Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Vol. CLIV, Issue 10
Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Pro Horse Meat and Anti-Freedom: ASWC Kills Vending Machines

A snack between classes, a crisp Coca-Cola after a long lecture, a bag of Frito Lays in the aftermath of the V-Nord show in Olin … the humble vending machine stands proudly for the needs of the common man. Our student union, however, threatens to stand for something else. 

First, to contextualize the debate currently surrounding vending machines, we must understand the state of dining on campus. 

Jewett Cafe (J-Caf as the locals call it), a coffee shop providing snacks nestled between Jewett and Lyman halls, is open Monday through Friday from 7:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. On the opposite side of campus near Stanton hall, Cleveland Commons, an all-purpose dining hall including snacks and coffee, is open Monday through Friday 7:30 a.m. to 7 p.m., with breakfast/lunch/dinner open in two-hour intervals throughout the day (on the weekends we are restricted to brunch and dinner). The Grill at Cleveland is open until 8 p.m. Then there’s Reid Market, near Cordiner and far from most everything else, which is open Monday through Friday 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. and Saturday through Sunday from 4 p.m. to 11 p.m. 

These are the options currently available to students. This is all well and good when one has a morning class and would like to quickly grab a coffee at J-Caf, or has an afternoon class and walks to Cleveland for dinner. But what happens when the ‘grind’ (or scheduling incompetencies) of Whitman College forces students into back-to-back classes, so they miss not only Cleveland’s lunch period but also J-Caf’s open hours? What happens when, say, a student not on the meal plan desperately needs a snack but doesn’t want to pay $5.19 for a Turkey Sesame Bagel? 

This is precisely where the unassuming vending machine comes into play. In some ways, the vending machine is a great equalizer – reminding us all of our love for processed corn chips and glorified sugar water. There is quite simply nothing better than cracking open a cold one (coca-cola) with the boys (your classmates) after the big game (my 200-level politics lecture). 

ASWC’s motion to get rid of vending machines, and thus destroy this veritable watering hole where minds can meet, is not only seemingly rushed (with a survey for student opinions only being sent out five days prior to the vote), but also potentially a bad faith attempt at a cheap win for the most ‘eco-conscious’ among us. 

While vending machines have undeniable environmental impacts, with most vending machines having to remain plugged in 24 hours a day, seven days a week, arguments about food waste and individual packaging are poorly founded. J-Caf, Reid and Cleveland offer a variety of single-serving packages made to be thrown away. The main difference between the dining halls and the vending machines, it seems, is the relative monopoly each corporation has on campus. 

I am by no means advocating for the Coca-Cola company, which owns the vending machines at Whitman. In fact, I hope the entire Coca-Cola company disappears under mysterious circumstances. However, it would be ridiculous to pretend that Bon Appétit Management, the corporate overlords of our cute dining options, is innocent of any societal harm. Bon Appétit is owned by Compass Group, a British multinational food-service company. Another subsidiary of Compass Group was recently branded “Britain’s most heartless employer” by Unite the Union. Not to mention the 2013 “horse meat scandal,” where between 5 to 30 percent of horse DNA was found in burgers sold to Ireland and Northern Ireland unknowingly by Compass Group, one of the largest school food providers in the UK. And, in 2016, Compass USA settled an $18 million lawsuit for claims that it overcharged for school meals. 

If ASWC is so concerned about the ethical ramifications of the few vending machines on campus that they felt the need to vote on this motion a mere five days after making it available for public comment, with only same-day notice of the vote itself, perhaps they should also consider the ethical ramifications of removing one of the only non-Compass Group affiliated food sources on campus. 

Without full transparency and due consideration, the decision to remove vending machines on campus will surely benefit few students, and actually harm those of us that rely on that delicious bag of Frito-Lays to get through the day.

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