Yesterday I went to a lecture about astronaut food at the observatory in Mannheim. The first part of the lecture given by Volker Damann from ESA (European Space Agency) was quite off topic since he talked about general health problems and emergency medicine abord the ISS. The second half was a bit more promising and given by Prof. Martina Heer who worked at the DLR (DeutschesZentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt) and is especially involved in research about bone loss. Mildly interesting but nothing I haven't already heard in Prof. Hausmann's excellent lecture on Astrobiology at Uni Heidelberg.
Yup, the most important man in an astronaut's life is still the psychiatrist; although nowadays this is called behavioural adaptation to make it a bit more appealing for our space travellers.
A funny thing happened though during the discussion session, when a young girl asked whether there were any vegetarian astronauts and how they would be catered for.
A couple of seats behind me an elderly
gentleman couldn't hold back "This is a joke, isn't it? They don't have to take 'vegetarians', there are enough normal people for the job." Which made me think whether that young girl and I are not normal in one way or the other. Plus, I'm convinced that vegetarians would actually fare better in an astronaut's job.
Apart from cookie crumbs which, because of the absence of gravity, end up in the astronauts' eyes, the main health issues during a space trip are kidney stones, cardiovascular problems, bone and muscular loss, and psychological problems. In most areas a vegetarian would cope equal or even better. Kidney stones are less common in vegetarians, cardiovascular diseases are less severe (after all we have much less uptake in bad cholesterol), and even bone loss is not different to non-vegetarian groups or even better (non milk drinking societies hardly show osteoporosis in contrast to developed and milk-lobbied countries). Higher input in fibres reduces testosterone excesses, the main reason for aggression, one of the major problems when you are living together for an extensive time span in very restricted space. To sum up, it would be much better and cheaper to recruit vegetarians for astronauts.
And to remind you that vegetarian food can be delicious for normal and not so normal people I give you Jane's recipe from her blog Nord Vegan: Cauliflower Cream on Chili Noodles
This is a superb recipe. The pasta 'sauce' is made from raw cauliflower and cashew nuts, put in a food processor and briefly heated up together with pan fried snow peas and kidneybeans.
I used her recipe nearly unchanged. All I did was adding some extra spiciness to the cauliflower cream (dried chiliflakes and black pepper) and used chili spaghetti for the pasta.