April 4, 2020

Live Crabs in Vending Machines and Other Exceedingly Odd Offerings


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Screen shot 2013-01-07 at 8.06.34 AMEric Steinman Care2

This country, unlike the many other bustling and inventive places throughout the world, has always been, at least comparatively, somewhat conservative and conventional when it comes to the contents of its vending machines. Sodas and candies take up the majority of the inventory, as selling cigarettes and beer via a machine is largely frowned upon (if not entirely illegal) in this country. But even without the more illicit retail items, American vending machines are uninspiring and pedestrian, at best. For most Americans, the vending machine serves as a last ditch option for sustenance or hydration (think candy bars and Vitamin Water) and not the sort of destination that denotes fresh and vital food choices. In China, as well as many other places in this wide world of vending, it is something decidedly different altogether.

Screen shot 2013-01-07 at 8.06.11 AMRecent reports in the international media have revealed that in a limited sector of the Chinese vending machine market, fresh and vital is exactly what is in stock. In a Nanjing subway station, there exists a vending machine dispensing live crabs, presumably for consumption, and not cuddling. So, if you are in Nanjing, you have missed your train, and you have 8 minutes to kill before the arrival of the next one, for approximately 2 to 7 dollars (15 to 50 Yuan) you can have a crab and some ginger-infused vinegar to go with it.

The crabs are kept at between 32 and 50 degrees Fahrenheit — not enough to freeze them, but cold enough to make them docile, and are contained in little plastic pods (somewhat reminiscent of the film The Matrix, where humans are captive in similar energy pods and used as batteries). Put the money in, and a submissive and sufficiently chilled crab rolls out of the bottom of the machine. Below is a video from Japanese television profiling the machines and their crustacean inhabitants (note: the report is entirely in Japanese, but easy enough to figure out what is going on):

These machines, which are exclusive to the Chinese market, are reportedly selling 200+ crabs a day. However, there is no word on what customers actually do with the crabs after purchase. Do they eat them on the train? Bring them home for preparation later? Or do they set them free in the ocean for good luck?  in all probability, these crabs don’t have much longer than a train ride to think about their very sad and pathetic lives. In addition, there is something revealed in this new mode of edible commerce that serves as proof positive that people ain’t no good. Keeping live crabs in restrictive plastic cages, in near freezing temperatures, with no food, no water, for lord knows how long is just not humanity at its best (not to mention the uncertain demise of an animal purchased in a subway for a few bucks – you could figure out how this is just an invitation for cruel teenage boys). There is something remarkably callous and inhumane about the whole enterprise, and that said knowing full well how reprehensible our current industrialized livestock system can be.
Inhumanity aside, the crab vending machine phenomenon is just one of a series of bizarre, and sometimes inspired vending machine concepts that exist throughout the world. Recently, Pennsylvania has seen the proliferation of wine vending machines throughout the state, but that is about the extent of vending innovation in this country. Elsewhere, there is virtually no limit to the fantastic and peculiar offerings via machine. Everything from hot French fries in Australia to a truly outstanding, fully automated, pizza vending machine in Italy, which takes only 3 minutes from flour to pie
While it is difficult to get behind vending machines as the way of the future; as they have already experienced their moment of novelty. Still, they hold a distinct appeal, not so much in product but in concept and ingenuity. The live crab option being somewhat of an obvious moral low-point in vending machine history, what do you think some of the high points might be? Have you ever seen something astounding or, dare I say, inspiring coming out of a vending machine? What is the strangest thing you have ever witnessed being sold from a vending machine? What is the next great vending machine idea that has yet to be tapped?

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Hard Sell for China Vending Machine?

By Josh Chin From China Real Time:

Ever walk through a subway station and find yourself gripped with a sudden, irrepressible desire for live crab? A company in China has you covered.

Twin Lakes Crab Co., based in Gaoshun County roughly an hour-and-a-half drive south of the southern Chinese city of Nanjing, recently unveiled what appears to be the world’s first live crab vending machine.

The machine, installed in the Nanjing subway and first reported in English by Shanghaiist (see Chinese report here), sells crabs at prices ranging from 15 to 50 yuan, or roughly two to seven dollars, depending on size. The crustaceans in question are hairy crabs, a regional specialty treasured throughout China and elsewhere for their roe. And since no one would dare eat hairy crab without ginger-infused vinegar, the bottom shelf offers bottles of that as well.

Not surprisingly, the machine has caught the interest of Japanese media, with one Japanese TV station producing a video that details how it all works (h/t: Dailymotion):

The machine reportedly keeps the crabs, each packaged in its own custom-designed plastic cage, at 5 degrees Celsius — cold enough to put them to sleep but warm enough to keep them breathing. A sign next to the machine guarantees each crab will come out alive, offering compensation of three live crabs for every dead one that pops out.

“Yes, the legs are moving,” the Japanese TV reporter says in the video. “It’s alive! It’s alive!”

According to the TV report, Twin Lakes Crab’s prices are roughly 30% cheaper than at supermarkets and the machine in the Nanjing station sells around 100 crabs a day. A Twin Lakes representative says in the video that he plans to export the machines to Japan.

Japan, of course, already boasts a jaw-dropping variety of vending machines – everything from eggs to second-hand underwear. Will a Chinese company finally be able to claw its way into Japan’s famously impenetrable consumer market?

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