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Tang: The worst tasting beverage in history

By By Robert St. John / food columnist
Oct. 23, 2002
Robert St. John is the executive chef/owner of New South Restaurant Group, www.nsrg.com. His weekly food column appears in newspapers throughout Mississippi and Louisiana. If you have any questions or comments, St. John can be reached at robert@nsrg.com or (601) 264-0672.
The worst-tasting beverage in the long and storied history of bad-tasting beverages is Tang.
Tang is a powdered, orange-flavored drink mix that is supposed to be a substitute for orange juice. Tang was invented for the space program. It was our first glimpse of "future" food.
When President Kennedy told us he was going to put a man on the moon before the end of the decade, who knew that a crystallized breakfast beverage would be such a vital component of that goal?
As a kid, I drank Tang because the astronauts drank it. At 8 years old, my sole desire was to become an astronaut. The space program was at its pinnacle and America had just placed the first man on the moon.
I figured if I could get used to drinking Tang, half of my astronaut training (the toughest half) would be complete. My babysitter tried to talk me out of a career as an astronaut. She said the moon landing was fake. I knew better. She just needed to drink more Tang.
In preparation for this column, I bought a jar of Tang. I made a glass for old-time's sake, just to see if it is still as bad as I remember. It is. Tang tastes like watered-down orange Kool-Aid, except it is not as sweet and not as good.
When Neil Armstrong proclaimed "That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind," rest assured he was not referring to advancements made in America's breakfast-beverage industry.
I am convinced that the eventual cancellation of the Apollo space program was due to a massive overdose of Tang at Mission Control.
It was Apollo 13's Jim Lovell who uttered the fateful words, "Houston, we have a problem." But the American public only heard a portion of that statement. What NASA didn't broadcast was Commander Lovell's next sentence, "Houston, we have a problem. We are out of real orange juice and we're going to have to open a can of Tang! These other two guys are talking about shoving me out of the waste-disposal portal if they have to drink any more powdered orange juice. Send us some Tropicana, Houston!"
One would think that since the Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral are in central Florida, someone could have walked next door to an orange grove and picked a few oranges for the trip.
Note: At 9 years old I ceased my quest to become an astronaut after I found out how they have to use the bathroom while they are in the space capsule.
On the afternoon of July 20, 1969, I was sitting in Yankee stadium with my grandfather and brother. The New York Yankees were playing the Washington Senators.
Midway through the game, Bob Sheppard's voice boomed over the public address system: "America has just landed on the moon!" We had done it, and before the end of the decade just as Kennedy had predicted.
Everyone stood and cheered. Both dugouts emptied onto the field. The game was momentarily stopped. Yankees hugged Senators. Grandfathers hugged grandsons. New Yorkers actually hugged other New Yorkers. They played the national anthem for a second time. We all sang. My grandfather teared up. It was an unforgettable moment.
The world seemed a little bit smaller after that day.
The Yankees went on to beat the Senators 3-2. Yankee first baseman, Joe Pepitone, was my favorite player. Yankee fans booed him throughout the game. My grandfather said it was because he had sideburns. I think it was because they knew he drank Tang.
That evening, in my grandparent's Manhattan apartment, we stayed up late to watch Neil Armstrong walk on the moon. It was miraculous. My mother took pictures of the TV screen. We watched him as he collected moon rocks. He and Buzz Aldrin conducted all sorts of scientific tests. They planted an American flag on the moon's surface.
After they were finished, the astronauts bounced back to the lunar module. Just before they left the moon's surface, and as they loaded the capsule for the trip home, I noticed Neil Armstrong peeking into a large crater. I am not sure, but I have always suspected that he was in search of one final component that could make his Apollo mission complete. Not moon rocks or lunar dust, not atmospheric samples or photographs, but the most important item needed for a successful return to earth: fresh-squeezed orange juice.
Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do to save the country from Tang.
Jumbo Lump Crabmeat
Pico di Gallo
11/2 cups tomatoes, seeded, small dice
4 tablespoons onion, small dice
1 tablespoon jalapeo, seeds removed, small dice
3 tablespoons lime juice, freshly squeezed
1 tablespoon white vinegar
2 teaspoons salt
4 tablespoons cilantro, chopped
1 pound jumbo lump crabmeat
Gently mix all ingredients and marinate overnight in the refrigerator. Gently stir the mixture every two to four hours while marinating. Serve cold as a topping for grilled seafood or with wheat crackers as an hors d'oeuvre.