Human Chow: A Noble Failure

David Yerle recently blogged about a nutritionally complete food that would put an end to that pesky eating business.  This reminded me of my experiments with Human Chow.

I like food as much as the next person — perhaps more.  I can consume horrifying quantities of food, have rarely met a buffet I didn’t like, and will eat almost anything.  In fact the most common question I get at a restaurant is “Do you have a hollow leg?”.  I haven’t been kicked out of a buffet yet, but one waitress refused to bring me more food for fear I would hurt myself (and it wasn’t even a buffet!).

Yet, eating is something I only enjoy occasionally.  On the other days, it is a chore.  In fact, it’s such a chore that I’m a chronic meal skipper.  It’s not uncommon for me to go a day or two without food simply because I don’t feel like shopping.  Seriously: if it’s a choice between going hungry and getting up off my butt, I’ll go hungry.  Besides, eating is such a pain. Am I getting the right vitamins and minerals?  Essential fats?  Are soybeans good for me this week?  Will all that supposed estrogen in tofu really make me grow breasts?

Then I glance enviously at my cats.  When they are hungry, they simply partake of a trough full of kibble.  There is no worry about balancing their diet, eating a rainbow of fruits or counting calories.  Their food is nutritionally complete.  Just eat. One bag gives them all they need.  Why should they be better than me?  Resolved to redress this lamentable situation, I set out to produce a nutritionally complete food —  Human Chow.

Right about now, you may be wondering about my qualifications to do this.  Let me assure you, I had absolutely none.  All I had was unmitigated gall, a willingness to put my body at risk for a stupid cause, and a firm belief that Ignorance was no barrier to success.  So armed with no further knowledge than how to turn on my oven and a vague idea that vegetables were supposedly healthy, I set out.  To no one’s surprise but my own, this experiment was a grand failure.  This article chronicles these failures, which consist of  Unimix, Salmon Balls, Pucks, Frownies, NutriCubes, Prison Loaf and IRBs.

Unimix. This is the UN famine relief food.  I tried making my own variation, which consisted of cornmeal, sugar and olive oil.  I also tried a variation with chickpea flour.  The former was edible, the latter not so much so.  Flavor was ok (I ate it like a cracker), although a tad sweet, but it wasn’t very filling.

Salmon Balls.  This is what happens when all you have in your pantry is canned salmon, kale, oats, and an onion.  Many people would not consider any of these ingredients appetizing, but a little logic made me wonder.  If mixing delicious foods (like chocolate and feta) can produce gross results, then would mixing gross foods produce delicious results?  I minced the kale and onion, mixed everything into a dough/paste, then steamed until they had enough structural integrity to withstand gentle man-handling.  The flavor was ok, although the texture was a bit slimy at times and they were kinda gross cold.  They also left my hands a bit slick and required refrigeration.

Pucks.  Named after the hockey puck, due to its similar shape, texture and flavor.  This was a truly half-hearted attempt, consisting of some whole wheat flour, protein powder (I think), and some vitamin tablets mixed in.

Frownies.  A friend dared me to make some nutritionally complete brownies, so I made some brownie batter and threw in a can of sweet potato.  I reasoned that since sweet potatoes were the most nutritious vegetable (that week at least) that this was close enough.  The results were delicious, but I doubt they met the criteria for Human Chow.  Besides, they were too high in calories.

Nutricubes.  What if I minced various fruits and veggies and mixed them with gelatin to produce food bits in a gelatinous matrix?  I liked the idea simply because the name was cool and it seemed Star Trek-ish (old series that is).  Well, the results were a failure.  It was edible, but not filling.  How many fruits and veggies can you get when they’re minced and mixed in gelatin?

Prison Loaf.  I ran into this online.  Apparently, some prisons created a nutritionally complete loaf that was served to unruly prisoners as punishment, and was so enthusiastically received that the ACLU cried foul.  Only an idiot would attempt to eat this stuff, so I got to work.  The first red flag was the fact that one of the ingredients (imitation grated cheddar) was not available at my local ghetto mega-mart.  When your local ghetto mega-mart is too high class for an ingredient, you are in trouble.  But undeterred, I splurged for the real cheese.  I then formed the loaf, baked the stuff, took a taste and gagged.  Technically speaking, it didn’t taste bad, for it had no taste.  Yet miraculously, it had a very strong after-taste.  Imagine chewing on a loaf of stale bread and after swallowing, tasting tomato paste.  What did I do?  What I always did with a failed cooking experiment.  I chopped it up into chunks and put it back into the oven, reasoning that drying it out would somehow make it better (rather than worse by concentrating the crappy [after]taste).  To no one’s surprise but my own, it was still inedible and even my cats wouldn’t touch it.  Fortunately a friend stopped by with his dog, and his dog liked the “doggy treats” so much, that he got a bag to take home with him.

