directly, they can merely accept benefits, fiscal and/or material (barter), to NOT notice that other students MIGHT be doing something wrong. AND it looks great on ones college resume!

    28. James R. Rummel Says:

      Once elected one then has access to things of much greater value. Hall passes, ‘official’ fund raising events, extra lockers, sporting event kiosk licenses… all sorts of revenue streams for things that adults, being adults, fail to see the value of to teenagers.

      Sounds like Tammany Hall in miniature.

      James

    29. A Scott Crawford Says:

      In addition…

      The subject of college cafeteria service should be understood as relating to the diets of adults, not minors.

      Otherwise. “Banning junk food”, as a movement, relies on very questionable reasoning. Accepting that “excessive consumption of ‘junk food’ is unhealthy” is a true statement, there are no logical grounds to extend this to the claim that “all consumption of junk food is unhealthy”. Eating a candy bar or ice cream cone from time to time, i.e. “some consumption of junk food” is not necessarily unhealthy. This is a very basic type of categorical fallacy, as the problem is not the type of thing being consumed, but rather is the manner and degree OF consumption.

      So the basis of this conflict isn’t really about the objects, junk food, but rather over how individuals USE those objects. The idea being that because some individuals harm themselves in the USE of an object, the OBJECT itself, and not it’s USE, is the problem, despite the fact that the great majority of individuals are perfectly responsible using said object. This is a tragically regular line of progressive reasoning, the idea that by banning the OBJECT, irresponsible USE of said object by individuals will stop.

      Think about it… who in their right mind believes it’s their business to protect my kids from gum drops and french fries!!!

      “I’m sorry Jr., you can’t give the other children cake and ice cream at your birthday party because the parents of two out of the ten kids you invited think you’re all too heavy for your age!”

      Weird.