My reminiscences surrounding the 40th anniversary of man's landing on the moon inevitably include longings for the original Space Food Sticks, those pencil-thin treats that we ate because, well, they were made for astronauts.
Turns out those sticks, which came in a handful of flavors including chocolate and peanut butter and whose mouthfeel remains memorable though impossible to describe, were fairly nutritious, as far as packaged snacks of the late 1960s went. Each was just 44 calories, and those calories were packed with protein. As Eric Lefcowitz, a Long Island, N.Y., based freelance writer who recently revived Space Food Sticks, puts it, the sticks were "kind of the original energy bar" with the classic 40-30-30 ratio of carbohydrates, protein and fat. "I don't think you could find an earlier example," Lefcowitz said.
Like that other nostalgic sweet, Vitamin C-rich TANG, Space Food Sticks actually did fuel astronauts in space. As Michele Perchonok, the NASA space-food expert whom I interviewed for this week's "Eat, Drink and Be Healthy" column, told me, astronauts took the snack sticks (tucked into a special port on their helmets) along on EVAs (extravehicular activities) to "munch on when hungry," but getting to the sticks while floating in space proved tricky. (Today, Perchonok said, "The crew eats a really good breakfast and has just water out there. They're very hungry when they get back.")
While TANG was not developed for the space program, Space Food Sticks were developed by Pillsbury Company food scientist Howard Bauman with the space program in mind; any snack for astronauts had to remain edible without needing refrigeration and could not produce crumbs, among other criteria. When the space program began to retreat from the public eye, Pillsbury ditched the "space food" designation. The less glamorously named Food Sticks stuck around for a few years more, then vanished.
But when Lefcowitz mentioned Space Food Sticks in an online column nearly a decade ago, he recognized in the number and tenor of readers' comments a great unmet yearning for the treats. He obtained some from a fan in Australia (who somehow still had a supply) and hired a food engineer to reverse engineer the recipe. Today's much larger Space Food Sticks weigh in at 130 calories; they don't taste quite the way I remember them, but what does? (You can test them yourself: Space Food Sticks are available here and at the Smithsonian's Air and Space Museum.)
What snacks do you remember from the era when the space program was at its peak and all things seemed scientific? Please share your memories. And no fair talking about freeze-dried ice cream, which you can buy in just about every museum shop.
(And one more thing: Does anyone other than me remember tubs of flavored margarine that were available in the late 1960s or early 1970s? I vividly recall having orange- and grape-flavored varieties in the fridge at home. They tasted like plastic and disappeared from sight swiftly. I've never found anyone else who's ever heard of them!)
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