Junk food junked?

Posted by: | August 1, 2007 | 27 Comments

by student BoG rep Darren Peets

About a month ago, UBC was informed of a new provincial policy on the sale of food and drinks from vending machines. In essence, this policy expands the junk food restrictions already in place in schools to all hospitals, universities, colleges, Crown Agencies, provincial government buildings, and so on. Food is sorted by its nutritional value into four categories, helpfully named Not Recommended, Choose Least, Choose Sometimes, and Choose Most. At least 50% of all food and beverage choices from any bank of vending machines must be Choose Most, while Not Recommended and Choose Least are forbidden. The intent is to steer people toward healthier food.

My understanding is that this takes effect August 1, 2007, and that UBC has already been asked for conformance reports. At this point, it’s not backed up by legislation, but as with many provincial directives, it will be if necessary — noncompliance would only result in a few months of freedom and a needless fight with the Province.

There is one noteworthy exemption to the policy: student residence. Through a form of logic that escapes me, the Province has decided that students living in residence either eat healthier food than those who don’t, or simply don’t matter as much. The fate of vending machines in the SUB is unclear, as the SUB seems to be described by both the exemptions and inclusions sections of the policy.

For example, candies and chocolates are categorized as follows: Almost everything is Not Recommended, Choose Least includes some very small packages of candies, chocolates or dessert gelatines, Choose Sometimes includes sugar-free gum, mints or cough drops and diabetic candies, and Choose Most need not apply. A handful of energy bars pass muster (some even make the top category), but low-carb, low-protein and just plain large energy bars, and any with sugar as the first ingredient or added fats aren’t allowed.

The full policy is available from http://www.lcs.gov.bc.ca/HealthierChoices/

My initial feeling was indignation that we were being treated like children, but given that doctors and nurses are too, I’m a bit less annoyed about it now, and I doubt it’s worth UBC fighting. I’m curious what everyone else thinks, though.


27 Comments so far

  1. maayan kreitzman on August 1, 2007 9:25 pm

    I think it’s a good policy. Definitely confused by the fact that residences are exempt. Perhaps UBC should switch them over under its own volition. Personally, I’m in favour of replacing vending machines with large sacks of trail mix which people can snack on by donation.

  2. Anonymous on August 2, 2007 1:11 am

    I think this goes too far. In elementary schools and even in high schools, I can understand it. Children need to be protected from bad choices.

    We are not children. At university we are maturing adults with a proper conception of right, wrong and what is good for us.

    While everyone can see the well-meaning behind this policy, I find it a tad too paternalistic for my liking.

    Freedom involves the right to make choices as to what you put in your own body. It also involves the right to make mistakes.

  3. Anonymous on August 2, 2007 2:32 am

    I think the logic the province used is extending the concept of home (where they have no right restricting food choices) to as far as the Vanier Caf, instead of just Tec 203. I like the logic, as the Vanier Caf is effectively Tec 203’s kitchen. Why it doesn’t make the distinction between residences with Caf and those without is probably just to cut the tape.

    Although I’m against the policy all together. Does not the charter give us freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and freedom of choice of gum?

  4. David on August 2, 2007 3:10 am

    What a fucking joke. I would have to agree that it’s really probably not worth fighting – but I would assume one can still buy all the junk food one wants from the Delly or Pie R2?

    So, if I want a Mars bar, as a 24 year old university educated adult, I now have to stand in line at a very busy food outlet instead of walking to a vending machine. Ridiculous.

  5. maayan kreitzman on August 2, 2007 4:57 am

    It’s not a joke at all. it signals a slowly moving institutional and societal norm. In this case, one moving toward healthier food and a lower currency, tolerance and importance placed on the “right” to choose otherwise. Think about the transition that took place with smoking: it’s less convenient, more expensive, and much less cool to be a smoker now than it used to be. Most people are ok with that, though. that’s because smoking is a known health risk that costs taxpayers lots of money. same type of story here. A university is a public institution – why shouldn’t it be used as an testing ground, or example for the rest of society (as directed by government, anyway).

