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When the Best Meat Comes From... a Vending Machine?

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By now, many of us understand the benefits of eating good-quality, ethically-raised meat. Better for the planet, better for our bodies. Unfortunately, that doesn’t always mean better for our budgets. Even when we know the right thing to do, we might not have the means to connect the dots.

That’s where Josh Applestone, acclaimed butcher and founder of The Applestone Meat Company, comes in. He was inspired by the automats—restaurants with self-serve machines where customers could buy prepared meals—that became popular at the turn of the twentieth century, and wanted to bring that same concept—good quality, affordable food—to the retail meat market in the Hudson Valley.

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Your dinner awaits?
Your dinner awaits? Photo by Jennifer Perillo

Now—using the two machines, open 24/7, located next to their flagship plant in Accord, NY, where all the animals are broken down into specific cuts—you can swipe of a credit card for your choice of affordable fresh beef, pork, or lamb.

For me, “affordable” meat means no more than the usual $8 to $9 a pound for ground beef at the farmers markets in New York City, where I used to live. The Applestone Meat Co.’s vending machines offer antibiotic-free, no-hormones-added ground beef for just $5.99 per pound. And plans are in the works to expand with a second location, opening later this spring, in Stone Ridge.

Would You Want a Raw Meat Delivery?
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Would You Want a Raw Meat Delivery?

I've tried the ground beef and stew meat, and both were very good. Since Applestone breaks the animals down at the plant next door before packaging and filling the machines, the selection varies. Plus, they freeze a good quantity of their meat to use for their home delivery service available within 90 miles of Accord.

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So, is this simply a novel idea in a small town, or is it the future for making high-quality meat more affordable?

In places like China and Japan, vending machines have been dispensing more than just snack foods for quite some time. Fresh seafood, anyone? And here in the U.S., the idea was introduced back in 2011, with a refrigerated vending machine called Smart Butcher, developed by Chase Evans and Rob Harrison. While the machine is no longer in service, the intention was to provide fresh meat to people in rural areas (in this case, in Alabama).

Not candy: It's meat!
Not candy: It's meat! Photo by Jennifer Perillo

Perhaps now, five years later, people are ready to take the concept seriously, especially with bonafide butchers leading the way. Last year, 129 year-old Owens Meat, a butcher shop near Seattle, Washington introduced vending machines to satisfy demand for their beef jerky and smoked meats beyond conventional store hours. They plan to expand throughout the state.

An ocean away, this past February, a Parisian butcher shop, Basque butcher shop "L'Ami Txulette," set up vending machines outside its store in the 11th arrondissement. It’s especially convenient in a country where most shops are closed on Sundays.

There’s certainly interest in this country—from both butcher shops and consumers—to pave the way for this new way of doing business: Would you include yourself in that group?

Would you buy meat from a vending machine? Tell us your thoughts in the comments below.