I was making lunch yesterday in a desultory sort of way while listening with one ear to Radio 4’s Food Programme. I’m not a great fan of cookery shows in general as I find the more I watch, the less I cook – no matter how delightfully last-minute and unstuffy the chef is, there is something very intimidating about comparing their devil-may-care platters of deliciousness with my own extremely humble efforts. The Food Programme isn’t a cookery show but I probably wouldn’t have listened if it hadn’t been all about space food.
Space food was all the rage in the 70s when I was growing up. I remember watching programmes like Tomorrow’s World which, I’m pretty sure, suggested that we’d all be sucking our roast dinners out of silver bags with straws by 2016. I even remember being quite cross about 15 years ago when some people came to dinner in Belgium having visited the Euro Space Centre in the Ardennes. Instead of the usual bottle of wine, or even box of chocs (this was Belgium after all and I’ve always been a hopeful soul) they proffered a silver foil pouch of nameless space goo. Thanks.
The programme was fascinating, discussing the early space food, which they didn’t worry about too much as the voyages were short and treated a bit like camping trips, then moving on to the fare which was given to astronauts later on for longer jaunts, like the Challenger missions. Initially, the NASA lady responsible for provisions said they’d decided they’d just freeze dry normal convenience food and give the spacefolk that, as part of a cost-cutting exercise.
Fair enough, I thought, I suppose if you’ve spent nameless billions on the tin can, ie the spacecraft itself, you might not have much change left to spare for the contents, which was the fuel to keep the astronauts going. But then, said the space food lady, after doing this for a while they’d realised that this wasn’t an option any more. Following tests on the astronauts, they realised the high salt and sugar content of conventional processed meals was causing damage to the astronauts’ sight (their ‘visual acuity’ as she put it) which was not reversed when they came home.
Say what, now?*
That’s right. Normal processed food, sold in supermarkets to the likes of you and me every single day, caused irreversible eye damage to astronauts – people in the peak of physical fitness. They discovered this in the 1980s, and I only overheard it by mistake in 2016.
So, although NASA wanted to save a few dollars on space food, they decided this was not really such a good idea and they stopped feeding processed muck to the spacemen. They probably left a few rivets off the side of the spaceships instead.
You and I, however, are still able to eat highly processed ready meals, all day every day if we want to, because no one in government really cares whether we go blind or not.
If I were you, I would stop eating processed convenience foods. And start listening to the Food Programme, in case it calmly lets slip any other interesting nuggets.
*I’ve wanted to use this extremely American phrase for ages. Seemed like a good moment.