    An unrelated inquiry: I’m wondering why people feel the need to post anonymously in seemingly innocuous topics like this one. Anonymity is important sometimes, but I just don’t get this.

  6. Anonymous on August 2, 2007 6:49 am

    We’re probably far too lazy to make accounts, or even log in.

    I’d argue that smoking is banned in certain places because it directly affects the guy sitting next to you minding his own business. Its not banned because it poisons the person who smokes.

    You can’t create a “right to chose otherwise” by removing the right to chose in the first place. I’m being denied the right to buy a snack if I’m hungry. That’s oppressive, regardless of if its the social norm or not.

    Further, university should be a testing ground for freedom, not prohibition.

    Its ridiculous to say that I’m not allowed to buy chips, but am allowed to smoke a cigar while drinking rum almost anywhere on campus. Or would you have the government restrict those too? Close the Pit, it promotes drunkenness. Close the Gallery, it promotes corrupt culture. Shut down the Mustache Club, it promotes silly facial hair and illicit substance use.

    How about the chewing of bubble gum? Should we lead the way in banning that too?

  7. Fire Hydrant on August 2, 2007 7:56 am

    Yes, this only applies to vending machines. You can’t buy junk food from a vending machine outside Buchanan A106, but you’ll be able to go to UBC Food Services’ cafe in A200 and buy it there. Crap will still be available — you still have a choice. It’s not about restricting choice, it’s about making bad food less convenient.

    To Maayan: as was said, smoking is more than just someone giving themselves a long-term health problem. I have to breathe the stuff if I’m standing next to someone who smoked in the previous few hours. That guy eating potato chips is not going to force trans fats into me by proximity alone, he’s the one becoming a walking heart attack, and I’m going to guess the medical costs of his heart attack won’t come close to our lung cancer friend. Chewing gum is worse, because I sometimes have to pick that off of my shoe. Speaking of which, perhaps next we’ll see a stoop-and-scoop bylaw for all dogs visiting university campuses?

    Universities can certainly be testbeds for change, but this is usually at the urging of at least some of the locals and the results may be studied by the academics. In this case, the Province has decided to impose a new, somewhat arbitrary, rule, trying to change how we snack by making bad choices somewhat less convenient.


  8. Jesse Ferreras on August 2, 2007 12:16 pm

    I work graveyard shifts doing security for UBC Conferences and Accommodation. They can start that “conformance” test at Gage – all you’ll find in those machines are Lay’s Original potato chips, Sun Chips, giant chocolate cookies, and some rice crackers thrown into the mix. It’s August 2nd, and I see no sign of compliance there. I’ll reserve my judgment on this policy until I see words committed to action.

  9. Jesse Ferreras on August 2, 2007 12:19 pm

    An amendment to my last comment – the vending machines at Gage might be a good indication that maybe students in residence aren’t more attuned to healthy food. And I doubt that the Totem caf is a better example.

  10. Chris on August 2, 2007 4:27 pm

    This makes sense in an elementary school or middle school. Perhaps even a High School.

    In those the students are required by law to attend.

    At a university where you pay for the option of attending this is silliness.

    It’s the slippery slope to adding prozac to drinking fountains to keep people crazy enough to use them.. less crazy.

  11. Matthew Naylor on August 2, 2007 5:30 pm

    I am torn on this. The small government side of me, the libertarian, says that this is ridiculous. Why should a Nanny state have any say at all over what it’s citizens are putting in their bodies.

    Then again, we have socialized health care, and it is the responsibility of the government to make a healthy populace in order to create a less strained system.

    I am concerned about how this will effect the vending machines at the SUB, or if this will only serve to increase the business at our outlets.

    I think that I’m going to come down on the side of the regulators, mostly because they are no limiting choice, but rather limiting availability, which is similar to what the government does with cigarettes or liquor. As long as they are still available, an effort by the government to make them less accessible is something that I will tentatively accept.

