Everything the body needs.
January 26, 2010 2:53 PM   Subscribe

Is the goop food they eat in The Matrix possible?

My dog ate one brand of dog food, and nothing else (for the most part), for his entire life. Apparently it is a complete food, with everything they need.

Is something like this possible for humans? If I wanted to just eat goop three times a day and nothing else, what would it need to be made out of, and in what proportions?

Would it be possible to make such "human food" anywhere as cheap as cat or dog food is? Would it be possible to make it on my own out of the grocery store or from ingredients purchased online?
posted by brenton to Food & Drink (25 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
The creator of Dilbert attempted to create such a thing a few years ago, and eventually gave up. Its apparently pretty hard to create a complete food for humans, and furthermore humans are pretty interested in variety in their food.

However a brave person, attempted to sustain themselves on monkey chow:
You can read all about it therre.
posted by digividal at 2:57 PM on January 26, 2010

Well apparently Scott Adams had some more success than I knew about
posted by digividal at 2:59 PM on January 26, 2010 [2 favorites]

See also: this question on reddit.
posted by Greg Nog at 2:59 PM on January 26, 2010

This has come up here a few times before:
A human version of Science Diet
Food Me
help me eliminate thinking about food.
posted by Captain_Science at 2:59 PM on January 26, 2010

Plumpy'nut tries really damn hard, in a way, but it's more focused on caloric density and cramming as much of a balanced diet into as shelf-stable and compact a package possible, specifically for famine.
posted by disillusioned at 3:00 PM on January 26, 2010 [1 favorite]

Yes. It is called Nutraloaf, it is terrible, and it is mostly eaten by prisoners who've pissed someone off.
posted by Jairus at 3:01 PM on January 26, 2010

Yes, people who are unable to eat can get food in a can as their sole source of nutrition. Brands include Ensure and Jevity. The maker of the latter says "for supplemental or sole-source nutrition."
posted by zippy at 3:18 PM on January 26, 2010

I'm going to advance the hypothesis that milk is extremely complete, because babies seem to nearly double in weight while feeding exclusively on mother's milk. Then again, an adult probably needs a smaller proportion of energy/other nutrients, so 1% milk might be more suitable for an adult. Then again, you'd probably want whole milk if that's all you're going to eat...
posted by Mons Veneris at 3:23 PM on January 26, 2010

I'm going to advance the hypothesis that milk is extremely complete

Breast milk would not work for adults even if it were available in large quantities. For starters, an adult needs about 8-18mg of iron per day, but the iron content of breast milk is .3mg / liter. An adult would need over 27 liters of breast milk per day at the low end. That's just far too much liquid to consume in a day even discounting the huge amount of calories.

So it may technically be complete but it would not be feasible as a sole source of nutrition.
posted by jedicus at 3:58 PM on January 26, 2010

Yes. It is called Nutraloaf, it is terrible, and it is mostly eaten by prisoners who've pissed someone off.

I don't think Nutraloaf is what the OP is asking about. Nutraloaf is a bunch of different foods all basically chucked in a blender so that you don't need utensils.
posted by Justinian at 4:42 PM on January 26, 2010

A diet of potatoes and milk is perfectly balanced for humans.

But gad, it would be dull if that was all you ever ate.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 5:57 PM on January 26, 2010

> "A diet of potatoes and milk is perfectly balanced for humans."

posted by jmnugent at 6:09 PM on January 26, 2010

Potatoes are nutritionally complete. The 1928 paper discussing this can be found here: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1252113/

Although potatoes are nutritionally complete - that is, they contain everything necessary to sustain life for an extended period of time, with at least relatively good health - that doesn't mean they're a perfect "goop" - they don't have 100% of the RDA of all vitamins or minerals, just enough to keep you going, plus adequate protein (roughly 7%, CDC recommends between 6 and 10%), carbohydrates and fat (not much but enough). That said, it's pretty amazing, isn't it?
posted by Cygnet at 6:16 PM on January 26, 2010 [5 favorites]

(There are also more recent papers discussing the nutritive value of potatoes, but I couldn't find any others that were freely available online; subscriptions were required.)
posted by Cygnet at 6:17 PM on January 26, 2010

Also, see this.
posted by Cygnet at 6:22 PM on January 26, 2010

From Cygnet's straight dope link:
if you're an active male between 19 and 30, of average height and weight, then one gallon of milk and eight pounds of potatoes will supply the RDA of most nutrients, falling a little short on the iron, folate, and niacin fronts, missing a lot of vitamin E, and striking out completely on molybdenum. Chug two gallons of milk with your spuds and all you're missing is about two-thirds of your vitamin E and, of course, your molybdenum.

