In support of weird vending machines

Live crab vending machine
A man stares at a crab vending machine in Nanjing. (AP photo)

I have an unnatural fascination with vending machines. Not normal ones. When it comes to chips, I’m always going to choose the one that involves the most cheese, and when I’m choosing a soda, it’s always going to be Diet Coke. I never said I was interesting. But without fail, whenever I see a mention of a machine that dispenses gold bars or make-up or cupcakes, I have to know more.

It’s a fascinating example of clever design, particularly when you get into the truly bizarre. Of course, french fry vending machines are cool, but they’re too viable to catch me off guard. I’m not quite sure why Belgium needs a fry vending machine when I bet they have McDonald’s or the equivalent up the street, except maybe for those moments when the social interaction it takes to relay your order to the cashier is just too much. But, all tangents aside, I’m sure when you understand technology and science and things, it’s not too hard to make a box heat up potatoes and dump a sauce of your choice on them.

Then, there’s China’s live crab vending machine. What? How are they alive? Who feeds them? Does someone feed them? Do they just fend for themselves? Is the machine so popular that they’re purchased before they have a chance to think about kicking the bucket? I’d like to take that designer out for coffee – well, maybe sushi – and pick his or her brain because that’s creativity right there.

Farmer's Fridge salad
Farmer’s Fridge salads are made from organic ingredients and packaged in jars that can be returned for recycling in the machine itself. The machine is located in Chicago’s Garvey Food Court. (Photo from fastcompany.com)

But what inspired this whole post was an article I found about a salad vending machine. It’s called Farmer’s Fridge and looks like it belongs in an Urban Outfitters, if Urban Outfitters decided fake grass was the hot new way to bridge the gap between trendy and hipster. The salads are packed in a recyclable jar and look beautiful, not words I ever thought I’d say. The ingredients are layered to keep them fresh, with lettuce and kale sitting gently on top of crisp corn and bold strawberries and supposedly protein-packed quinoa. In a world where there’s always a tempting Taco Bell around the corner – or a burrito vending machine – a salad dispenser sounds like a life-changing proposition. Just today, I spent 20 minutes in line for a salad at a create-your-own place, and while I was happy with my Tex-Mex creation, my willpower is wearing thin. Farmer’s Fridge combines clever engineering and smart design to meet a real need. Plus, you get to eat salad out of a jar, which infuses a simple salad with a heartening dose of whimsy.

Growing up, I always thought New York’s automats of yore sounding like the coolest thing ever. They tried to bring the trend back in the mid-2000s with an automat called Bamm, and I was totally committed to getting there one day. Unfortunately, while “researching” for this post (aka having a little too much fun clicking through galleries and gasping at what mechanically inclined people can make a machine dispense at will), I learned Bamm closed in 2009. I’m a little heart-broken my childhood dream is no longer – I know, dream big, Shayna – but you’ll be relieved to know I did get my chance to try out the vending-machine meal phenomenon a couple years ago when I took a weekend trip to Amsterdam during my semester abroad. We went to this chain place called FEBO, and I nearly tripped over myself shoving Euros in the machine. Now, I’m not going to lie to you: My burger was not the best I’ve ever had. But it was definitely one of the most fun. Not-quite-crispy-enough veggies can’t put a damper on the delicious taste of novelty.

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Hungry for more? Here are a couple lists of innovative vending machines worldwide:

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