  12. Pete on August 2, 2007 5:32 pm

    (I will admit that this has turned into a more philosophical discussion, but I need to toss my 2 cents in. :D)

    Here’s a question: how does one learn if one does not make mistakes? or if one does not learn from the mistakes of others?

    If you totally ban junk food, you remove a necessary tool for learning by doing/seeing. I see fat people stuffing their faces with potato chips. I learn. I eat potato chips and feel gross. I learn.

    If neither exists, how am I too learn? You’re basically advocating the placation of the citizenry into a bunch of mindless sheep who lack the ability to critically examine reality.

    Does the state always know best? How can that possibly be when the state is no more than the sum of its parts, which, ultimately, is you and I.

    What I’m basically trying to say is that the nanny state is scary and should be resisted if one wants reason, justice, a good morality and human creativity to flourish.

    “I do not agree with what you have to eat, but I’ll defend to the death your right to eat it. – paraphrased from Voltaire

  13. Matthew Naylor on August 2, 2007 6:54 pm

    Oh, and on my break from my Feminism and Politics class, I checked Buchanan, and the vending machine there still had its Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups.

  14. Fire Hydrant on August 2, 2007 8:52 pm

    First they came for the cheezies, but I didn’t speak up,
    because I didn’t eat cheezies.

    Then they came for the pop machines, but I didn’t speak up,
    because I don’t drink pop.

    Then they came for the cinnamon buns, but I didn’t speak up,
    because they’re too sticky for my liking anyway.

    Then they came for the coffee and bzzr, and the students rioted, built a moat, and seceded from BC.

    -Niemöller (paraphrased)

    (Note: the preceding may contain traces of sarcasm and/or inappropriate allusions. Reader discretion is advised)

  15. David on August 3, 2007 12:31 am

    If the goal of this is actually to promote health, then I would have to agree with anonymous who suggested closing the Pit – because as someone who occasionally ate candy and regularly consumed mass quantities of beer – I’m pretty sure that the beer had more to do with any health issues I’ll have down the road than the biweekly Oh Henry.

    Comparing junk food to cigarettes is basically absurd and undermines any legitimate argument you might have in favour of this ludicrous ban on candy. I would have to agree with Darren that the likelihood of second hand trans fat seems quite low.

    In regard to attempting to compare the health care costs, candy consumption in moderation, or even in fairly large quantities can easily be countered with exercise – whereas no amount of exercise is going to make your lungs less cancerous.

    As a healthy guy who generally eats well, and is super active and in pretty decent shape, being told I can’t get a chocolate bar out of a vending machine because the government is trying to force ADULTS who attend university to be healthier is fundamentally ridiculous.

  16. Jesse Ferreras on August 3, 2007 9:42 am

    I’m going to have to break with Matt Naylor on this one – this policy seems like the government is wagging a scolding finger at its citizens.

    But for a second let’s look at this in a different context. Vancouver most active cities is one of the most active big cities in Canada, if not THE most. Much of its culture revolves around outdoor activity. The prime leisures of Vancouverites include activities like beach volleyball, rollerblading, skateboarding, hockey, basketball, and plenty of other hobbies of that nature.

    Similar words can be said of UBC. Sure, people drink and eat unhealthy food. Up until this past year (my fifth at UBC) I did it exponentially more than I exercised. But that’s not everyone’s case.

    Take a look around on any given day and UBC looks to be one of the healthiest places you can find. Machines don’t exactly sell out of chips or chocolate bars very quickly in the SUB, nor anywhere else at UBC. The healthy lifestyles led by many at the university must be making a conscious choice not to buy those items (and I wish I could count myself among them.) If there’s an obesity problem at UBC, I just don’t see it.

    My central point is that UBC is the wrong place to be fighting the war on junk food in vending machines. If this policy was taken to a place like Houston, Texas, I might understand. Or even other cities in Canada.

