The Takeout’s fantasy food draft: Best vending machine snacks

Illustration for article titled iThe Takeout/i’s fantasy food draft: Best vending machine snacks
Photo: TkKurikawa (iStock), Graphic: Natalie Peeples
Takeout DraftTakeout DraftFood. Fantasy sports. Debating over Slack. Welcome to The Takeout Draft.

Welcome, dear readers, to The Takeout Draft, our recurring feature that combines our love of food, fantasy sports, and arguing on Slack.

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Every week, we will select a topic of conversation from the food and drink world. Takeout writers will then field a team via the snake draft format. After five rounds, The Takeout commenteriat will vote on who they believe was victorious in that week’s draft. At the end of the year, the staffer with the most weekly victories will select a charity of his/her choice that The Takeout will make a donation towards.

The previous Takeout Draft: best Thanksgiving food was a starkly divided race. With roughly 1,900 votes cast, our winner was: Allison Robicelli!

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Illustration for article titled iThe Takeout/i’s fantasy food draft: Best vending machine snacks

This week, the topic is vending machine snacks, those little prepackaged gems we turn to in our hour of need. Competing in the Thunderdome this week are members of the Takeout staff: Aimee Levitt, Allison Robicelli, and Marnie Shure. The randomizer has selected a draft order:

Illustration for article titled iThe Takeout/i’s fantasy food draft: Best vending machine snacks

Let’s do this.


Marnie Shure: Aimee, kick us off. Which item is nestled in compartment C-5 that you can’t get enough of?

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Aimee Levitt: I’m going to start with Snickers.

Allison Robicelli: DAMMIT

Aimee: When I worked in a bookstore, one of my coworkers swore that Snickers had amazing energy-giving properties and since the vending machine always had them, I chose to believe her. Maybe it was psychosomatic, but I feel like a Snickers gives me a boost.

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Marnie: It makes sense: sugar, protein…

Aimee: Exactly!

Marnie: It’s kind of a quintessential vending machine item, too.

Aimee: It will never do you wrong.

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Marnie: Solid first pick. I guess that means I have to follow it up, and I’m going to go sweet as well: Famous Amos chocolate chip cookies.

Aimee: A curveball!

Marnie: Oh, is it?? I figured this was among the classics!

Allison: They are terrible chocolate chip cookies, and yet, I love them.

Aimee: Why is it you never see those outside of vending machines?

I don’t think they’re that bad.

Allison: I have definitely bought these at a vending machine. I actually did so on Thanksgiving!

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Marnie: They are crunchy and sandy, which is not what everyone’s looking for in a cookie. But a lot of times, I’m at the vending machine because I need a bridge between meals, and these definitely feel substantial in a way that one of those little sleeves of sunflower seeds doesn’t.

They’re not overly sweet, so I don’t feel like I just ate half a dozen cookies. Which I definitely did do.

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Aimee: And they have pecans!

Marnie: Ah yes, a crucial textural element

Allison: I like that there’s many cookies in one bag. You can keep it in your pocket and pop a cookie whenever you need one during the day.

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Marnie: Does anyone else keep rubber bands in their purse for this purpose? The resealing of half-opened treat bags?

Aimee: You are far more prepared than I am.

I should do that...

Allison: Marnie’s always been good at prioritizing the important things.

Marnie: You’re too kind.

Allison: For my first pick, I’m taking Sun Chips. Why? Because I honestly cannot think of any time I’ve had a Sun Chip outside of a vending machine scenario

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Marnie: Solid reasoning, and I think I’m the same!

Aimee: The healthy vending machine choice!

Allison: They’re really good! But I never pick up a giant bag of Sun Chips at the supermarket. It never occurs to me. But I’m in front of a vending machine and I see Sun Chips? I’m all about them.

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Marnie: Context is key

Illustration for article titled iThe Takeout/i’s fantasy food draft: Best vending machine snacks
Photo: Ildar Imashev (iStock)
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Allison: Sun Chips are to chips what Wheat Thins are to crackers. They’re low key amazing.

Aimee: And they have little specks of fiber in them!

Marnie: I love the ruffle. Just don’t swallow the sharp corners the wrong way.

Allison: My next pick: Linden’s Butter Crunch Cookies

Again, something I never get outside of a vending machine scenario.

Marnie: It’s like America’s octogenarians are deciding what goes inside our vending machines.

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Allison: They were a staple of the New York City public school system when I was growing up, and I will always love them. ALWAYS.

Marnie: They do have a nice little savory edge, don’t they?

Aimee: I don’t think I’ve even seen them outside a vending machine.

Marnie: agreed

Allison: There are things we love specifically because they are tied to school lunches, like French bread pizzas or chicken patties.

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And Linden’s Butter Crunch Cookies. You found some spare change on the subway? You’ve got yourself some cookies for lunch, my friend. Your day just got so much better.

Marnie: I wouldn’t rule out buying a chicken patty from a vending machine.

Aimee: Hmmmm.

Maybe at an Automat?

I’ve always wanted to go to an Automat.

Marnie: Same here!

Great back-to-back selections there, Allison. Together, they almost form a meal.

