A few days ago, I found myself preparing to do some research for an upcoming post featuring a recipe for egg pasta. As a true American I headed forthwith to the most convenient source possible to perform some "research" without all the hassle of going to a library, opening up a book, using reading comprehension skills or exercising any critical thinking of any kind, Wikipedia. A quick search brought up the main page on pasta. Upon glossing over the post I discovered immediately that I was already aware of most of the "facts" therein contained, but my attention was caught by an interesting word in the print - funistrada - a pasta dish I've never tasted, seen or even heard of before? Astounding. Luckily, in preservation of my intended purpose of doing little-to-no actual research, there was a link to a Wikipedia entry on funistrada. I followed the link henceforth, without even checking its context within the paragraph, and was greeted with rather unexpected, if not amusing information:

"Funistrada is a fictitious food item."

Follow up:

OK, now I have to admit, at this point I belted out a sigh of relief - 'No wonder I never heard of this silly pasta, it doesn't even exist. My palate is as worldly as it is refined.' After an exuberant session of patting myself on the back I decided to finish reading the entry. It goes on to say:

"...the sorts of intentional "fake foods" since inserted into military surveys to establish a baseline for taste."

and

"Other similar but less successful "menu items" include a vegetable dish called "buttered ermal" and a meat dish called "braised trake."

Wait a minute here. The Army's chicanery extends from not only one dish but to three? Nonsense. Is it actually possible for someone to believe that "ernal" and "trake" are foods that not only exist - but that they themselves had previously consumed? While I was pondering this I saw a "news" post appear online, American Idol Bikini Girl Katrina Darrell Wins Ticket to Hollywood and concluded immediately that the answer to my question was definitely a yes.

A quick Google search pulled up a few entries online mentioning the existence of the aforementioned items. Specifically I found them mentioned on culinate.com,
and at funistrada.com repeating the same story from the Wikipedia entry. Well now I'm convinced that there are two possible explanations for these sites, either

  1. The "study" referenced exists and backs up (or denies) the claims
  2. The whole of it is nonsensical folklore using a difficult to locate study's unseen contents for credibility.

Now, having invested all of three minutes into my "research" I demanded an answer. I continued, broadening my search terms and came across some posts suggesting the latter. There is a page on slugsite.com implying that "..because of the utter lack of verifiable primary references to it’s origin..."

it must be a complete fabrication. The site goes on to say:

"Whatever the reason for the term’s (supposed) coining, it’s an interesting piece of folklore, even if it remains little more than an unverifiable urban legend."

Alright, so it looks like we side with team #2. I am now completely convinced that the whole matter is a hoax and a giant waste of my precious time. I go home and drink several beers.

The next morning I remember a slight inconsistency from the slugsite.com page. In the opening paragraph it states there is no wikipedia entry for funistrada, but I already know for a fact this is not valid - as it was the wikipedia entry that sent me down the path to the slugsite.com post. I begrudgingly return to the page, verify it was written before the wikipedia post, and ruminate as to whether information could have surfaced since the August 22nd, 2007 post date. Another thing I noticed on second reading is the mentioning of actual US Army Labs, namely Battelle & Natick.

I decide to expand my search to include both laboratories in my query. Uh oh, now I've found other publications specifically siting a 1974 survey performed at Natick on US Army personnel food preferences, the Journal of Food and Science Volume 47 Issue 5, Pages 1553 - 1557 and Handbook of Food Science, Technology, And Engineering. Damn it, damn it, damn it. It appears that slugsite.com just had their battleship sank, at least insofar as the implication that the reputed study never existed.

Through some fairly exhaustive searching I came upon The Defense Technical Information Center. After several unsuccessful searches I try "1974 food preference Natick" and bang, #1 match returns: "Armed Forces Food Preferences." The abstract as it appears is as follows:

"A food preference survey of 378 items was administered to personnel of USA, USN, USAF, and USMC. Overall food preferences were discussed, and food items of high and low preference are statistically defined and identified. Differences in food preference among the Armed Forces are minimal, but those which exist are generally a lowered preferred frequency of serving by USN or an increased preferred frequency of serving by USMC."

Of course, no .pdf file is available for download. If one is to click on the "Order Paper Copy" link, one would discover:

"To order products and services from DTIC®, YOU MUST BE A REGISTERED USER. To register, you must be a employee of the Federal Government or a Federal Government Contractor or Grantee. See DTIC's eligibility requirements for more information."

I live in DC, does that count? Probably not. The site then points unregistered users to the National Technical Information Service's site. Pop in the Accession# obtained from the Defense Technical Information Center and voila: the holy grail.

While the microfiche seems like a steal for $40, I'll have to pass though, solely based on not having one of those awesome retro microfiche machines in my living room. So I guess it's going to have to be "Print on Demand," not that I know what that is, as I refuse to do any actual research.

On to the answer: Does funistrada or its sister dishes, buttered ernal and/or braised trake appear in the study? Do they rank higher than lima beans and other undesirables? In all honesty, I have never found out.

What? I did all the work, you pay the $60.00.