Vending machines aren't typically known for dispensing healthy food.
Doritos, Kit-Kats and bottles of sugary soft drinks? Yes.
But royal quinoa sesame noodles, marinated kale salad and a juice made with lemon, ginger, raw honey, echinacea extract, infusion of edlerberry and elderflower? Not likely.
At Saint Michael's Medical Center, however, a new vending machine was installed next to its cafe that dispenses healthy, organic, vegan food, drinks and snacks free of commonly known allergens: gluten, corn, soy, dairy and egg.
The vending machine is from Organic Pharmer, a company founded by Susan Blum, a functional medicine physician who is also an author of the best-selling book “The Immune System Recovery Plan.”
“This is about food as medicine,” said Michael Petronaci, CEO of Organic Pharmer. “Our mission is to provide access to tasty hand-prepared foods that are nutritionally sound with clean ingredients. Very often, what we put into our body is overlooked and we’ve had to turn to medicine to heal what could have been fixed through simple dietary changes.”
Organic Pharmer started as a storefront in Rye Brook, N.Y. and now has expanded into vending machines that can go pretty much anywhere. Saint Michael's is its first location. The company plans to roll out vending machines at other locations in the coming year, espeically in hospitals.
“I really wanted to get into a hospital because I know the food isn’t always the healthiest,” Petronaci said.
At Saint Michael's, the vending machine had an advocate in Tracy Hubbell, the regional assistant general counsel for the Northeast for Prime Healthcare, which owns Saint Michael's. Hubbell, a vegan, works out of Saint Michaels and was looking for a healthier alternative.
“Food is medicine, and I am very excited that Organic Pharmer is committed to Saint Michael’s, offering our employees, patients and visitors fresh, healthy, and very tasty foods,” Hubbell said. “I love the way I feel after eating their food.”
While the price of the Organic Pharmer products tends to be more than a typical fast food lunch, Petronaci said comparing organic, vegan food to chicken fingers and mozzarella sticks isn’t a fair comparison.
“We try to get our price point as low as we possibly can, but products we use in our food are going to be a little more expensive,” Petronaci said. "At the end of the day, you have to make a decision: Do I want to spend a little bit extra now to provide myself nourishing food, so I don’t have to pay later in health care costs? It’s a preventative health decision”.