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Snackdown: War on School Junk Food Goes To Court

With just a month left in the academic school year, life continues on relatively uninterrupted at Levittown high and middle schools without Dover’s sweet snacks to fill time and gullets between classes. The machines had already been emptied before being removed from the buildings and there were no reports of fatal sugar withdrawal.

While both companies and school officials wait for the ruling from Judge Karen V. Murphy to decide the case, detailed accusations on either side hung in the air like a dangling bag of Doritos snagged on a vending machine corkscrew. Court documents in the case amount to a bare knuckles boxing match over what constitutes healthy snacking.

“It just appears to us that there was an agenda to give it to another company,” says Deegan, the attorney for Dover. He sees as a positive sign the temporary restraining order the judge in the case issued barring My Healthy Thing from moving their vending machines into the schools.


The school isn’t taking the claims lying down.

“Some of the items in Dover’s vending machines contained sodium, sugar, fat and/or calories that were well above the district’s allowable limits or otherwise violated the Wellness Policy,” Assistant Superintendent Mark Flower said in an affidavit responding to the lawsuit.

The policy bans snacks with more than 36 percent of its calories derived from fat—excluding nuts and seeds—and 10 percent of calories from saturated and transfats combined. Also banned are snacks with more than 35 percent of their weight made up of added sugars and anything with more than 230 mg of sodium per serving.

Flower also alleged that the machines were not on timers that prevent students from using the machines until after the last lunch period, as required by state education law, and that Dover’s machines were not computerized, as required by the bid.

Butch Yamali, the owner of Dover who also happens to be a trustee on the Merrick Union Free School District Board of Education, disputes the claims and says the bid process was rigged.

“I’m a big advocate of schools,” he says. “We’ve been very good partners with [Levittown] for many years.”

Yamali also owns The Sands catering hall and the Maliblue Oyster Bar in Lido Beach, the Coral House restaurant in Baldwin and Carnival Good Humor Co., which has a fleet of 40 ice cream trucks.

Anthony Montalbano, co-founder of My Healthy Thing, sees it differently. “No company should dictate to a school district what their children are eating,” he says.

Dover is not giving up the Levittown contract without a fight, whether the school wants their machines or not.

“All we’re looking for is a fair playing field,” Deegan says. He argues that Dover’s bid offered the school more money and that in the current economic climate, the district should have stuck with the vending machines it knows.

For all the hubbub, even a Levittown father and self-described “health freak” with a teenage daughter in Levittown schools could not give a fig about it. He didn’t want to give his name so he wouldn’t be dragged into the lawsuit but he tells the Press he favors having the option to eat badly once in a while.

“I think they should just have both vending machines and give the kids a choice,” he says. “We eat pretty healthy at home… So, if she goes to school and has a candy bar, I don’t really care.”

—With additional reporting by Spencer Rumsey, Danielle Fassman, Matthew Marcus and Michael Ventimiglia

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