Aimee: That’s the most you can ask for from a vending machine.

Allison: I would absolutely buy chicken from a vending machine.

Marnie: My next pick is the individually wrapped brownie. No particular brand, just the ready-for-vending-machine product in general.

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Allison: Little Debbie!

Marnie: No, I’m not talking Cosmic Brownies or anything. I’m talking Grandma’s brand or somesuch.

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The big ol’ square

Aimee: The ones that are a little bit powdery and crunchy?

Marnie: Yes! No frosting.

Aimee: Definitely not. Nuts?

Marnie: I see them more often without nuts, probably for allergy reasons, but I’d never turn down a nut version.

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To keep structural integrity inside the machine, they tend to be denser than a cakey homemade brownie. I prefer the density, even if they are a little powdery from sitting in there so long.

Aimee: And if you’re pressed, you can use one as a weapon.

Marnie: Now who’s prepared??

Aimee: But I don’t carry one habitually!

Allison: If you knead them for a bit, their texture gets better.

You can make them into truffles.

Marnie: They’re gone long before I could make them into anything besides energy. But it’s a nice thought!

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Allison: I love that in your head you’re using the brownie for “energy”

Keep telling yourself that

Marnie: Always.

Aimee: Isn’t that what vending machine food is for?

Marnie: Aimee, you’ve got dual picks next.

Aimee: My next pick is a granola bar, because energy.

Also, I always hope that they will make me feel more full than they do.

Marnie: Of the chewy Quaker persuasion?

Aimee: No, the crispy ones.

The chewy ones make me kind of nauseated.

Marnie: Ah, Nature Valley style

Allison: The Nature’s Valley!

Aimee: Exactly!

I keep some in my own personal snack drawer.

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Marnie: It’s funny they sell so well, because boy, after one bite, they fail to be very portable. Crumbs everywhere!

Aimee: I know.

Allison: You get two crunchy bars in a package, but you always forget that there’s two in there, so when you open it up it’s like a surprise. It’s Christmas every day when you’ve got a vending machine granola bar

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Aimee: Oh, I never forget.

My next pick is Handi-Snacks Cheez ’n Crackers.

Marnie: SOLID

Aimee: There’s so much dignity in that little plastic spreader.

Allison: Oh man, I love that you said this.

Because I wanted to say this, but I think I would have chickened out. This is on the dirty secret side of the the guilty pleasure spectrum.

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Aimee: You think?

Marnie: It’s a very artificial cheese, but everything inside a classic vending machine is pretty artificial

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Maybe it’s just the most...vibrantly so.

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Allison: What I love most is that it has its own utensil

Aimee: Exactly.

Dignity.

Allison: I’ve always loved twee little things, like hotel soaps or airplane condiments

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Cheese and crackers isn’t a snack. It’s an experience.

Marnie: I’m going to piggyback off of that pick for my next one: Peanut Butter Sandwich Crackers

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Aimee: With the cheese crackers?

Marnie: Oh yes.

Aimee: Excellent. Those are also a good source of protein.

Illustration for article titled iThe Takeout/i’s fantasy food draft: Best vending machine snacks
Photo: Julie Thurston Photography (Getty Images)
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Allison: My youngest son has lived off these crackers for many, many years. It’s kept him alive, really.

Marnie: There’s SIX of them in a package, which always starts out seeming like such a bounty, until you get two crackers in and start dreading endgame.

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Aimee: Isn’t it like that with everything?

Marnie: Everything edible, at least

Aimee: Weekends also.

Marnie: I just love these so much that I know my first bite will be a mix of emotions.

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Allison: Peanut butter everything is the best. Plus, you know, it’s good for energy. You are a woman on the go, after all.

Marnie: I can attest that they serve as a great interlude between breakfast and lunch. I spend a lot of time at work anticipating lunch.

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Aimee: You hide it well.

Marnie: Thank you so much.

Allison’s third and fourth picks are imminent!

Allison: For my third pick, I’m taking Snyder’s Honey Mustard & Onion Pretzel Pieces. For some reason, they are the only non-plain pretzels I have ever seen in a vending machine and, yet again, they are something I only eat out of vending machines

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Marnie: Whenever I’ve been out drinking in NYC, that’s my go-to late-night pick from the bodega.

Aimee: I feel like those are only an East Coast thing?

Marnie: They have them here, too!

Allison: I lived on them for a winter at Boston University. Vending machines had the only food available in the building I was in.

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Marnie: Same with my dorm abroad!

Aimee: I got stranded in a dorm at Wellesley once in a snowstorm and that was the only thing there, too.

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Marnie: These machines have kept us all alive

Aimee: They have! Also, they sustained me on long shifts in the computer lab in college.

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Allison: I love candy so much, but I rarely buy it from a vending machine. If I’m at a vending machine, I’m not there for a snack, I’m there for a very unhealthy meal replacement.

Marnie: The powder on the Snyder’s pretzel pieces is much denser and more satisfying than the flavor powder you find on other similar snacks. Why is that, I wonder?

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Allison: It’s so you can coat your hands with it once you’re out of pretzels

It’s like a second snack

Marnie: They’ve thought of everything

My favorite is the cheddar.