    Imposing these kinds of restrictions on free-thinking adults will do about as much to improve public health as will the spelling of “womyn” advance the cause of feminism – a clear change on the surface, to be sure, but not likely to have a substantial impact.

  17. Gina Eom on August 3, 2007 9:46 pm

    The cultural bifurcation between Europe and North America is striking.

    From someone who has spent exactly equal amounts of time on both continents, I would say that the European approach is much more effective.

    It is cultural norm that once you hit fifteen in Germany, you have held a beer in your hand. The development of a mature attitude towards drinking has resulted in a lack of the North American teenage drinking binges I observe on my street on Saturday nights. It just isn’t factored into hormonal means to rebel against authority.

    Similar arguments could be put forth with this legislation with respect to junk food. Or smoking for that matter. Though I suspect that some of you may vehemently oppose my argument when it comes to cigarettes. Again, cultural differences.

    Why is it that North America operates under prohibition (resting the fulcrum of power on legislation) rather than mature choice (resting the power on the individual)?

    This junk food ban, coupled with the ban of tobacco products from campuses, seems like a futile attempt to paint a normalizing sterile picture of health. In practical and theoretical terms, I am very very skeptic.

    If I was still a student in this province I would lobby against this.

  18. Pete on August 4, 2007 3:40 am

    Gina, are you sure that you didn’t notice any binge drinking in Europe? From my time there, I’d say that while it certainly a lot more socially driven then it is here, there’s still a fair amount of lets-go-out-and-get-plastered nights.
    (especially in Scandinavia)

    Also, its true that Europe also has many more smokers than does North America. Bleh. Filthy habit.

    That being said, I agree with you anyway. I find it strange that the government we elect must then restrict us from doing certain things.

    Its basically out-sourcing willpower to someone else. Its much easier than actually controlling yourself, but ultimately it fails anyway (unless Big Brother watches you 24/7).

    Its like saying that the only thing stopping you from going on a murderous rampage at any given moment is the policeman standing on the corner.

    (yes, I continue to take this discussion to where it need not go, but I do dabble in the Philosophy after all)

  19. Blake on August 4, 2007 6:50 am

    This is wonderful. I don’t really see this as restricting the choice of people who want to purchase junk food, but rather as giving people a healthy choice that never before existed. Personally I never eat out of a vending machine because the options are almost always downright deplorable, but now I may actually be able to purchase eatable food after the food outlets close, instead of a appalling mixture of trans fats and sugar.

  20. Gina Eom on August 4, 2007 7:19 am

    Blakey, your argument only holds up if everyone was like you (and me): usually health-conscious. You and I fit into the picture of health the government wants to paint.

    But it is coercive to try to get everyone to conform.

    I like having healthy options in vending machines for the same reasons as you (it suits my habits), but I only support this if it expands on an already existing spectrum of foods.

    Ie, you get to choose whether you want the granola bar or Pringles, instead of only being able to get the former.

  21. Pete on August 4, 2007 4:42 pm

    Healthy food choices don’t exist in vending machines because there’s no demand for them. That is to say, if there was enough people asking for granola bars (are those actually healthy anyway?)in vending machines, they’d be there.

    Further, healthier choices are usually more expensive. Vending machines are synonymous with cheap. It would seem to me that most people will go for the cheaper, and unhealthier, snack when presented with a choice of Doritos for $1 and a Nature Valley bar for $2.

    If the preceding were false, than vending machine companies would have already moved to fill the demand. But hey, maybe they just underestimate that market?

    But that ignores the issue of limiting consumer choice by removing things that are ‘bad’ for you.

    I see government as mostly being there to protect me from you. And not to protect me from me. I should be able to do that just fine on my own. If not, then I should seek help on my own. I shouldn’t go and tell the government to make me stop doing it (and in the process stop everyone else from doing it too).

