Tis the season for New Year’s Resolutions, and I’m sure ‘eating healthier’ or ‘losing weight’ is high on the list for many in 2016. And it might seem like a great time to do it, as last term the university installed two so-called “healthy” vending machines inside the library and YourSpace, but I think we need to have a serious talk about the word ‘healthy’. Hear me out – I think it’s fantastic that there are alternatives to the classic chocolate-bar-and-packet-of-crisps combo, and that people with special dietary requirements have better options, but I think it’s misleading to label everything (or in fact, anything) that comes from a vending machine as healthy.
When I go to a vending machine for food, I’m desperate. I haven’t planned ahead and brought my own lunch, and I’m not willing to walk to Nisa for a meal deal for the third day in a row. I know what I’m signing up for when I scrounge around for stray 20ps in my purse, and that’s the guilt and disappointment of being surrounded by food wrappers for the next few hours, all for a sugar rush that hasn’t helped my essay writing at all, nor satiated my growing hunger. I can congratulate myself all I want for heading to a healthy vending machine over a normal one, but what am I gaining?
Placed side-by-side, something with less calories naturally seems like the better option, but the key to a healthy lifestyle (or so I’m told…) is balance. Yes, that cereal bar might have less calories than that packet of crisps, but it might also have more fat and sugar. A can of Coke Zero has no calories in it, but you’d be mad to say that it was a healthier option than a smoothie. On top of all the considerations about recommended daily amounts there’s the simple fact that these are only general guidelines, and what your body actually needs depends on factors such as activity levels and weight. How is quickly choosing something that sounds decent from a “healthy” vending machine much better than doing the same thing with a normal vending machine? You’re not putting much thought into your food, and you’re allowing someone else to make a choice about what’s healthy for you.
Of course it would be silly of me to place the blame squarely on the University for a marketing trick that so many companies use and abuse. A world where cigarettes were once marketed as healthy may seem very distant from our own, but it was only a few weeks ago that Nesquik were in trouble with the marketing watchdog for claiming that a sugary hot chocolate provided kids with a “great start to the day.” The market for healthy products grows every day, and it’s hard to not get bogged down by misleading labels and carefully worded adverts.
As great as alternative products are, I don’t agree with the healthy label these vending machines have been given. I won’t lie to myself and pretend that I’m living a healthy life by opting for a lower fat or less calorific packet of crisps when what I really need is to eat more vegetables, preferably ones that aren’t mixed and haven’t been sitting at the bottom of my freezer for a whole term. Similarly, chugging an entire bottle of fruit juice isn’t magically going to counteract the binge drinking and fast food of the night before, especially when you realise that the bottle is actually four hundred per cent of your recommended daily allowance for sugar. We need to put a lot more thought into our own food instead of relying on others to decide what is healthy or unhealthy for us.