Fresh Fruit Vending Machine? — T.F. Stern

By T.F. Stern,

Have you ever heard someone explain how you don’t need to re-invent the wheel? There’s a story by Ilan Brat courtesy of the Wall Street Journal, The Great Banana Challenge , which explains some of the difficulties faced when attempting to move from junk food vending machines toward more nutritious snacks.

“But dispensing fresh produce comes with a particular set of challenges. Fruits and vegetables spoil a lot more quickly than a bag of pretzels. They cost more to stock and carry a higher price tag. Getting the temperature right is tricky, too: Bananas need to be stored at a higher temperature than cantaloupe to stay fresh. And then there’s the bruising issue: A banana can easily get squished from the 4-foot fall from a machine’s top shelf.”

Glancing at the line, “Fruits and vegetables spoil a lot more quickly than a bag of pretzels”, brought a smile since that particular statement really isn’t true. My grandfather, Daniel Vincent Wadsworth (we called my grandfather by marriage Waddy), was a sugar chemist and in his retirement years he dedicated much of his time to developing a means whereby the chemical decomposition of fruits and vegetables was slowed or even halted; enough that it was difficult to tell the difference between a piece of fruit picked yesterday from one picked six weeks earlier, so much for the term “fresh fruit”.

He figured out the chemical make up of an inexpensive coating which stopped fruit from spoiling for a significant time period. I was fairly young and perhaps he was pulling my leg when he handed me an orange which he claimed was several months old, an orange which appeared and tasted in every way “fresh”; instinct tells me he was telling the truth, something about the way he explained it validated his words.

I’m told Waddy was paid a handsome amount by one of the large food companies to make the formula “disappear”; maybe the secret is sitting on a shelf collecting dust at General Foods or one of the other huge corporate giants. In either case, refrigeration may not be the answer to making fruits and vegetables available for vending machines; the chemical process which causes them to deteriorate can be inhibited at room temperature.

There you have it, one of the mysteries of the universe; why would a civilized society intentionally hide a secret which makes fruits and vegetables less susceptible to spoilage? How much food is thrown away each day because it no longer appears desirable? What’s it worth to the world to make our food supply last a bit longer? I only ask because with the threat of Climate Change, either colder or hotter, wouldn’t it be wise to save for the day when crops produce less or fail due to shorter growing seasons?

This picture originally appeared on Meridian Magazine’s website during one of their fundraising drives. With Thanksgiving just around the corner, wouldn’t it be wonderful if we took stock of our blessings, an abundance of food being one of them? There’s an old saying, “Waste not want not”; showing our gratitude by making better use of what has been provided seems appropriate.

The Moral Lib­eral asso­ciate edi­tor, T.F. Stern, is a retired City of Hous­ton police offi­cer, self-employed lock­smith, and gifted polit­i­cal and social com­men­ta­tor. His pop­u­lar and insight­ful blog, T.F. Sterns Rant­i­ngs, has been up and at it since Jan­u­ary of 2005.