The study of enteral nutrition is actually quite important in intensive care and related fields of medicine. The intestines derive a lot of their nutrition directly from digestible material in their lumen and insufficient nutrition can cause their lining to break down and allow bacteria into the bloodstream. On the other hand, excess nutrients can cause bacterial overgrowth and potentially cause problems (NEC in premature infants, for example). It can also be pretty complicated; there is a professional organization devoted to the subject and a lot of medical literature as well. Yes, a person can be sustained by goop, but it needs to be closely monitored. Remember, your dog only needs to make it to 10-15 years old–you probably want to live a bit longer. Also, if your dog is anything like the dogs I have known, they will supplement their diet with any number of things which may or may not be nutritious.
posted by TedW at 7:11 PM on January 26, 2010 [1 favorite]

What about the slop that food competition losers have to eat on Big Brother?
posted by SisterHavana at 8:10 PM on January 26, 2010

Now it sounds like there is not agreement on the complete list of everything the body needs.

But I think we know a lot. We probably have good guesses for things like the major vitamins, iron, protein, carbs, fiber, fat, etc... Where can I get a list that will give a good guess of the recommended daily intake for all known necessary nutrients?

With such a list, could you do some research with ingredients like broccoli, potatoes, rice, beans, etc... and find a good balance? Maybe even make up a few recipes. Throw it all in a blender, make the ultimate Nutraloaf.

Surely the stuff that is not known to science will be accidentally included with the broccoli or whatnot else gets thrown in, and as long as you're careful to make sure that nothing goes too high (e.g. iron, which can easily be overdosed) it at least wouldn't be dangerous.

Tell me if that sounds completely infeasible. Why, amid all these links, does it seem that nobody else has succeeded there when it seems so easy?
posted by brenton at 11:46 PM on January 26, 2010

With such a list, could you do some research with ingredients like broccoli, potatoes, rice, beans, etc... and find a good balance?...Why, amid all these links, does it seem that nobody else has succeeded there when it seems so easy?

Well, technically what you're asking for is a variation on the knapsack problem, so it would actually be non-trivial to come up with an optimally balanced set of ingredients, though an approximate solution could be probably be found easily enough, given some clever programming.

That said, I think the main reason no one has succeeded is that there's very little incentive to bother. First you have to do some serious number crunching to come up with the recipe. Then you have to actually go and buy a bunch of different ingredients and prepare them. If you're going to do that, why not just eat them all separately instead of as blended goop? They'd almost certainly taste better. Besides, having to go to the store and prepare things sort of defeats the purpose.

It could serve as the first step in figuring out a mass-produced, ready-to-eat version, but unless you were planning to actually market Bachelor Chow, slogging through the prototype phase is unlikely to be very rewarding.
posted by jedicus at 6:50 AM on January 27, 2010

Spiz is "nutritionally complete". http://www.spiz.net/
posted by rlef98 at 8:33 AM on January 27, 2010

And while I've got your attention you may think about something called pemmican.
posted by rlef98 at 8:39 AM on January 27, 2010

Interesting factoid: At one point, Cats who ate cat food started going blind. In the wild, cats eat lots of meat. Cat food is mostly grains. Some cat foods lacked some of the nutrients in meat that cats need, and started going blind.

I guess it's the kitty version of Scurvy. Lack of Vitamin C was causing all sorts of problems for people who lived on boats, so they started carrying lots of citrus fruits on boats. Hence the term "Limey Bastard" to refer to someone who spends his life on a boat.

So when making this so-called nutritionally-complete food, you'd have to make sure you really knew what was essential.
posted by MesoFilter at 8:42 AM on January 27, 2010 [1 favorite]

Also, the Ultimate Meal + an Apple and a Banana claims to be nutritionally complete, and seems to be the result of the quest to create just this sort of thing - the ultimate meal.

I've used it in the past & like it. It tastes decent and I "feel healthy" after using it.
posted by MesoFilter at 8:44 AM on January 27, 2010

This thread has some amazing answers! I don't know how I'll ever pick which ones are the "best!" Thanks everyone!
posted by brenton at 9:11 AM on January 27, 2010

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