Days Gone Bite: Space Food Sticks

There was a 15 or so year blip in history when space--and massive government programs to explore space--was very cool. All a food company had to do was take, say, a powdered orange drink, slap a phrase such as "like the astronauts drink" on the label, and wait for the riches to roll in.

Think about it: companies had been creating drink mixes under government contract for decades, including a lemonade version placed in World War Two rations (and which the Marines called "battery acid"), but only Tang hit it big.

Because of this brief period of NASA worship, a generation learned to appreciate the energy bar--although back in the late 60s and early 70s, less-savvy marketers from Pillsbury called them "Space Food Sticks."

Space Food Sticks were first designed for astronaut use, but quickly made their way into school lunch boxes. They were about four or five inches long, cylindrical in shape, looked like semi-solid mud (or, more charitably, fig sticks) and tasted--if I remember correctly, like naturally flavored grit.

It seems like I was always disappointed in the taste, no matter what the flavor. Yet I also always wanted them for lunch--a fact which had more to do with achievements in outer space than product quality. In fact, there was a story at the time that cited general astronaut dislike for the processed foods packed for their journeys.

Didn't matter.

Despite the awkward name, Space Food Sticks were wrapped in foil and kids could imagine, for a moment, some form of kinship with Armstrong, Collins, Shepard, Lovell and the others. A couple of these energy bars and a glass of Tang would make almost any boy happy.

Unfortunately, interest in America's space program fizzled in the mid-70s, as did fascination with astronaut-related food. An even less savvy bunch of marketing types at Pillsbury shortened the name to Food Sticks in response--and were probably surprised that sales slipped even further. Within a few years, they had disappeared from shelves completely.

For some reason, however, a few diehards revived the tradition several years ago. They hired someone to forge a recipe and began recreating Space Food Sticks for sale over the Internet.

One day I'll have to give them a try and see if they're as disappointingly good as I remember.

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Dave Faries
Contact: Dave Faries