Adding bottled water to vending machines would do little to help students hydrate

Minnesotans, I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but your water is gross. As a Nebraska native and newly minted Minnesotan, I can assure you that not all water carries the same iron flavor as the Old Main drinking fountains and Hoyme Hall taps. Mockery of Minnesotans aside, the questionable Old Main iron water speaks to a larger problem: students are not drinking enough water. There are countless factors involved – from easy access to tastier beverages in Stav, to forgetting to drink anything besides coffee during finals season and plain old indifference.

As usual, there is a seemingly simple but completely impractical solution – more and better water fountains, especially in older buildings like Old Main and many of the dorms. This option, of course, is easier said than done. Instead, let’s talk about another potential source of water, the vending machines.

The only problem? Most vending machines at St. Olaf do not have bottled water. The lack of water fountains in some parts of campus begs the question: should the vending machines sell water? It would be a convenient option for students with the side benefit of making money for the school. Dorms with lackluster water quality would get an alternative and students might just drink more water. Should St. Olaf vending machines just stock bottled water?

I don’t think so, for a couple of reasons. The first one is philosophical: water should be free. Telling students that if they want water, they have to pay for it strikes me as crossing an ethical line, even if it is just a few dollars. Water is a right and even on a small scale like this it has to be accessible. We offer a lot of ethics classes at St. Olaf and we should keep practicing what we preach.

Selling water bottles to deal with the lack of drinking fountains raises another ethical issue. Those bottles are plastic and the premise of selling single-use water bottles goes against the green mission St. Olaf is trying to develop. The issue is nowhere near the forefront of the school’s environmental concerns, as anyone involved with the Divest St. Olaf campaign can tell you. But the irony is all too easy to see.

The machine idea has a logistical flaw, too: students might not want to drink water they have to pay for a bottle at a time. Vending machines appear time consuming and expensive enough to decrease the chances that students would actually buy the water inside them. Making water into something of a commodity could have the opposite of the intended effect: students likely won’t drink more water if they have to buy it out of a vending machine.

And let’s face it, if you are going to go to the trouble of paying a few dollars for a vending machine drink, you are just going to buy the Mountain Dew.
Grace Klinefelter ’23 is from Omaha, Neb. Her major is Spanish.

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