Chapter 13: “Hey, what’s for dinner?”
As the back-up to a prime, or near prime, International Space Station crew member, some interesting things are happening, not the least of which have given me the ability to finally answer a question that I am often asked during public appearances, “How’s the food up there?” Prior to this trip to Star City, Russia, I could only answer truthfully about a few American food offerings. But now, following our Russian food tasting “seminars,” I am armed with some new, interesting and critical data!
Image at right: Astronaut Clayton Anderson tastes Russian food. Credit: NASA
This past training trip in Star City we had three food tasting sessions, or “seminars.” Unlike the American version, in which we are presented actual “meals” (appetizers first, then main courses with sides, drinks and finally desserts), the Russians presented their food in different groupings, one for each day of tasting: main courses, then sides, then desserts only. Drinks were varied and interspersed in each session.
Well, let me tell you, I now have a much better appreciation of Russian cuisine; and space food at that! Three delightful ladies presented us with food sample after sample, complete with a documentation sheet to record our rating of the food (“9”- I like it very much, down to a “1”- forget it!). We were also asked to estimate how many times we might want to eat it during a food cycle and list any comments we had (e.g., this would be great on a tortilla...or it tastes too salty!).
Image at left: Astronaut Clayton Anderson shares a meal with Russian colleagues. Credit: NASA
From mashed potatoes with onions to bream (a white fish) with baltika (tomato) sauce to coffee with cream and sugar, we tried it all. Most of it was quite tasty, but there were a few things that I don’t think I could handle on orbit (how about meat with jelly or chicken with prunes?). When it was all over, I felt that I had done myself proud. Throwing my taste buds to the wind, I tried it all, making conscious decisions about whether it was a “9” or maybe a “1” (I had a few of those!). After three consecutive days of tasting it was time to provide them my feedback and my favorites. This entire food tasting exercise will culminate in a later trip with what the Russians call “approbation.” During one of our subsequent training weeks, we will eat an entire Russian menu (spread out over a few days of course!) based upon our recent food ratings. Onboard the International Space Station, we will receive our food in a 10-day rotation, i.e., every ten days we repeat the same food choices. If you are thinking “boring,” realize that our menu is varied further within any given day; we eat either two American meals and one Russian, or two Russian and one American. We alternate this meal composition, and a “snack” is also accounted for each day.