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Illinois’ recipes272 were first. The two recipes were very similar, so I mixed most of the ingredients in one big bowl before dividing them. Early in the mixing I noticed a strange smell when the garlic powder was wetted by the tomato paste. Not a bad smell, but strange, like an exotic ethnic cuisine you are not sure if you want to try. After adding all ingredients and kneading, the exotic smell damped down, but a faint, less pleasant smell popped up, especially from the vegan loaf. It was bit like dry mold, but not really bad. I think it was the canned spinach hitting the tomato paste. After cooking, the result looked like something that might be favored by a health-food extremist. It was too squashed and moist to be called bread, and it had a lot of green and orange chunks visible.

Next I tried the California recipe,273 which uses significantly more meat.274 It also calls for a stronger spice – chili powder – and more of it.275 The meat and chili powder together smelled pretty good, and with the addition of deep red kidney beans the mixture even looked good. The cabbage, so hated by some prisoners,276 was totally inoffensive even during chopping. After adding all ingredients, the uncooked mix looked and smelled like a good chili. Cut the amount of beans in half and you could serve it at a barbeque restaurant chain. After cooking, the mix looked a bit charred but still definitely worth a try.

Then I moved on to Maryland’s recipe.277 Oh, yuck. The main problem with this recipe was the imitation cheese.278 While the cheese was cold and still had a glossy polished surface from the individual-slice packaging there was no scent at all. Biting into a slice, it did not taste quite like cheese, but it was close enough that I could tell it was meant to be cheddar. The aftertaste was just soybean protein and hint of paprika. When I pressed several slices together and grated them, the substance had an opportunity to release its more volatile compounds from warm, rough, newly formed surface area. And it took that opportunity. The smell of the grated fake cheese was somewhat offensive despite not resembling any familiar scent. It did not even smell of synthetic chemicals. It was unpleasant in an entirely nonspecific way. The canned spinach did its thing again when mixed with the tomato paste. When I put all three together there was an absolutely vile odor that I knew would not be diluted much by the other ingredients. This amazed me. All of the ingredients for all of the Nutraloaf recipes were ordinary, wholesome ingredients available at any grocery. Even if the tomato acids and cheese enzymes were literally digesting the spinach, they had had less than a minute to react. After cooking, the smell was much less powerful but even worse in character. A sniff of the entire finished loaf from very close range reminded me of vomit. It was at this point that I decided not to cook the similar-looking recipes from Vermont279 and Virginia.280 At least Maryland’s Nutraloaf is vegetarian, if not vegan.281

Finally I turned to the Oregon/Washington recipe.282 I knew it had to be good – it calls for over 50 percent hamburger!283 Make no mistake, this is not a bread dish. This is a meatloaf. One cup of oatmeal or bread chunks is no match for 1.25 pounds of beef. I admit, the cabbage did smell a bit when thrown into a Cuisinart with the wet items, but it was a healthy, earthy smell, and the smell vanished when the veggies were mixed in with the other ingredients. The complete uncooked mix looked just as pink as the pure ground beef had. The cooked result smelled more like a simple hamburger patty than a complete meatloaf, but it was still plainly obvious that this would be the best-tasting recipe of all.

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