Four Courses With The Goodie Monster

I really, really like vending machines. Weird? Maybe. But let me explain. When I was a kid, my mother did not allow us to eat any junk food. Nor were we allowed to play any video games. So whenever we spied a vending machine, we’d stalk it like the magical mystical goldmine it was–a video game-like creature FILLED with junk food.

I’d go to any lengths to get near one. Volunteer to work Saturday mornings at my dad’s nursery to get at the 25-cent Pepsi machine. Feign a sprained ankle at tennis lessons so I could fake-hobble back to the clubhouse and spend every cent I’d hoarded in the snack machine before Mom came to pick us up. We were at a hotel and someone mentioned the empty ice bucket? There was a brawl over who got the job, because everyone knows ice machines are right next to vending machines. I still dream of owning my own vending machine.

So meeting the newly-conceived Goodie Monster was a real bittersweet moment for me. Because as demonstrated by creators Mark Jacobs and Mette Hornung Rankin, you can own your own vending machine, and you can mold it into a video game-like creature, and you can fill it with…aaaaaand here the fantasy stumbles.

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Because while I admit I didn’t click on every single one of the 12,200,000 results returned for a Google search of “vending machine in a monster suit”, I’m pretty sure the Goodie Monster is the only Snackshop 4000 vending machine disguised as a 6-foot tall monster dispensing healthy snacks. Look closely…yep. Not a drop of high fructose corn syrup or Blue Dye No. 1 in sight, for this delightfully unorthodox vending machine is on a mission of peace…and nutrition?

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Mark’s furry green project began this summer, as he pursued his own dream of owning a vending machine. Not just any ordinary vending machine–but one filled with anti-junk matter. A longtime health and fitness enthusiast with a Harvard business education, Mark was reasonably certain his brave new idea had legs, so he applied for Kickstarter. After being denied three times, the tenacious 32-year-old creative strategist started scouring craigslist and eBay for gently-used vending machines, and after a few disappointing brushes with the shady vending machine dealer underworld (who knew?!), he found a kind gentleman up in Washington willing to sell him a decade-old machine for the same price as 850 Clif bars.

“The big question then was, ‘how is it really going to come to life?’” Mark said. “I knew a vending machine filled with healthy stuff could be really cool, but how do you make it really appealing and interesting to people?”

Enter ace designer Mette Hornung Rankin of the Bureau of Betterment, who counts this very website, Portland’s 100 Best Places To Stuff Your Faces, and the ability to make entire plates of nachos disappear in a single gulp as a few of her myriad food-related achievements. According to Mette, after hurdling Mark’s lack of edible props when he made his pitch, it took a scant 60 seconds to conceive the Goodie Monster’s new identity. The meeting went something like this:

“Mark said he had an idea and could he tell it to me and see what I think, and then he brought over a PowerPoint presentation on a PC. And I was like, ‘you have a PC?’ and he said, ‘well, yeah,’ and I said, ‘well, I won’t hold it against you.’ He didn’t bring any food, just his PC, and I was like ‘great start,’” Mette recalled with a slight shudder.

Thankfully, Mark’s infectious enthusiasm and powers of persuasion eclipsed his PC-related shortcomings.

“It was a really great idea and I’d never done anything like this and I thought it would be an amazing opportunity, so in about 30 seconds I said yes, and 30 seconds later I knew what it was going to look like,” Mette said. “I sketched it out and I went to Fabric Depot and started buying fabric.”

Lots and lots of fabric.

Twelve yards of green shag and hours upon hours of fastidious wall-painting (courtesy of Mette’s husband Darin) later, Mr. Monster settled into his new home, the lobby of Chinatown’s Goldsmith Building, where Mark works upstairs at the Jelly Helm Studio.

There, this unlikely behemoth of better dietary choices sits in his transformed corner, silently reciting his favorite Teddy Roosevelt quote (“Sit softly and carry a big selection of Pop Chips”), spreading his sustainably-sourced edible health and wellness agenda to grateful snackers seeking a mid-morning/afternoon pick-me-up.

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Great job on those flying pears Darin!!

Snacks are economical, ranging from a 75-cent box of Newman’s Own raisins to bags of Peeled dried fruit snacks for $2.25, and all ingredients and nutrition facts for each choice are meticulously catalogued for the conscientious snacker on goodiemonster.com. For fun, there will always be a 5-cent item that creatively promotes healthy eating habits–currently it’s the Mette-designed Goodie Gorp guide, a do-it-yourself trail mix adventure.

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In selecting the 40 lucky snacks that lie within the monster’s great glass belly, Mark balances several factors, including the item’s nutritional footprint, organic-ness, and sustainability practices of the producer.

“Ideally the company would be located in Portland and sources local nuts, grains and fruit, that would be perfection, but we’re trying to balance everything from ‘is it organic’ to ‘is it healthy’ to ‘is it a good company employing good practices,’ and trying to find a great mix of everything,” said Mark, acknowledging that in the future, the Goodie Monster hopes to feature a Local Snacks section.

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Last week, Mark and Mette invited me down to Chinatown at teatime to partake of a lavish four-course vending machine snack-feast, set up in the lobby of the Goldsmith Building. I won’t deny it, we got some looks. Big fat green jealous ones.

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We started with an appetizer of Justin’s maple nut butter ($1.25), which Mette paired with a fine vintage tap water (free) from the Reusable Water Bottle region of Portlandia.

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Moving on, we shared the main course, a bag of Sahale Snacks’ rather sophisticated Valdosta Pecans ($2), a blend of spiced nuts, sweet dried cranberries, orange zest and a hint of black pepper.

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To cleanse our palates, Mark suggested one of the Peeled dried fruits, we opted for the mango ($2.25), 1.4 oz worth of a sensory tropical vacation.

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Finally, after a heated debate over which Kind bar would be best for dessert, Mette fed the Goodie Monster two one-dollar bills (his exclusively-accepted currency denomination…interesting, considering that Magic Garden is mere blocks away, hmmm?) in exchange for an elegant peanut butter dark chocolate Kind bar ($2), which was sliced and served.

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When asked about his ideal future for the Goodie Monster, Mark said he sees the idea as a unique way to reach and educate people via monster-distributed snacks, ultimately turning them onto a healthier lifestyle in general.

“My wildest dream would be that lots of people find themselves feeling better during the day because they’re not eating junk food,” Mark said. “They’re starting here when they’re hungry with a snack and then they’re buying healthier foods because they’ve learned something new and they like it.”

He also sees great potential for Goodie Monsters to infiltrate schools, spreading the healthy snack gospel in an engaging disguise.

“That’s what I get most excited about,” Mark said. “Influencing kids and getting them to not want to go to the junk machine. Kids would go crazy if they saw a monster on campus.”

And since the Goodie Monster is an altruistic sort of guy, 5% of all proceeds from the sale of his innards go to Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution, the food star’s movement to fight child obesity with better food.

“Jamie’s probably like, who keeps sending me these quarters?” Mette joked.

“It would be cool to write him a big check one day,” Mark said with a grin. Indeed.

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