We live in an increasingly mechanized society. Amazon plans to deliver packages using drones. Robots drive our cars. Our smartphones map our commutes. (I could go on for hours, but the calendar on my computer is telling me to wrap this up quickly.)
Even as we descend further and further into a futuristic dystopia, becoming ever more reliant on techno-wizardry, there must still be some pleasures of daily life that can’t be mechanized. Right? Say, being served a nice bowl of fresh pasta at an Italian restaurant, or haggling over the price of a fresh lobster with a ruddy-faced man at a fish market – or even having a box of chicken nuggets shoved into your hands by a suspiciously dazed high schooler at a drive-through window (it has its own sort of charm).
Food, after all, is the driving force behind humans as a social species. From the Paleolithic hunter-gatherers to the first Thanksgiving dinner, what we eat and how we eat it has defined humanity since we first crawled out of the primordial ooze. It would be madness to outsource that to a machine.
At least, you’d think that – but it hasn’t stopped some people from trying.
The vending machine as we know it has been around since the 1880s, and since then it’s become a commonplace fixture in our culture, delivering soda, potato chips, and candy to the masses at the drop of a few coins – or, rather, dollars these days. It’s almost hard to imagine a hospital, airport, or high school without one of these ubiquitous hulking boxes.
In Japan, where vending machines are especially popular, there is one vending machine for every 23 people, according to the Japan Vending Machine Manufacturers Association (yes, there is such a thing). In the U.S., there are almost 5 million vending machines that rake in $64.3 million annually. Much like their machines’ users, vending machine companies know exactly which buttons to push.
With all this money flooding into vending machine stakeholders’ collection trays, it was only a matter of time before some enterprising entrepreneurs decided to rework the winning formula, deviating from the time-tested “snacks and drinks” model to test out new markets: heated food, raw food, and – brace yourself – live food.
What you see here is the result: vending machine cuisine. Hawking everything from potato knishes to live crabs to caviar, these machines now stand like beacons on boardwalks and train stations. Some have been successful, while others are now rotting in junkyards. A few are legitimately interesting – and most are absolutely insane.
All of them share one common trait, though: Food that is absolutely risky and in some cases, rancid.
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