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Aimee: Are either of you having flashbacks to vending machine smell?

Marnie: that slightly musty smell?

Aimee: Yes!

Marnie: wow, now that you mention it I am

Allison: My next pick: Bugles 

Another thing I never think to buy myself in a store, but then I see them in a vending machine and I’m like “Fuck yeah, Bugles!”

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I get a snack, AND I get to put funny little hats on my fingers!

Aimee: That’s the whole purpose of Bugles!

Marnie: Recent discovery: they’re the PERFECT thing to scoop up chicken salad dip.

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Allison: I honestly can’t tell you what a Bugle tastes like. I just think of them as finger hats.

Marnie: Conical snacks are always the most fun

Allison: You can also put Bugles under your front lip to look like a walrus

Marnie: Good pro tip

My fourth pick is pretty simple: Peanut M&Ms.

Aimee: Yessss!

The best vending machine M&Ms.

Allison: Of all the things they’ve stuck inside of M&Ms, peanuts are still the best

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Marnie: They’re not my go-to M&M outside of a vending machine context, but for some reason, vending machines tend to stock classic and peanut only. None of the fancy new ones or the peanut butter ones. Peanut is more filling and hefty than classic.

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Aimee: Again, protein.

Marnie: Yep! Feels less like straight-up sugar that way.

Regular M&Ms have a bad aftertaste, in my opinion

The thing is, there’s SO many fewer Peanut M&Ms in a bag, so I always end up feeling a little ripped off. But I always come crawling back.

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Allison: That’s another one where you get sad as you make it towards the end of the bag. When I know there’s only like two peanut M&Ms left, despair sets in

Marnie: oh yeah, totally

It’s why I start sucking on them instead of chewing them. Make ’em last!

Aimee: My next pick is Kit Kat. I used to believe that a Kit Kat, paired with a Pepsi, was good to keep me going late into the night.

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Marnie: A combo I’ve never tried

Allison: You know that’s my favorite candy on earth. This is well documented.

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Aimee: They are just about perfect.

Marnie: Their only imperfection is a marketing campaign that encourages sharing your kit kat with literally anyone else

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Aimee: Yeah, that’s silly.

Marnie: I’m usually alone in front of a vending machine.

It’s a solitary pursuit

Aimee: It is. Vending machines are about hunger and loneliness. And maybe being trapped somewhere.

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Marnie: Dark.

Aimee: True, though.

Marnie: Our saving grace.

And your final pick?

Aimee: Oh, this is so hard!

I’m still very nostalgic for the old-school pop vending machines that they had in my high school and then in the lounge at my college library. A little paper cup popped down, and then the machine added the syrup and the soda separately, from two different dispensers. It was so great!

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Allison: I refuse to acknowledge the word “pop” so you know where I am on this one.

Aimee: Imagine I said “soda.”

Happy?

Allison: Yes.

And this sounds delightful!

Marnie: It really does!

Sounds nice and fizzy.

Aimee: It was! The freshest Coke I ever had!

Allison: I did not know these machines existed and I’m sad I’ve never experienced one.

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Aimee: I think the ones I knew were deep, deep throwbacks. They both disappeared during my time at those respective schools.

Marnie: My final pick is Skittles. Just classic Skittles. I can’t resist naming all the candies. But it’s the bag of vending machine candy that you can probably stretch out the longest! They never taste staler from being in the machine. Skittles taste a little stiff all the time, so it’s fine.

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Aimee: They were made for vending machines.

Allison: Skittles are the Twinkie of the candy world. They’ll last forever. I wish they made bags that were all purple, though.

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It’s disappointing when you have to deal with all the Skittles you don’t want just to get to the purple ones.

Aimee: Maybe that’s a metaphor for life?

Allison: This is a very melancholy imaginary vending machine we’ve been working with.

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Aimee: It is a melancholy time of year.

Or maybe I’m just not sleeping enough.

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Allison: Okay, for my final pick: Combos. I don’t care what flavor, because no Combo actually tastes like what it’s advertised as. It’s just some sort of chemicals with too much salt. I like deconstructing them in my mouth.

It’s a snack food AND an activity.

Aimee: Just like a Bugle!

Marnie: Oh hey, I know a thing or two about deconstructing foods.

Allison: There’s a lot of razzmatazz in a vending machine if you know where to look for it.

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Aimee: There’s so much philosophy in a vending machine also.

Marnie: And, apparently, life-saving nutrients?


Illustration for article titled iThe Takeout/i’s fantasy food draft: Best vending machine snacks
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Marnie Shure is editor in chief of The Takeout.

Aimee Levitt is associate editor of The Takeout.

Allison Robicelli is The Takeout staff writer, a former professional chef, author of three books, and The People's Hot Pocket Princess. Questions about recipes/need cooking advice? Tweet @Robicellis.

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DISCUSSION

spicespicegravy
Spice Spice Gravy

I take vending machines very seriously. So much so that I documented the vileness dispensed by the Wheel O’ Death at the place where I worked in the early 2000s. Amid all of the “snacks” was this tasty creation.

Take out the good and all you have is so-so.