Protein Item
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Kaylee: [about Simon's birthday cake] Couldn't get ahold of no flour, so it's mostly protein. In fact, it's pretty much what we just had for dinner.
[everyone laughs]
Kaylee: But I tried to get the frosting as chocolatey tasting as possible.
Firefly: Out of Gas

Basic Information

This is food in the 1950s Sci-fi tradition - mechanistic, life sustaining material, not necessarily protein based - that takes no account of palatability. Expect the food in question to be a paste, pill or homogenous lump and, more often than not, to come in the blandest packaging available. Expect this to be a big deal in Rocketpunk - given that it's central premise is the deconstruction of 50s sci-fi.

If you are extremely lucky the 'Protein Item' may be the source culture's idea of Iron Rations, otherwise it will be a symptom of dystopia or of a species which is increasingly abandoning the physical - possibly because of religious asceticism or imminent transhumanism. The item may also be designed to fuel the biological parts of a cyborg or bioroid which lacks the digestive system and/or sense of taste to appreciate real food or may be produced by emergency equipment from unpromising source materials1.

The famine relief staple Unimix (a blend of maize flour, soy flour, milk powder, oil, sugar and various supplements) is probably a good real-world example - nutritionally excellent and capable of being prepared as a range of breads and porridges, but still deeply unappetising to anyone not starving to death2. A more palatable, peanut based material known as "PlumpyNut" is also provided for chronically undernourished children, but on a far more limited basis. The Lifeboat biscuit is a similar beast - designed for high nutritional value and near immortality rather than palatability.

In the worst cases, this kind of food is a prime contender for being soylent soy.

Subverted (to some degree) if, like the "soy food" in Deus Ex, nanotech or some similar innovation can introduce the consumer's choice of flavour and/or texture.

(Apropos of nothing, the article name was inspired by an entry in a translated menu)


Bibliography : A Chinese Army special forces ration whose main nutrition component appears to be almost literally protein items. Described by the reviewer as being like eating clay.
1. full source reference

See Also

Game and Story Use

  • Mostly flavour material. Ironically enough.
  • Good for marking out social divisions - the alphas get proper meat and vegetables in their quarters, the betas and gammas tank meat, mycoprotein and soy food in the mess and the delta and epsilon class drones are issued their protein items from a dispenser on the wall.
  • Magically created food is probably like this, especially if it's created by an apprentice. After a while of eating stuff the wizard made, iron rations start to look appetizing.
  • As with orcish ale, a taste for this stuff could be an interesting character quirk.
  • Note the potential for this stuff as bioroid or cyborg fuel - humans may be able to eat it as well, but it may have side effects.
  • This may also be the fate of someone with unusual metabolic chemistry - perhaps because their species has the opposite biochemical chirality to the locals, or because they've arrived at the same state in some weirder manner (disease, injury, badly designed biomodification or even some kind of teleporter accident…).
  • This stuff could also be issued as a modern day equivalent of a bread-and-water punishment diet.
    • The US Prison system does indeed do something similar. The infamous Nutraloaf is issued as a punishment diet that still meets or exceeds all necessary standards of nutrition.
  • Or issued by way of social security, especially to the "undeserving poor" or those who have offended against higher grades of the system (say by exchanging food coupons for recreational drugs).
  • The cyberpunk staple diet of "kibble" is generally considered to be a protein item.
  • For fans of The Expanse Kibble gets (probably literally) recycled-in-space - whether the belta-lowda's traditional dishes of "red kibble" and "white kibble" come out of the box that way, or are methods of preparing a core material is not certain.
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