Matching Wits with a Vending Machine

A story this week about health food from a vending machine sounded like an oxymoron, but that’s exactly what a San Francisco-based startup claims to offer. And this article profiles a new book about Japanese vending machines–their unusual offerings, their reliability, and their “tacky beauty” in the traditional countryside.

It had us thinking about the “zen of vending machines,” so we pulled out an advice column from a past blog of ours as a type of vending machine therapy.

Doc Callahan, retired professor, part-time farmer, and full-time pontificator, has occasionally added his advice column expertise to our blog. Doc’s viewpoints are not necessarily those held by CAST—or, frankly, anyone else.
Out of Order


I’ve had several love-hate relationships with vending machines, and sure enough, other people seem to have parallel experiences.
Dear Doc,
The school board voted to take Cheetos, Pop Tarts, and candy bars out of our school cafeteria vending machine. I’m an active 14-year old. Carrot sticks and raisins won’t get me through Mrs. Kerfawful’s afternoon writing class. Sugar-starved in St. Louis
Dear Sugar-starved,
You kids are caught in another adult battle, and you’ll hear words like “healthful, choice, and obesity.” I’m not much for mandates, but in the future, you might be glad you missed the diabetes train because someone vetoed the junk food. In my day, we had other means of staying awake during classes—spit wads, rubber bands, and rude noises. Ask your school to install a vending machine that sells those.  Doc
Dear Doc,
Maybe I’ve been watching too much science fiction, but I swear the vending machine at work has human traits. If my dollar bill has the slightest wrinkle, the machine spits it back out and seems to make a mechanical jeering sound. When I’m desperate for a savory snack, the machine makes sure the bag of peanuts gets stuck in a spot just out of reach. And the Dr Pepper “sold out” light is never on even when that choice is all gone. I’m forced to drink Mountain Dew! Do you think the machine is picking on me?  Paranoid in Peoria
Dear Paranoid,
I’ve lost numerous battles with vending machines, so I know what you mean. I worked in Japan—the vending machine paradise—and the drink machines were like cyber sirens. “Irasshiamasu,” it would say to welcome me in a female, robotic voice. Then the paper cup would drop into the slot on its side and the Fanta Orange would dribble off into the drain. But the machine would stay positive as it thanked me, “Arigato Gozaimashita.” You could get just about anything but handguns in Japanese vending machines—whiskey, potted plants, dress shirts. But that was years ago. With smartphones and apps, you won’t be outwitted by vending machines anymore. You’ll be ignored. Your iPhone will have a meaningful conversation with a sandwich machine. Your phone already knows what you want for lunch. Doc
Dear Doc,
The National Alliance for Nutrition and Activity (NANA) set standards for food and beverages in vending machines. My boss has gone gung ho about these recommendations, and now I’m suffering at the office. The vending machine in our lounge has granola, juice, and something called Organic Berfunkle. By 10:00 a.m. I start getting Twinkies tremors, and in the afternoon a lack of high fructose makes me feel low and lethargic. This NANA word seems more like “nanny” to me. Any ideas?  Hungry for Freedom in Philly
Dear Hungry,
Many agree with you that we should be able to choose snacks without Big Brother watching. Others think junk food pushers have used ads and sugar addiction to make us all think we have choice when it’s actually a selection among health problems. At my age, my “sweet tooths” have fallen out, so I no longer think lemon drops, jelly beans, and candied orange slices provide three of the basic food groups. I even eat broccoli, kale, and tofu now—by choice. But I still like having options, so I advise that you try some of the healthy stuff—and then smuggle in jelly-filled donuts as needed. Just remember to wipe the powdered sugar and raspberry filling off your keyboard before your job evaluation session. Doc  
by dan gogerty (top pic from and bottom one from


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