This winter has, for lack of fancy words, sucked. It has sucked so hard words can no longer describe just how much it sucks. I know everyone has been hit hard because of Polar Vortex, Polar Vortex 2: Die Harder, Polar Vortex 3: The Quickening. The snowstorms are becoming far too normal. I’m pretty sure people in Chicago have forgotten what a sunny sky is. Don’t want to take my word for it? Check out this infographic from ABC7 here in Chicago.
Oh, what? It was only a 670% increase in snowfall from last year? No wonder people with Seasonal Affective Disorder are just lining up and walking out into Lake Michigan. What’s a little more gray in our lives? THAT’S ALL WE KNOW NOW!
Which explains why we desperately cling to anything that even remotely reminds us of summer. I went out yesterday for a walk and saw people in shorts because the meteorologists were predicting 50 degrees. Did it hit that high? Nope. But we HOPED it would.
It’s also why I’ve been craving things like ice cream, lemonade and fresh green salads. I’ll take summer however I can get it. So when I read Internet superstar Bonnie Burton’s CNET article about a new Chicago company bringing fresh salads to a vending machine near me, I jumped at the chance to track down one of them down.
Turns out that Farmer’s Fridge, the company behind this new startup, put one into the Garvey Food Court which A) I did not know existed even though I’ve walked past that street corner hundreds of times and B) is only 5 blocks from our apartment.
The food court itself looks like any other food court with the only notable exception of the very large, built from reclaimed wood, Farmer’s Fridge vending machine. They did a great job designing the space for the machine. Ropes ties off the queue line. You’ll be waiting for your turn on a fresh patch of fake grass. And as I mentioned, the machine itself is built out of reclaimed wood.
The first day I made my way to the food court, I discovered that the machine was incredibly popular. By 1:30 the cupboard was bare with only 1 or 2 salads left in the machine. It was for the best though, because the price of $8 dollars had me second-guessing how bad I wanted a salad.
The next day I convinced myself to try one of the salads (if I got there in time). I rationalized that $8 seemed a bit pricey, but it was healthier for me than eating at a McDonald’s or a Chipotle where I would end up spending just as much. They have plenty of options to choose from including: Antioxidant, High Protein, Detox, The Cheater, Crunchy Thai, Mediterranean and North Napa. But for me there was no other choice than the Mediterranean. I like my salads with some fruit in them. It tricks my brain into thinking I’m still eating something unhealthy because of the added sugar. And the Mediterranean salad had what I wanted: mixed greens, goat cheese, mixed berries, almonds, carrot, sprouts, flax seed & white balsamic vinaigrette.
You can also get add-on proteins like lemon pepper chicken, tuna or salmon salad, or even lemon tofu for an extra $2. Unfortunately they were completely out of the lemon tofu so I opted for the chicken.
The salads and proteins come fresh each morning, jarred in a BPA-free plastic jar. At the end of the day Farmer’s Fridge discounts the price of the salads before removing them and donating them to a local food bank. It’s a pretty good system they have worked out.
Just how good is a salad served up in a plastic jar? First of all, it’s a good-sized salad. Based on the size of the jar I was worried I’d still be hungry 20 minutes later, but that’s wasn’t the case. It was actually fresher than many of the restaurant-served salads I’ve had. The berries (strawberry, blackberry and blueberry) tasted fresh, the mixed greens were crisp and crunchy and the sum of all the ingredients blended into one tasty salad.
I don’t know how much the chicken added to the salad. I could barely taste it over the balsamic vinaigrette. I’m still interested in trying the lemon tofu, but I can’t see opting for the protein on a regular basis. I also wish there was more goat cheese in the mix, but I’m a sucker for goat cheese. I’m a sucker for cheese in general.
Would I get one again? Yes, because I need to try that Crunchy Thai salad. As a person trying to watch their pocketbook, however, I probably wouldn’t get them regularly. Making salad at home is still the cheapest way to get some greens. Yet, if I were a businessperson who only has a short amount of time to grab some food, I would probably pick this over a greasy meal.
It’s hard to say go out and try one for yourself, because right now there are only two of these “veggie machines” out in the wilds of Chicago. They’re supposed to be adding 20(?!) more soon. If you’re in the Loop, though, I’d definitely say give these salads a try instead of your usual fast food choices.