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Vending machines selling fruit and vegetables take off in US

A new breed of vending machines is emerging that replaces bags of deep fried potato chips with dried apple slices, sugar-saturated soda pops with organic juices, and candy bars with fresh cut pineapples and carrot sticks.

Vend Natural, the fastest growing healthy vending snack company in the US with 420 machines in 22 states and the District of Columbia, last week entered the Dallas-Fort Worth market; according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the obesity rate in Texas is 29 percent. The company also has aggressive plans to expand throughout the country with a special focus on hospitals, office buildings and schools.

Other companies like Vend Natural, including Fresh Healthy Vending and h.u.m.a.n. Healthy Vending in the US, are also quickly taking up residence in schools, universities, hospitals, health clubs, office buildings and movie theaters to help consumers make healthier snack choices.

Instead of deliberating between a chocolate bar or a bag of chips, consumers are given choices that include apple chips, wheat and cheddar crackers, kettle corn popcorn, vegetable chips, and all-natural granola bars.

Soda pop is being replaced by bottles of naturally flavored, carbonated water, soy milk, organic apple juice and vitamin water.

And in place of artificial fruit-flavored candies and soft chews, packages of freshly cut fruit, vegetable sticks with dip and individually wrapped bananas are also lining vending machine shelves.

In a TV report out of Massachusetts that gauged reaction to the machine at the local high school, student athletes gave their nod of approval, saying the healthy snacks served as fuel between classes and basketball practice.

As a result of a federal push to make schools healthier and combat the growing epidemic of childhood obesity, 42 states have also passed laws forbidding high-calorie, high-sodium items in schools.

The same is true in Mexico, which banned fried foods and sweets in their schools starting this year, and England, which banned chocolate, crisps and soda pop after a campaign led by celebrity chef Jamie Oliver in 2006.

The province of Ontario, Canada, also implemented a ban on junk food on school property that takes effect this September.

Meanwhile, when Del Monte launched individually wrapped bananas earlier this year to be sold in convenience stores and gas stations, reaction was swift and visceral with media reports mocking the need to package the fruit that already came with a natural wrapper.

The company claims the bag is made with a "controlled ripening technology" that extends the shelf-life of the banana for up to six days.

Gizmodo.com, meanwhile, called the product tantamount to giving the "middle finger to nature," while comedian Jon Stewart also weighed in.

"What function does the bag serve that the peel does not currently serve?" he asked his laughing audience.

To that end, he then presented his own invention, the coconut-protecting coconut case.

To watch the video, visit http://www.thedailyshow.com/watch/mon-march-7-2011/intro--pantry-of-shame.