What’s the worst meal you’ve ever had? A meal so bad you wished your taste buds had a circuit breaker?
Some meals are so horrific that neither time nor alcohol nor expensive therapy can block them out. Meals so bad they deserve a dedicated Instagram or an article called The Worst Meal Ever.
As Alan Bennett once noted, “For a writer, nothing is ever quite as bad as it is for other people because, however dreadful, it may be of use.”
Back in the day, these meals rustled my jimmies. Today I obtain closure on them.
The worst childhood meal
When I was a kid, we had to go to church. Occasionally, my dad would get asked to give a public talk at a different congregation. Sometimes this meant getting up early on a Sunday and travelling across Scotland. There was one upside to the deal however: after the service, one of the local families would host us for lunch. Usually, we were in for a good meal.
Not this Sunday. After leaving the Isle of Skye church, we drove to the cottage of one of the locals, a bachelor in his thirties. There we were treated to the third-worst meal I have ever suffered.
Officially, it was vegetable curry. Unofficially, it was an abortion on a plate. Gloopy rice and tepid veg formed a congealed pukey smush. It tasted of water mixed with water. Any belief I had in God dissipated at that moment.
The worst adult meal
This is going to make me sound as old as I am, but ten years ago, student poverty was still a thing. Back then, it wasn’t all MacBook Airs and asking mummy to fire over £200 with her RBS app. Sure, sometimes we had cash. That was known as loan week. The rest of the time, having blown our loans on the MacBooks of our day (aka PCs that were like millstones), we lived from hand to mouth. When the cupboards went Full Mother Hubbard, options were few.
On 28th February 2003 I blogged: “Today, my breakfast consisted of a small tin of Tesco Value tuna chunks served cold on snack crackers.”
From that valley of despair, my culinary adventures plunged deeper still when in 2005 I wound up in prison. While inside, I covertly maintained a blog that was written by hand and posted to a mate to type up and publish.
When you’re stuck in prison, writing a blog and being forced to eat shit food, it stands to reason you’re going to bitch about the shit food. A lot.
12th October 2006: Today’s lunch was supposed to be vegetable quiche. Today however they were all out of pastry. So what did they serve us instead? When I held out my plate I was rewarded with a dollop of congealed egg variegated with a few lumps of carrot. It was vegetable quiche…without the pastry.
Other jail meals that have been served up devoid of their staple ingredients include cheese & pickle sandwiches without the pickle and vegetable chow mein without the noodles, which consists of little more than a plate of greasy carrot, peas and shredded cabbage. Often, the meals are missing key components because the cooks have stolen the foodstuffs for themselves, although I can’t imagine why anyone would want to make off with the quiche pastry.
The set menu maps out the fare that lies in wait for the month ahead, and every subsequent month. Even when the meals are so bad as to warrant an immediate plate-scraping into the bin, the ritual of queuing up and accepting – before rejecting – the dollop of gruel wastes a few more minutes.
whining eloquent prose about prison food, see the bonus feature at the end of this article.
Before describing my all-time worst meal ever, here are the horror stories of a couple of mates. Add your own worst meals in the comments section if you think the experience will bring catharsis.
The absolute worst meal ever
This is my worst meal ever – and I can state that despite not having tasted a morsel. In 2002, I wrote a punk fanzine called Flowback that was essentially the print precursor to Ed Uncovered. For issue two, I hit upon an idea for an article. My plan was to invite two mates round to settle a question:
What tastes worse – cheap tinned meat or dog food?
I had a theory that cheap tins of meat – Spam, reformed beef, that horrible Irish stew – would be even more disgusting than dog food. This was in the pre-YouTube era when we couldn’t just wap out our smartphones and let some other internet fools settle the question.
My taste testers for the experiment were Aaron and JJ. The two were of a similar age and both played in punk bands. There was one crucial difference however: Aaron knew he would be eating dog food. JJ didn’t.
JJ thought he’d simply be eating cheap cuts of supermarket meat. To maintain the ruse, I stuck cocktail sticks into the dog food samples, plated them up and gave them legit names such as ‘jellied beef’.
I then took notes and photographs while the duo fed each other dog food.
Why was Aaron happy to eat microwaved dog food? I don’t know. Why didn’t I tell JJ he was eating dog food? I don’t know.
My plan was to reveal in the article what JJ had actually been munching on. Sadly, due to a computer failure, the next issue of Flowback never materialised and thus JJ and Aaron’s dog food heroics were all for nothing….for the next 11 years, anyway.
Sorry is the hardest word
When I began writing this blog, I tried contacting JJ. I was seeking permission to include the photographs of him scoffing dog food and also to apologise for putting him through the ordeal all those years ago (but not to Aaron cos he knew what he was doing.)
While Aaron happily gave this piece the go-ahead, JJ didn’t respond to my friend request or LinkedIn connection. Which means he can’t get mad at me for publishing this story. Or for issuing such a lame apology.
If you stumble across this on the internet JJ, here’s my long-overdue soz:
“Sorry for tricking you into eating dog food for a feature that didn’t even happen and then when the pictures show up on the internet 11 years later for failing to apologise properly but instead using it as an excuse to laugh about the fact that you once ate dog food thinking that it was actual food.”
I’ve had some awful meals in my time but that wasn’t one of them.
Click below for bonus feature
My single-sentence review of prison dining
25th Jan 2006
‘Grub up!’ shouts the screw as the stout metal door swings open and I instantly jump down off the bed, grab my blue plastic plate off the shelf, pause to pull up my baggy jeans that without a belt are always falling down and hurry out into the corridor, eager to get to the dinner queue before it stretches the length of the hall and I’m reduced to waiting in line like an Ethiopian orphan at an Oxfam aid handout or a middle-class couple at the opening of a new Ikea store –
– but I don’t think of these things – not at the time, anyway – because I’m too busy hurrying down the 36 steps that lead from the top flat to the ground floor, one foot in front of the other, faster and faster yet never losing control (I’ve done this so many times I could find my way there blindfolded) until I reach the bottom and now I’m on the home straight and I can see the queue only six deep but I still have to hurry to get there before the cons scurrying down the spiral staircase that finishes at the entrance to the mess hall which is known as the rec room on account of the recreational use it is usually put to –
– but right now the pool and snooker tables are covered up and the focus of attention is on the two hotplates that have been positioned against the wall, the cook’s stationed behind them in their spattered off-white aprons preparing to serve us our servings which were determined months earlier when we filled in our month-long menus, the dishes changing from week to week but their consistency remaining consistently sloppy, like gruel or vomit on a plate, but food is food in times of need and so I fall into line with all the rest, impatiently tapping my plate against my leg as the queue inches forward slowly –
– two in, two out of the rec room – until finally my turn arrives and in I go preceded by my plate which at the serving alter I offer up as if to say ‘Please sir, can I have some more?’ although I’ve yet to sample firsts which tonite so happen to be cold snacks, namely turkey roll on white bread doused in too much marge with an orange on the side, a mess but still it fits upon my plate and it will fit into my stomach so I take the lot and turn to go, out past the queue that’s longer now, along the hall and up the stairs, my trousers slowly falling down, it doesn’t matter, almost there, three more steps and then I’m back where I started out, sitting in my cell upon the top bunk bed peeling off the cellophane to reach the sandwich that’s within and now at last I catch my breath, and pause for punctuation – dinner’s served, I gotta go.
Follow @whisperednothin < Ed Uncovered, yo.
Follow @whisperednothin < Ed Uncovered, yo.