A few years ago, a pair of New York artists Heidi Neilson and Douglas Paulson started a fun project called “Menu for Mars“, aiming to figure out what astronauts might eat on Mars. Every month for a year, the Menu for Mars Supper Club met at a New York restaurant, “gathering recommendations, suggestions and opinions from restaurateurs about what food they would prepare on Mars”. During these research missions, the group hosted a wide range of experts and learned about related topics such as horticulture and composting, nutrition and culinary anthropology. Mission 3, the Meal Replacement Picnic, was particularly gruelling. They sampled an array of meal replacement products and found most of them to be barely edible (and certainly not a replacement for a genuine meal). Afterwards, they had to send someone to get emergency sandwiches.

Menu 4 Mars
[Image credit: Menu 4 Mars and the Boiler/Pierogi]

Their amateur analog astronaut antics culminated in an art installation, with a working kitchen where a variety of people cooked up dishes they thought would work on Mars, and visitors were invited to get creative with a “fully stocked pantry featuring dried, powdered, thermostabilized and dehydrated Mars-feasible ingredients”. 

One of the food-related issues on the International Space Station is that astronauts find their sense of smell and taste diminishes. Their solution is liberal applications of hot sauce. As the Menu 4 Mars crew continued with their research, they realised that the frequent dust storms on Mars might stir up an unpleasant taste. 

“There’s a lot of thinking that Mars will smell and taste like peroxide,” said Paulson, “so we started building a spice pantry based on Ethiopian food, thinking that those strong flavours — chilli peppers, cumin, cardamom — would help mask the peroxide.”

[via Washington Post]
The Menu 4 Mars kitchen
[Image credit: Menu 4 Mars and the Boiler/Pierogi]

Ethiopian food also includes lots of grains that are good at filling you up, and don’t need a lot of water to grow. Artist Marco Castro created an inflatable and rapidly deployable greenhouse for the event, with crops growing in agar. The species he chose for his garden were “hearty edible weeds fit for making the long journey to Mars and adapting to the planet’s harsh conditions”, including dandelion, mustard and purslane.

Gil Lopez, a community garden activist, helped them research farming micro livestock – crickets and mealworms – as a source of fresh food. The installation was home to a cricket farm with about 1,000 crickets, a much more realistic protein source than conventional farm animals. They used the insects to make a cricket-flour-enhanced pasta and Jimminy Macaroni Cheese.

“Even if you could manage to travel to Mars with chickens or pigs,” said Neilson, “they require a lot of resources, so it probably would be more trouble than it’s worth.”

[via Washington Post]
Pizza 4 Mars
[Image credit: Menu 4 Mars and the Boiler/Pierogi]

“One of the more memorable dishes created in the exhibit”, Neilson said, “was a version of lahpet, a spicy salad of pickled tea leaves popular in Burma (this one was made with dehydrated cabbage and powdered lime juice). Another was pemmican, a type of meatball made with jerky and once popular with 17th-century American fur traders.”

[via The Atlantic]
The Menu 4 Mars installation
[Image credit: Menu 4 Mars and the Boiler/Pierogi]

Miracle berries, a West African fruit that makes sour foods taste sweet, appeared in several recipes, including a cocktail – the Astronaut Reviver.

Dr Sian Proctor visited the Menu for Mars installation to talk about her experience living in the HI-SEAS Mars analog mission.
[Image credit: Menu 4 Mars and the Boiler/Pierogi]

At the end of the project, the club’s collected and summarised dinner findings were to be made available to NASA and other people involved in planning Mars colonisation. I wonder whether any of their recipes will ever find their way to Mars?

In 2007, NASA’s Johnson Space Center invited The Kitchen Sisters to visit its “hidden kitchen”, resulting in this brief history of space food: