Can I eat newspaper?
March 14, 2014 12:33 AM   Subscribe

Can I Eat This-filter, with a twist. We are doing a sort of Futurist cookbook style dinner which will feature a number of experimental, non-traditional meals. I am planning to make a Casserole of Declining Print Media, which will be a regular lentil stew with strips of various newspapers added just before serving. Will people die if they eat a few bits of newspaper? I figure its OK because don't English people wrap their chips in it?
posted by dontjumplarry to Food & Drink (42 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
To be really safe, use edible rice paper and edible ink in an inkjet printer.
posted by Sophont at 12:52 AM on March 14 [14 favorites]

English people wrap their chips in it, but they don't eat it. That sounds really disgusting.
posted by empath at 12:58 AM on March 14 [26 favorites]

Also, rice paper will dissolve in water.
posted by empath at 12:59 AM on March 14 [1 favorite]

Will people die if they eat a few bits of newspaper?

This is the sort of thing you'd hear about if it were true, because people do eat everything that is chewable and many things that aren't. I'm sure I've eaten bits of paper, though maybe not newspaper.
posted by pracowity at 1:02 AM on March 14 [2 favorites]

There's a chance people could get paper cuts on their lips and tongues.
posted by amtho at 1:10 AM on March 14

People throughout the UK used to often wrap their chips in it, not any more though.
Garnish of julienned tabloid will probably do less harm being eaten than being read.

(on preview: Doubt paper cuts would be an issue; newsprint softened in stew = papier-mâché)
posted by runincircles at 1:13 AM on March 14 [6 favorites]

Chips these days (and this changed quite a while back) are wrapped in sheets of white paper* then maybe that is wrapped in newspaper for tradition's sake. The newspaper should not be in contact with the food.

(*plastic trays, or boxes)
posted by biffa at 1:14 AM on March 14 [1 favorite]

Fish and chips come wrapped in newsprint now, not newspapers. I don't think it will kill your guests though.
posted by Helga-woo at 1:29 AM on March 14

As a child I went through a phase in which I ate pieces of paper torn off the pages of printed books. Obviously a bit weird, but I never suffered any ill effects from it.
posted by bertran at 2:24 AM on March 14 [2 favorites]

If you're pretty confident in the edibility of your ink, you could transfer it to toast using Silly Putty.

I guess you would want to check on the health risks of trace amounts Silly Putty.
posted by LogicalDash at 2:34 AM on March 14 [1 favorite]

Or... I think maybe you could bake the rice paper mentioned above into a pancake or crêpe. Just layer it on top after the batter has taken form, but before flipping.
posted by LogicalDash at 2:40 AM on March 14

Make the strips big enough and put them in late enough that your guests will be able to pick them off before they go mushy. Because the mouthfeel is disgusting.
posted by Omnomnom at 2:54 AM on March 14 [8 favorites]

Just as a note some types of newspaper ink is made up of heavy petroleum distillates (oil products in the same class as diesel fuel and heating oils) while not toxic per-say, especially in low levels, it's still not something you really want to be eating.
posted by Captain_Science at 3:08 AM on March 14 [6 favorites]

You can custom print newspaper text onto edible cake paper (from a place like this). Or perhaps add alphabet noodles instead.
posted by FreezBoy at 3:30 AM on March 14 [2 favorites]

Alphabet noodles stuck together by hand and then dipped in the soup and Gutenberged upon flatbread
posted by LogicalDash at 3:53 AM on March 14 [1 favorite]

I work with kids who eat everything, including newspapers and magazines. They're still here, and they are little. Your guests will be fine, although probably weirded out.
posted by goodbyewaffles at 4:18 AM on March 14

English people used to wrap fish and chips in newspaper, before food hygiene was invented.

It hasn't been permitted to wrap fish and chips in newspaper for decades. White paper is used instead.

Whether your guests will die immediately as a direct result of eating cooked newspaper, I would guess not. That doesn't mean it's either hygienic or palatable to feed them cooked newspaper. To me, it would be like deliberately putting strands of hair in the food.
posted by tel3path at 4:31 AM on March 14 [9 favorites]

*ahem* Many years ago, I dropped some acid with college friends that was on newsprint. It was cut into strips kind of like how you're describing.

We are all still alive.
posted by kuanes at 5:06 AM on March 14 [1 favorite]

Most ink used in newspaper now is non-toxic.
posted by Dorothea_in_Rome at 5:12 AM on March 14

> Just as a note some types of newspaper ink is made up of heavy petroleum distillates

Newspaper ink is primarily soy derived. Odds are drinking the unpigmented ink carrier would lead to an upset stomach and a run to the bathroom, but that's about all.

Most newspaper ink pigments are not classed nontoxic because they are still derived from mineral and synthetic origin and not tested for human consumption

However, you're not going to be consuming much ink at all if you eat a little strip of paper. Aside from the basic unappetizing experience of trying to chew on a paper ribbon, I don't think a healthy person is going to suffer any consequences after the meal.

If you've ever been in a newspaper's pressroom or mailroom (the warehouse where the sections and inserts are assembled)... uh, you wouldn't want to eat anything that came out of there. They're coated with decades worth of fine sprays of ink, and residue from the solvents used to clean working surfaces of fine sprays of ink, and there's a lot of dust from the paper and people working in the facilities 24/7 without sufficient breaks to give things thorough scrubdowns...

So in summary: don't do it. The ink is a trivial concern, the paper is unappetizing, and none of it's been handled with anything resembling food-safe procedures.
posted by ardgedee at 5:30 AM on March 14 [2 favorites]

Very unlikely to hurt anyone, even if they eat the strips. (You're just putting them on top right,sonthey can be picked off?) Very likely that one or more people at the party would be grossed out, though. I wouldn't do it.
posted by Scientist at 5:35 AM on March 14

I'll tell you what I told the child in my house when she started eating paper. "You know that those are produced in filth, right? Food has to be made in food safe factories. But paper could have rats running over it, and rats pooping on it, and nobody cares....because it's NOT food."

(Also - I'm allergic to newsprint. It's not anaphylaxis or anything. But I can't handle a newspaper without having a sneezing fit.)

Make it optional. It sounds like a fun party and I suspect most people would say yes.
posted by vitabellosi at 5:53 AM on March 14

You could instead make the serving bowl out of newspaper papier-mache.
posted by dywypi at 5:55 AM on March 14 [8 favorites]

So... A close family member is an expert in the paper chemistry field, probably knowing way better than most what's actually in the paper and in the paper making facilities. This person has a long standing habit of chewing on pieces of paper (kind of like people chew on their pencils, I guess...?) However, they would only ever chew on "nice" paper (think -- the kind you print on in the office, made from "fresh" cellulose), and never anything made from "post-consumer" fiber (like newsprint). Why? Because it's just gross -- basically old newspapers / other stuff you put in the paper bin in the trash room get bathed in a chemical soup to dissolve ink, remove fillers and debris/junk before being made into new stuff (like newsprint). So it'd be like eating processed garbage.

So... it won't kill you, but it's just unpleasant. I wouldn't like to eat your stew.
posted by yonglin at 6:13 AM on March 14 [3 favorites]

If what you meant is like noodle soup, where the paper is wetly coated in creamy mediterranean-style lentil puree, then that (a) kind of spoils the point because the print is obscured by the opaque sludge, and (b) is almost (or perhaps totally) inedible.

I'm imagining something that looks like a garnish of fried tortilla strips on top of a bowl of chili. You serve it, everyone sees that there's newspaper on top of their first-course, and scoops it off to sit on the plate while they eat the chunky stew-like lentils. (Note how apt this is: the Print Media has been declined.)
posted by aimedwander at 6:41 AM on March 14 [7 favorites]

To add to that, I'd say that so long as the lentils are not too soupy wet, the fact that newspaper touched them would not make the food contaminated in my opinion. I am aware that newspaper is inherently full of not just cellulose and ink, but also dirt, debris, rat poop, germs, etc; but I don't think about that often/consciously, so it doesn't bug me too much. If you wanted to sterilize it, you could use a hot steam iron. Paper = 451F, germs = 200F. And bonus, could even add laundry starch or corn starch spray to make your strips crispier and more garnish-like.
posted by aimedwander at 6:45 AM on March 14

Maybe instead of adding actual newspaper, you could make the stew black and white and red/read all over? (black and white bean stew with a tomato base, or black and white rice stew with tomato base, or beans and rice with a salsa roja...of course I'm not sure that any of these are "futurist" enough)
posted by melissasaurus at 6:45 AM on March 14 [2 favorites]

In my memory, chips have always wrapped in catering-grade white paper and, once upon a time, wrapped again in newpaper for further insulation (OK, grease absorption). The ink comes off newsprint onto your hands quite easily (Sunday papers seem the worst) so no, I wouldn't put my food in contact with it.
posted by epo at 6:47 AM on March 14

I used to eat paper. I wouldn't do it. In general, newsprint has a nasty taste, kind of.. acidic, I guess? Try a little bit, you'll see what I mean. Regular "nice" white paper doesn't have much of a taste, but I think rice paper is your best bet.
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 6:57 AM on March 14

I don't know about the toxicity, but I do know these things:

1) Newsprint tastes like sad

2) The texture of wet newsprint is hideous and virtually unchewable

3) Newspapers are not produced in foodsafe facilities, nor are they handled in a foodsafe way

You should never, ever put something on a plate that doesn't taste delicious and feel nice--or at least interesting--in your mouth.

I get the idea above of garnishing with newspaper, but I have an extremely firm belief--some have called it dogma--that there should never be anything on a plate that is not a food product, or part of the servingware. Garnishes that are meant to be removed and thrown away aren't garnishes, they're culinary masturbation.

If this is something you really want to do, go with the printed rice paper route. If you're feeling really ambitious, flavour the paper (with lentils.. cumin, or zatar, or ras-el-hanout would be my suggestions). Serve the paper separately from the lentils (bonus points for printing with hilarious tabloidy headlines about your guests), meant to be shredded and added for flavour. Rice paper will basically dissolve, leaving only the flavour behind.

