I’m on the mailing list of a site called “Change.org.” It’s a site that allows people to post petitions to lobby for changes in public policy. Some of them make sense. Some don’t. This morning, I received an impassioned plea from one Megan Perez, regarding food allergies and vending machines. Here’s a condensed version (emphasis mine):
Hello everyone, my name is Megan Perez and I have a severe food allergy. My allergy is to both tree nuts and peanuts, and when I am exposed to these allergens I have an anaphylactic reaction. I don’t need to eat anything with nuts; if the allergen is in the air that is enough to send me to the emergency room. I have been learning to live with this allergy for four years now, which unfortunately means that I was not born with this reaction. Finding food to eat outside of my home is a nightmare. Most of the time I can’t partake in foods from places around my college campus because there is always the threat of cross contamination.
With this petition I am demanding change to labeling practices in vending machines. I hope to bring a collection of signatures to the Board of the vending machine company Canteen so they can enact a change. I also hope to get enough visibility to this petition to cause change on a national level.
As it stands now vending machines are not required to show allergen information visibly to the consumer before purchase. Due to an amendment of Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FD&C) brought on by the Affordable Care Act (ACA), companies with more than 20 vending machines must now “provide a sign in close proximity to each article of food or the selection button that includes a clear and conspicuous statement disclosing the number of calories contained in the article” (Federal Register). For a condensed version of the labeling requirements click here.
Consuming a large intake of calories in one sitting is dangerous, especially for those with a pre-existing condition but it is not likely to kill a person instantly after consumption. For this reason it is imperative that food allergies be listed visibly for the consumer before purchase.
The change will not be difficult. Vending machine companies like Canteen and others can use these options to help make their machines more food allergy friendly.
- Place a sticker next to the product with the food allergen listed either in text or with a easily identifiable key.
- Add in another screen when prompted to pick the vending item. After the price flashes on the screen just enter in the allergens there.
- Create a new type of vending machine that has the ingredient list as an available option to look up remotely.
Okay. Since nobody else seems to be willing to delve into issues like this that will provoke cries of “you’re insensitive to the needs of others,” allow me to stick my head in that particular lion’s mouth.
Point one: While I am totally sympathetic to the plight of Ms. Perez, let me ask an obvious question: If she’s so sensitive to nuts why isn’t she bringing her food with her?
Point two: If having microparticles/dust from nuts is enough to send her into anaphylactic shock, wouldn’t simply being around a vending machine containing products that are made with nuts be enough to send her over the edge?
Point three: I grew up with a pecan tree in my back yard. Nuts everywhere, from late summer to early winter. If Ms. Perez is that sensitive, how exactly is she able to go out in public and actually be in close proximity to said vending machines? Wouldn’t the walk from her car to a building be potentially fatal?
Point four: Why is it someone else’s responsibility to protect her from food allergen reactions? Shouldn’t she bear responsibility for this? Why do vendors need to go to the extraordinary steps of labeling products?
Point five: What are the most common food allergies? What percentage of the population is so-afflicted? And aren’t they smart enough to stay away from vending machines that co-mingle, say Snickers bars with potato chips?
Point six: Ms. Perez is wrong, delusional or lying, when she claims that it would be simple/cheap to label machines and/or individual products for food allergies.
Stickers cost money. Reprogramming vending machines to display food allergen information would be a HUGE expense. And creating a vending machine that broadcasts food allergen information would be similarly cost-prohibitive.
I’m sure it’s never crossed her mind, but there’s not a lot of profit on snack foods. Ditto for vending machines. If she likes the idea of everybody paying more for snacks, this is a great idea. If not…not so much. When the decree went out from the
Nanny State Federal Government that “all fast food and packaged foods must include caloric information” the Liberals, Progressives, and Those Who Think We’re Too Stupid To Think For Ourselves™ rejoiced. It was a move designed to End Obesity As We Know It.® Seen any fat people lately? I have. The law doesn’t seem to have moved the needle on the scale down. In fact, research shows that forcing vendors to include calorie counts have made things worse, weight-wise.
Here’s another thing to ponder. Just about EVER brand I know in the snack food biz has a website. Guess what: every site includes (by law) a list of ingredients and the whole calorie disclosure thing. Every. Single. One. So I’m thinking, a smart thing for Ms. Perez and her ilk to do would be to whip out her (presumably sanitized) smart phone and try Googling the snack food she wants. The vendor’s page will tell her if it’s got nuts in it or not. Of course, to be on the safe side, she might wanna do the same thing for ALL the items in the machine, just in case there’s any cross-contamination. Make sense?
And that’s exactly my point. Her petition makes no sense. It’s a classic Progressive move: Let’s make an emotional plea, wrap it up in some stats, throw in a few false claims that “this won’t cost anything,” and tie it in a bow of “you’re a jerk if you don’t help me get what I want.” So where does it all end? Where does it stop? Let’s say I don’t like the smell of broccoli, steamed or otherwise (Spoiler: I don’t.) Should I be able to force a restaurant to post signs “This restaurant serves broccoli – if you are offended by the smell, dine elsewhere.” Or what if you are lactose intolerant, or can’t handle gluten? Should vendors be forced to add information that their products contain milk or gluten? What if religious symbols offend someone. Should we ban images like the Quaker Oats guy, or take Christian Brothers wine off the menu?
At some point, we’ve lost our way. As a country, it seems that we now believe society is to blame, and it’s THEIR responsibility – not ours – to take care of us. No need for Ms. Perez to take charge of her dietary restrictions, when she can petition the government to do it for her. And God help us all if she bites into a chip cooked in peanut oil, without having thought to read those labels she wants so much. Something tells me that the vending machine and the snack food manufacturer would STILL get sued over that.
Perhaps the best solution would be a scanner, though. I think the vending machines need a scanner that would scan customers and determine if they’re Progressives or not. If they are, the machines simply won’t work – unless the customer signs a release form, indemnifying the vending machine, it’s owners, and the snack food manufacturer from any liability, should the customer do something really stupid.
Of course, that will never work. Progressives would never stand for profiling. Maybe everybody could just try a little common sense, think for themselves, and take responsibility for their own lives. As for me, you’ll find me near a vending machine, from time to time, buying Twinkies or some equally-unhealthy snack, then standing nearby and watching the Progressives fret about something or other. Everybody needs a hobby.