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May 3, 2015 | by  | in Features |
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In Which Sharon Eats Baby Food for a Week

Despite being an incredibly lazy person, the one arena in my life where idleness has failed to reign is food. I see every meal as an opportunity for edible happiness and I delight in slow ambles down supermarket aisles and farmers’ markets picking out special ingredients, and returning home to lovingly transform them into dishes—the extent of convenience in my diet only goes so far as sliced bread.

I’m unsure as to how much of the population shares such slow-food sensibilities, and on the other end of the spectrum are those who see food and cooking as an archaic, time-consuming chore. This has been recognised in product form with Soylent, which was created out of the “disproportionate amount of time and money” spent on meals, promising that you’ll “never have to worry about food again”. Still in its early stages, whether or not the world will take to this liquid meal-replacement is yet to be seen, but it has undeniably generated buzz and curiosity.

Even I have been drawn to the time and money saving potential of such a diet, but my curiosity centered around a different food source, one that has been around for much longer than Soylent—baby food. In many ways, baby food parallels Soylent—it requires little or no preparation, can be eaten on the go, and you don’t need to chew. It’s also cheaper at $1 a serving and readily available at your local supermarket. The largest difference, of course, is Soylent’s nutritional makeup, designed to provide all the nutrients an adult needs—whereas baby food is, well, for babies.

Undeterred, I embarked on an experiment in which I aimed to only eat baby food for a week. Can baby food replicate the benefits that trendy products like Soylent promise? Will I miss chewing? What does baby food even taste like these days? Am I going to be hungry a lot? The week begins…

DAY 1:

I wake up at the early hour of 1pm, feeling normal though with a new inquisitive frame of mind, excited to uncover the answers that will surely benefit humankind. I lay out the ground rules for my experiment: one week, baby food only. I also decide that I am allowed to drink as I normally would—e.g. tea, coffee, milk are okay—just no solid foods.

After a cup of tea, I toddle down to the trusty New World Metro on Willis Street in search of baby food. Upon entering, I am faced with the first direct challenge of my diet—free samples. A kind-looking woman is serving some kind of tomato-based sausage risotto in little plastic cups with little plastic spoons and both the cheapskate and the burgeoning hunger inside me are yelling to reach out and subtly shovel down at least three samples, as I normally would. In an act of courage and honesty, I defiantly shake my head as the woman makes eager eye contact with me and I move on to the baby food aisle.

The baby food aisle, as it turns out, is the same aisle where the sanitary pads and deodorants are. I had never noticed their place there until today, and a satisfactory feeling of discovery came over me. I stood there wondering what else the routine of day-to-day life hides under my nose. Do supermarkets arrange their aisles so that there is always something you need from each one? When you don’t need sanitary pads, you might reach for baby food, and when you don’t need toilet paper you need… lightbulbs? I snap out of my mental segue and return to my scientific search for the truth.

The baby food pottles and cans look incredibly cute on the shelves and I feel like a giant as I take one in my hand. There are a variety of flavours both savoury and sweet, and there are even some that come in handy squeezy pouches. It is a pleasant browsing experience. I select a few sweet ones and only two savoury ones, which look a lot more frightening. As I pay for my items, I wonder if the cashier will be amused at me buying baby food or if they think I have a baby and if I should come up with a name for my pretend baby. I am disappointed, but not surprised, when they serve me the way the normally do: silently, with glazed eyes and no discernible expression.

On the way home, I try the first of the baby food. It’s one of the handy squeezy pack ones, and I feel good that the convenience of baby food is already proving itself. Coconut and chocolate custard—my first impression is that it actually tastes pretty good, and immediately after that I screw up my face as the texture is fully processed. It is cold and lumpy with little bits, which I assume is dried coconut, foreign and unpleasant to have in your mouth. I try my best to ignore the texture and focus on the taste, and as I make my way home snacking from the plastic vessel, I feel slightly futuristic. I manage to finish the pouch by the time I get home and I can certainly feel it in my stomach as a strange clump of cold mush.

