Remember George and Jane Jetson? These fictional cartoon characters had two children, a dog “Astro” and the somewhat obsolete robot, Rosie. By all accounts, Jane was an excellent wife and mother, but we are led to believe that she never slaved over a hot stove cooking meal; she simply pressed a button and dinner was ready. On occasion, we saw her son, Elroy, zoom in and consume an entire meal by ingesting a pill no larger than a normal vitamin before zooming out again.
Elroy’s out-of-this-world approach to meals looks like the prescription for today’s fast-paced world. One innovative company is hard at work bringing this fiction to life. Protica Inc. researches and manufactures innovative neutraceuticals, better understood as nourishing foods with medicinal properties. Currently, their flagship product is Profect, a capsulized protein and spectrum vitamin supplement with a meal-sized portion delivered in three fluid ounces.
As early as the 1950’s, capsulized food in its early form was being developed but it only had novelty value at that time. Although it may have contained all of the essential nutrition, it was heartily rejected by the majority of tasters mainly for psychological and sociological reasons. It contradicted everything that people had come to relish about conventional eating. Here was a meal that you either had to suck from a tube or consume as a series of pills and wash down with a drink. To accept such an approach wholesale would mean rejecting all of the social norms that had developed over centuries. The very standardization of the new product meant that variable taste and experience would disappear with the skill of cooking.
These findings were amplified during the space program of the 60’s. Pill meals were developed for the astronauts and although there was a degree of choice they rebelled against such clinical food. Things came to a head when John W Young smuggled a corned beef sandwich aboard Gemini 3 proving how important the familiar can be in an alien environment.
By all accounts, the early capsules of food were hideous both in flavour and texture. So, has anything changed in the last 40 years? Food technologists have been toiling away quietly through the years of anti-this and anti-that. Any processed food has come in for a vast amount of criticism over the past two to three decades, especially from the complementary therapy culture. Their main argument appears to centrearound the fact that our bodies are designed to handle foods unaltered in any way, and to deprive our cell structures of any of this variety will cause disease. Unfortunately for the anti-processors, there is a growing pressure in our society to spend less time on certain meals. The utopia of unprocessed foods for everyone at every meal- and snack-break is just unworkable.
The answer for most truckers, salesmen and women, mobile technicians, and time-pushed office and care workers is just about any fast food that is available. Why? Because it is there, it’s palatable, has a good texture and a delicious flavour. Forget the fact that it is high in saturated fats and carbohydrates, it’s what the astronauts wanted, and it’s what we all want whether we set aside five minutes or fifty minutes to eat.
So, in essence, this is where much of the food technology dollar has been spent: how to make the basic nutrition pack palatable with good texture and flavour. Solve this nutty problem and perhaps those same stressed cogs in the machine will choose a healthier and more nutritious option.
At Protica Research, they believe they have cracked the code. Not only can they compress more protein into a small measure than any comparable product, they have developed, in Actinase, a neutral organoleptic profile which in layman’s terms means that a panel of testers thought it had no perceptible taste or aroma. This means that heavy flavours and sweeteners are not necessary for the formulation of Profect. Add to this a shelf life without refrigeration that turns brown chocolate bars white and burgers green, and you have a real competitor to Jetson’s meal pills that a fussy kid like Elroy might enjoy.
The Jetson cartoon series was first conceived by Hanna-Barbera in 1962 at a time when McDonald’s had already been around for 14 years, KFC franchises abounded, and the concept of micro meals was fanciful and a sure-fire laughter maker. We may not yet be whizzing around in jet cars or dealing with dysfunctional domestic robots, but for the present-day, highway-bound sales representative or the much-hassled mobile computer technician, the ability to refuel their bodies nutritiously and energize themselves in a couple of mouthfuls is now a reality. No longer do they need to fill up using messy calorie-rich fast foods or sticky candy bars when they know there is a palatable vial of Profect in the glove-box.