  22. maayan kreitzman on August 4, 2007 6:37 pm

    I think you all are making this too complicated. A variety of things and habits are restricted and regulated in our society because they’re deemed in some way harmful (cigrettes, gambling, alcohol, drugs, dangerous chemicals, etc). This is no different! It’s not banning or removing your options to get the stuff, it’s just regulating where and how much it’s available, like we do with countless other things. Our society is very far from being libertarian. I think very few of us actually want to deregulate things like prescription drugs, explosives, etc. In a general way (not 100% comparison, but general), this is the same deal: come foods has been deemed harmful by reliable sources (in this case, health science). they represent significant costs to the public helth system over the years. Thus, they’re going to start being regulated.

    I like Blake’s take on this: this will improve choice/availablilty for people like me and Gina. The idea that removing some options fron a vending machine is a violation of some fundamental right is absurd. You don’t have the right to get fresh garlic at a drug store, you don’t have the right to get alcohol at a corner store. The former is just because of the market, and the latter is because of regulation. It doesn’t really matter to me whether some evil corporation determines my level of choice or whether government does. At least government is accountable.

  23. Pete on August 6, 2007 6:16 am

    All of the things you’ve listed are regulated because they create a proven chemical or psychological dependence. (Though I think that “addictions” to gambling should be best cured with a good beating)

    If the government is imposing this regulation so as to reduce the cost of the public health care system, I think that’s not enough justification. I’d think that it would be much fairer to tell people who eat chips and such that they have to pay a premium on their health care coverage instead of punishing everyone else.

    I mean really… virtually every unhealthy activity is a cost to the public health care system. How do you draw the line? No dangerous sports? No competitive sports? No driving? Is it just what 51% of the 50% that vote say? (I shudder to think so…)

    As to having rights. You’re absolutely right I have the right to get garlic at the corner. However, it is better phrased by saying that the government does not have the right to stop me from doing so. Or is the bad breath that garlic causes disliked by enough people to make access to garlic restricted?

    Further, evil corporations don’t arbitrarily decide what to produce and how much. They are profit maximizers with relatively predictable reaction functions. The government plays an important role in regulating market failures (monopolies, etc), but it should try to restrict itself to those.

    It is far too easy for the government to start interfering in everything out of some misguided effort to help people. However, that comes at a cost. One that I am not very happy to pay, especially not in this case.

    Lastly, I think there’s a huge argument to be made that the cost of this program, and its enforcement, will more than offset any savings in health care costs. Lets face it, people in university already have their habits and tastes established. If they want fatty foods, they’ll get them. I fully support educating children that that stuff is bad by reducing its availability in schools to non-adults.

    But come on. I should be able to decide for my self. That’s what it really comes down to.

  24. Fire Hydrant on August 6, 2007 6:16 pm

    Two thoughts hit me:

    1) Where liquor laws are more strict (i.e. North America), liquor can become some forbidden novelty and some young people binge drink. Are we setting people up for sugar binges or grease binges when we release them into society?

    2) Some governments have found another way to disincentivize the consumption of substances they don’t like or that result in delayed costs. This unique system, abbreviated “TAX”, adds an extra charge to people’s bills at the point of purchase, and that money is forwarded to the government. Such a system could be structured to ensure that junk food remains available, but that purchasers covered their resulting health care costs. I believe TAX has already been applied to liquor, tobacco and gasoline.

  25. Anonymous on August 7, 2007 7:46 pm

    I’m all for Darren’s idea of a fat TAX. These people weigh down our health care systems, pressure our nation image and worst of all, they’re contagious!

    Obligatory monthly government weigh-ins tied to a proportional TAX on goods and services (normalized to our ideal, the celebrities) is undoubtedly the best way to go. I don’t want to have to pay for John Q. Fatty’s obesity.

  26. Pete on August 7, 2007 10:51 pm
  27. Alex Lougheed on September 8, 2007 9:16 pm

    High fives for illegal policies.

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