I am still hungry and I open a can of vanilla custard, which sounds pretty appetising. I look inside at the grey-yellow, slightly watery mush, resemblant of David Lynch-ian Garmonbozia and then change my mind. I stir it hopefully, and taste a spoonful. It’s terrible. It doesn’t register at first, and then the “vanilla” of the custard sets in, with “vanilla” tasting a whole lot more like metal. There is no sweetness to make up for the metallic aftertaste and once again, the regurgitated texture challenges my gag reflexes. I try and eat more of it, hoping that I will become accustomed to the lumpy bland metal, but can only stomach down half of it. My stomach is disturbed and while not full, my appetite goes into hiding. Lacking in energy, I go to bed extra early and sleep through to the next day.

Day 1 menu

Wattie’s chocolate coconut custard (120g)
Cost: $1.69
Rating: ★★★

Wattie’s vanilla custard (120g)
Cost: $1.09
Rating: ★

Total cost: $2.78

DAY 2:

I wake up painstakingly early at 11am to meet a friend for a coffee. I feel quite lightheaded and I am very hungry. I have apple and mango puree for breakfast and I’m pleasantly surprised; it’s like an extra-thick fruit smoothie, the best of the baby food so far. Feeling hopeful, I also have an apple and porridge blend, which is worse than the apple and mango but better than the chocolate coconut custard. At the café my friend tells me how her plan to be engaged by 25, married at 26 and popping babies out by 28 has been hampered by her dumping her boyfriend. I feel like I’m on a television sitcom where a character has turned 30 and is having a breakdown, and then I myself have what appears to be an intestinal breakdown. The coffee does not agree with the baby food, as if the two foods can tell they are meant for stomachs of different ages. I quickly go home, have an unpleasant time on the toilet, lie in bed in the foetal position, and binge watch old episodes of Survivor until I pass out.

Day 2 menu

Wattie’s apple and mango (150g)
Cost: $1.09
Rating: ★★★★

Wattie’s apple and banana porridge (170g)
Cost: $1.49
Rating: ★★★

Total cost: $2.58

DAY 3:

I have yet to brave the savoury baby foods and I am worried about my stomach. So far after each pureed meal I have felt unsure if I was full or just queasy. Now only the two savoury choices were left—a canned pumpkin, potato and beef, and a squeezy pouch of sweet baby vegetables. I decide to start with the protein first. It is a lumpy orange and tastes overwhelmingly like bad pumpkin. I think I am thankful that I cannot taste any beef, though perhaps it’s the “beef” that provides the bitter aftertaste. Like the metallic custard, the overall background flavour is bland, so the bitterness goes unheeded. At best it could be described as really bad canned pumpkin soup. I unhappily eat half of it out of hunger.

I then twist the top off the sweet baby vegetables. It is a more yellowy orange and I feel more hopeful about this one due to its lack of meat. I am proven horribly wrong. There is nothing sweet about the baby vegetables and it is the first of the baby food that I have to spit out. Whatever vegetables were put into this baby food must have been farmed in the depths of Hell, left to rot, regurgitated by Satan himself and then sold to Heinz. I gulp down water to rid the putrid, bitter, grainy mess before heading gloomily to the supermarket to restock.

This time I head to the larger Chaffers New World, where the baby food selection stretches out before me like a culinary horizon of opportunity. There are a whole lot more flavours here and the cute packaging fools me before I remember how dismal my week has been so far. I see other people with baskets of solid, tasty foods and I glare at them, hoping they feel grateful that others are sacrificing pleasures of food for scientific knowledge.

As I continue to browse, a man about 40 years of age, wearing glasses and fleece, joins me in front of the baby food, eventually selecting a four pack can of pureed apples. I am confused and wonder why this mild-looking man is also eating baby food. Is it the new yuppie trend? Is the state of his stool also suffering? I wonder if it is inappropriate to ask him and then I remember that babies are not an abstract concept and that some people actually do have babies that eat baby food.