As a matter of professional curiosity I'd love to see your entire menu. MeMail me?
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 7:56 AM on March 14 [1 favorite]

As a kid I used to occasionally chew paper, sometimes swallowed it, and am still alive.

That said, if I were at a dinner party -- even a "futurist" dinner party -- and was served a main course with newspaper in it, I wouldn't be a particularly happy camper. Just because you can eat newsprint without dying doesn't mean you should use it as an ingredient in food other people are meant to enjoy.

Alternate idea: what if you make a recipe (or a component of this recipe) that comes wrapped in parchment paper, and print the parchment paper with edible ink?

What about plating with creatively shredded/confetti'd newspaper as a non-edible garnish that can be easily removed?

I like the idea of transferring type onto an edible surface like toast or pie crust. Along with the lentil thing and feckless' spice suggestions, what about printed pappadam? I wonder, could you sort of brand a pappadam with type, somehow?
posted by Sara C. at 10:00 AM on March 14

Aside from the yuck factor, there are people like me who are actually allergic to newsprint. The printed rice paper would probably work quite well, assuming you toss the shreds on right before serving.
posted by monopas at 10:36 AM on March 14

Another kind of crazy idea:

Instead of using literal newspapers, what about incorporated alphabet pasta into the dish?

Is there any food item more associated with Print Media than alphabet pasta? I think not.
posted by Sara C. at 10:39 AM on March 14

The question you should be considering is whether this will be enjoyable and clever, not whether your guests will die. No, they won't die. Yes, it'll probably be gross and distract from your dish and concept.
posted by quince at 11:53 AM on March 14

Just because you can eat newsprint without dying doesn't mean you should use it as an ingredient in food other people are meant to enjoy.

Usually I'd agree, but here are going for a sort of late Francis Bacon approach to food where it's allowed to be kind of gross (as long as it's edible)
posted by dontjumplarry at 12:39 PM on March 14

That's why I said "even a futurist dinner party" in my post.

I used to be part of an art collective that would throw conceptual dinner parties from time to time. Nobody ever enjoyed the ones where none of the food was actually good. People generally want to be able to come away from dinner reasonably sure that what they just ate was actual food.
posted by Sara C. at 12:42 PM on March 14

Alternate idea: what if you make a recipe (or a component of this recipe) that comes wrapped in parchment paper, and print the parchment paper with edible ink?

Parchment paper is inedible. So unless you're licking the ink off Willy Wonka wallpaper style, not going to work.

Usually I'd agree, but here are going for a sort of late Francis Bacon approach to food where it's allowed to be kind of gross (as long as it's edible)

Newspaper fails that criteria, then. Sorry. I've done conceptual menus, sometimes highly so (9 courses for my friend's birthday last year that were a historical trip through important times and places in her life), but at the end of the day: you are making food for people and it needs to be delicious. Gross--either in appearance or ingredients (yum, crickets!)--can be fine at the table. But only if it tastes good and feels good in your mouth.

Unless you're going for a fully conceptual experience where the point is thinking and not eating. That's a different kettle of fish ballgame.

(Actually there's an idea. Dashi served out of multiple kettles. "You're having ____." "Oh and what am I having?" "A different kettle of fish." (possibly useful right now)

Feel free to MeMail me if you need ideas or advice.

(I seriously want your menu!!!!)
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 1:12 PM on March 14

Special edibility bonus:
6" diameter bowls, filled with lentils
4" diameter cut out of pita or tortilla sits on top
3.5" diameter cut out of newspaper almost-covers the bread
garnish of paper on top: jullienned newspaper chiffonade, newspaper origami art, magazine glossies folded like ornamental napkins, etc

That way, people who want to never eat anything that could possibly have been in contact with newsprint can throw the pita away, but the lentils are still safe, and the paper stays 100% dry.

(note, this would also be useful if you wanted it 100% edible and printed out a scanned newspaper page on rice paper; you'd still need the pita between the stew and the piece of rice paper, because rice paper is translucent and gets melty in water.)
posted by aimedwander at 1:47 PM on March 14 [2 favorites]

I used to eat paper as a child and occasionally nibbled on it as an adult. It has been a while, but I remember that the ink on newspaper tasted horrible. Most cheap ink did. So I wouldn't recommend it.
posted by danteGideon at 4:40 PM on March 14

Newspaper was banned in the UK as a food wrapping a long time ago because newspapers use the cheapest ink available, including ink made out of waste oil from cars and trucks, which is nasty stuff.
posted by w0mbat at 12:01 AM on March 15

William Pope.L has a performance piece that theoretically includes eating newspaper, but he recently modified it because he discovered that the newspaper is in fact toxic. He was eating a lot more than it sounds like your guests would eat, but I think it's still a dubious idea, healthwise.
posted by obliquicity at 8:16 PM on March 16

Write newsprint with an edible food safe pen on wraps, cut them in shreds and bake crispy in a hot oven. Then top the stew with the 'newspaper shreds'. Food safe and tasty!
posted by lioness at 3:30 AM on March 18

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