IRB.  This was a cheat, but was the closest thing to a success I had.  It consisted of Special K high protein cereal, protein powder and water.  Some variants included fruit.  The result was a decent home-made protein bar that saw me through Hurricane Ike a few years back — and hence the name.  IRB is short for Ike Ration Bars.  I kept eating them for a while, but when I went without food for two days rather than eat one more bar, I gave up on them as well.

So here we are.  I still dream of the day when I can scoop out some kibble, put a feed back around my mouth, and graze while working.

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6 thoughts on “Human Chow: A Noble Failure

  1. I am with you whole-heartedly. I never thought of pet food in this way before. I am uncomfortably envious of all cats and dogs now.

    Did you really try all of this! That is amazing! I wish I was more driven in my quest to stream-line eating. Aside from the ‘culture’ of eating, which I argue we could do without, I really just see it as time and money ill-spent.

    I think that when the hunt was still a regular activity, and when communities were based entirely on the way they specialized their food-producing labor, then eating is a cultural centerpiece. It informs not only the manner in which they eat, but the manner in which they live. Food wasn’t always easy to come by. It was the shared approach to deal with this difficulty that gave rise to culture. Now, I often just buy a sandwich and stuff it in my face. If anything, our multi-tasking, fast-paced culture would benefit from some freed up time.

    That being said, meals are a meeting place for a variety of very important reasons. I can see the other side very clearly. I just want my Human-chow. I want it bad.

    1. Yes, I tried all of this :). In fact, I think I tried more (like home-made UN famine relief food), but forgot about them until after I posted. I might have to update the post…

      The only one I consumed for any length was the IRB. It actually was pretty decent. I just got tired of it, and it didn’t help that it had a slightly sweet flavor (I prefer savory foods).

      Interesting thoughts on the hunt; I never thought of it that way… I hear you on food as a cultural (and social) activity. I still went out to eat to socialize (and gorge on non-IRBs) 😀

  2. Very funny, BR! I like an honest experiment, but I am not quite sure that you have come up with the next food revolution, yet. 😉
    I have had some of my best experiences with food when eating street food in Thailand. Their salads with green mango and chopped peanuts are fantastic and I like snacking on pineapple and watermelon. Sadly, these days you see fast food becoming a staple there, too. Even though it’s bad quality and expensive when compared to local food.
    When I clicked on the Wikipedia-article you referred to I saw it refer to some of the terrible stuff people rely on to keep them alive, and then suddenly, it featured ‘nut roast’. From my experiences with buddhist vegetarian cooking, I can approve of that.
    If you are going to experiment more, I wish you good luck. 🙂

    1. Thailand street food. I envy you. If Thailand is anything like some other countries, fast food is a status symbol! Yes, in some places, eating at McDonald’s is what the rich people do!

      Nut Roast… it doesn’t sound so bad….

  3. That was hilarious. Your sense of humor is really shining through in your latest posts and I really appreciate it. You really have a comic vein.
    My favorite, “when your local ghetto mega-mart is too high class for an ingredient, you are in trouble.”
    It does seem like some kind of bar would be nicer than a shake, though it’s true that shakes would be easier to flavor. But I don’t think I’d feel like I’ve eaten without actually having to chew.
    I just have a question: how on Earth can you manage to go without food for 2 days? If I go without food for 3 hours I start to feel dizzy. I think if I went 8 hours without eating I’d just faint.

    1. Thanks!

      I hear you on the shake vs. bar. There’s a huge psychological aspect to food that this sort of experiment brings to light. Chewing and bulk are important, which is another reason I was concerned about calories. I wanted to feel I had eaten. For me, a big part of that is savory foods. I can eat sweet stuff, but savory feels more like a meal to me.

      I think different people are wired differently. I have a high tolerance for not eating. Seriously, if I know I’m having dinner with friends, I won’t bother eating anything during the day, reasoning that I’ll eventually eat.

      Caffeine and Energy Drinks help.

      I once went without food for 4 days to prove I would not descend into cannibalism. Maybe I’ll blog about that too 😀

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