Due to popular demand and the fact that we love trying weird foods and candies, The A.V. Club will now regularly feature "Taste Tests." Feel free to suggest disgusting and/or delicious new edibles for future installments: E-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Our palates have taken a fair amount of abuse here at The A.V. Club's Taste Test Laboratories, but this week marks the first Taste Test subject formulated specifically to punish those who consume it: Nutriloaf, a.k.a. Prison Loaf, a.k.a. what it tastes like to have your soul wither and die inside of you.
Served in some prisons as punishment for inmates' bad behavior (namely, throwing, spitting, or wasting their regular, non-loafed foodstuffs), Nutriloaf is essentially a day's worth of meals ground into a wet, bland brick. There have been a handful of lawsuits protesting the use of "meal loaf" in correctional facilities; however, most courts have found that, as long as the loaf in question meets certain daily nutritional requirements, it does not constitute cruel and unusual punishment. Therefore, we had no legal recourse when faced with this reader suggestion. The only question is, who among us would be willing to inflict such a thing upon his or her esteemed co-workers?
Yes, I happily prepared the Nutriloaf in my very own kitchen to serve to my fellow A.V. Club inmates, following a recipe found in this Illinois court case. For those of you who want to play along at home, here's the ingredient breakdown:
2 oz Cooked Ground Beef
4 oz Canned, Chopped Spinach
4 oz Canned Carrots, Diced
4 oz Vegetarian Beans
4 oz Applesauce
1 oz Tomato Paste
1/2 cup Potato Flakes
1 cup Bread Crumbs
2 oz Dry Milk Powder
1 tsp Garlic Powder or Flakes
Preparation: mash the fuck outta everything and slap it into a loaf pan. Cook until non-toxic.
Basically, it's not that different from making a meatloaf, save for one major thing: There is hardly ANY meat in it whatsoever. I doubled the recipe, and there was still hardly enough beef in it to constitute a decent-sized meatball.
Also, I'm convinced that canned spinach is the work of the devil and has never improved a single thing it's come into contact with. It is straight-up foul, and its inclusion in this recipe merits the term "punishment." The final, uncooked mixture smelled strongly of dirt and apples, and looked… well, we've seen worse, but not by much:
Once cooked, chilled overnight, and reheated, it looked fairly innocuous—probably not that different from a vegetarian meatloaf, something none of us avowed carnivores have much experience with. It was surprisingly moist, probably due to the applesauce, resulting in an unsettling sheen once it was plopped onto a plate and subjected to our office lighting. (Which, incidentally, is probably not that different from a prison's lighting scheme.)
Taste: It depends on what variety of chunk you happen to bite into: The loaf is flecked with whole beans and apple pieces, and I used chunky applesauce. But overall, Nutriloaf tastes and feels like wet packing material. It's grainy and sticky, making it that much harder to force down the gullet—it resolutely sticks to the tongue and roof of the mouth, its blandness becoming progressively more unpleasant as it lingers. It was pretty much unanimous that the offensiveness is more a result of texture than flavor, though it's far from tasty—a little on the sweet side, maybe, but mostly just mushy nothingness. Since no one went back for a second bite, it's safe to say that a week's worth of nothing but Nutriloaf (the standard "controlled-feeding status" term for an unruly prisoner) would be sufficiently scarring.
• "Tastes like applesauce… really moldy applesauce."
• "I don't want a bean, the beans look gross."
• "I have that 'it doesn't want to go down' sensation."
• "It tastes like a big mushy granola bar."
• "It's a little sweet."
• "It sticks to your teeth."
• "It has this really loathsome grainy, mooshy quality."
• "It tastes like punishment, all right."
• "If you like applesauce and beans, I can see it not being too bad."
• "It's the way it looks that's the problem. You eat with your eyes first, and my eyes say 'no.'"
• "Like most taste tests, it is gag-inducing, but I swallowed it."
• "It tastes like it's been formulated to remove all taste."
• "It isn't appetizing, but it is edible. It's an unusual punishment, but not necessarily cruel."
• "I didn't think I was going to be able to swallow it, but I did."
• "It mostly tastes like applesauce and grain. It's mostly that flavor mixed with the texture of meatloaf that's disturbing. That, and the idea of having to eat that whole loaf instead of this one bite."
• "If I was in the desert for three days and I hadn't eaten, I would be thrilled to eat Nutriloaf; any other situation, no."
• "Even though it doesn't have a taste, it feels like something is lingering in my mouth. It's like a Nutri-ghost."
Where to get it: Alas, you'll have to make it yourself; so far as we know, no one is commercially marketing Nutriloaf. Granted, we didn't look too hard. Maybe you can bribe your local correctional facility to slip you some on the side.