Day 3 menu

Wattie’s pumpkin, potato and beef (120g)
Cost: $1.09
Rating: ★

Heinz sweet baby vegetables (120g)
Cost: $1.69
Rating: 0

Wattie’s banana custard (120g)
Cost: $1.09
Rating: ★

Total cost: $3.87

DAY 4:

I drink a lot of milk before I eat anything in an attempt to feel more full. It dawns on me that babies are the perfect demographic to feed terrible tasting food to: they can’t talk or write or know about consumer rights. Should I become the voice for babies everywhere and do something about the foul slop they are being fed?

I ponder this as I pick out my meal. I select a squeezy pouch labeled “Spag Bol Mash”. I feel like an astronaut holding it in my hand but fear tasting it; the smell is reminiscent of the dreadful vegetables from yesterday. I bravely taste and wait for some awful flavour—it doesn’t come! I slurp a bit more of the “fork-mashed by hand” spaghetti bolognese and actually enjoy it. It tastes just like the solid form, even with little bits of pasta, and the wonder of drinking spaghetti from a squeezy pouch distracts me from the texture. I ravenously finish the pouch’s contents. To follow, I gulp down a banana and berry puree, which is also really, really good. I wonder if I have just been lucky with my selections or if my palate has shifted and I am slowly transforming into a baby.

Later that day I hang out with an old boyfriend. I bought and finished another pouch of spag bol mash on the way to his flat and I am the fullest I have been all week. We are watching The X-Files and I am unsure if either us are trying and failing to make a move. It doesn’t matter because very quickly a terrible wave of discomfort that can only signal diarrhoea begins to pass over me. Oh no. Agent Mulder is trying to calm down a hostage taker but I feel like he is trying to calm my bowels. The hostage taker acts as a medium for my bowels and as they start yelling my bowels, too, become enraged.

I know I am getting picked up soon and going to his bathroom is out of the question—there would be no hiding what wants to come out of me. My ex says something about the show but I have no idea what he is saying, I hope my facial expression isn’t too contorted—I feel like my eye is twitching. I am getting sweaty from discomfort and I hate everything. The however many minutes before I get picked up feel like painful, painful years. Finally I am driven home where I run to the toilet, where more running occurs. Spag bol mash—never again.

Day 4 menu

2x Natureland spaghetti bolognese mash (120g)
Cost: $1.69 each
Rating: ★★★★ (later 0)

Only Organic banana and berry (170g)
Cost: $1.99
Rating: ★★★★★

Total cost: $5.37

Day 5:

I do not sleep well, my stomach is still unhappy with me and I try to apologise by drinking some green tea. I wonder how much longer I can do this. I look at the remaining jars I have and feel sad. I miss adult food and solid stools. Sometimes a week is defined as five days, like the working week. And casual Friday, like a holiday? It is good enough for me, and I end the experiment with a nice solid bowl of cereal.

Grand total: $14.60 (over 4 days)

The baby food awards:

So after several days of being hungry, sleepy and getting the runs, the grand results:

Best Sweet Baby Food: Only Organic Banana and Berry—so good! I would happily eat this as a snack even when not following a terrible diet under the guise of investigative journalism.

Best Savoury Baby Food: Nope.

Best Value for Money: Wattie’s Apple and Banana Porridge—maybe it was just placebo, but the suggested presence of carbohydrate (which is missing from a lot of baby food flavours) did seem more filling.

Most Deceptive: Any flavoured custard—don’t trust the custard.

Most Traumatic: Natureland’s Spag Bol Mash—impress your ex by eating this and getting diarrhoea at their flat and then going home and Googling if baby food is a laxative.

Best Baby Food Meal for a First Date: see: Spag Bol Mash.

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