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NUTRITIONAL SUPPLEMENT TASTE CHALLENGE: POWER PUDDING

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In part one of a series, Orson goes where few dare: the bargain aisle of your local GNC/Legal 'roids shop, in a series that owes everything to the legendary "Steve, Don't Eat It" segments from The Sneeze.

At no point in collegiate athletics has the influence of nutritional supplements been more pronounced: players are now bigger and more muscular now than they've ever been, and it ain't a sudden quantum leap in human evolution driving the size revolution. Even the members of the lightest line in the Big 12 consumes 5,000 calories a day each just to maintain their size, more than twice the USDA recommended amount for the average, non-humongoid person. The old-school approach of stuffing players hasn't disappeared completely, but has found a new variant as nutritionists follow the lead of professional weightlifters and triathletes in tinkering with protein shakes, powders, and whatever legal supplements they can get down athletes' throats in order to engineer them into high-line, optimal performance athletes.

As we're finding out one nasty scoop at a time, most of them taste like reconstituted monkey ass.

Item: Stallone High-Protein Pudding Don't laugh. Okay, go ahead and laugh.

Flavor: Vanilla Crème Hard to see the accent egugrave without hearing Peanut telling Harvey Birdman, "The first one's always free."

Initial Impressions: Besides instantly recoiling at the idea of of power pudding concerned with calling itself vanilla "crème"? We would think the weightlifting set would want a title like "Gheorge Muresan's Vanilla Thunder," or "Vanilla Killah." The pumped up GNC guy who sold it to us laughed when we brought the packet up here. "The chocolate flavor's a lot more popular, actually," he said, which we translated as "you're getting ready to buy four cans of colon fluid porridge, jackoff." He then took a gander at the date and informed us that since the cans were going to expire within the month, he'd give us all four for a dollar. Apparently, Stallone's Vanilla Crème Pudding was difficult to even give away; we considered asking him to pay us to take it.

Undaunted, we took it home, examining the can in the car. It's high protein, all right: 20 grams of protein, mostly isolated soy proteins for those afeared of getting too much estrogen in their system from raw soy. (These edamame, Ed...they just make me so...emotional...)

The can feels disturbingly weighty in our hand, as if they've packed a physically impossible amount of mass into a tiny can the size of a tuna tin, and the stuff is heralded by a very femme "Pudding" laced across the front diagonally in a girly, fun font one might use for the credits of '50s nostalgia movie or...or possibly the side of the University of Florida's helmets.

Taste: After cracking the retro pull-tab tin, we're ready for our high protein pudding experience. On the palate, the bland white, gooey pile of pudding dissolves to...not bad. Not bad at all, actually. Bland, sure; after three bites or so the whole experience debases to something between eating the least exciting Tapioca pudding you've ever had or a Lloyd Carr press conference (either way you get the point.) Or eating mucilage actually, which based on the high protein pudding wasn't as inexcusable or disgusting elementary school experience as you remember.

There's the hint of sucralose (Splenda) mixed with the slightly basic taste of soy, all held together by a mysterious gooey medium not unlike a fine hair pomade. We're terrified to go back at the label again, since for all we know Stallone could be feeding Bangladeshi orphans into huge grinders for this stuff at gunpoint, stalking the factory floor screaming "I am the law!" in Bangla. If that's what it is, then the athletes of the world need to start writing some checks made out to Dhaka, because unlike a lot of fausserts in the world of faux foods, this isn't completely terrible. The Crème bit actually applies here, since there's a bit of fanciness to the vanilla, and despite the evil chemical taste lingering at the fringes of my palate, we could be convinced that this was a legitimate dessert option. In Kazakhstan. During a famine.

Emotionally, the pudding left us feeling like we'd been church-hugged by a distant, emotionally damaged relative. Comparatively, a fine piece of carrot cake leaves us feeling like we've just had fifteen wall-shaking , ligament-tearing minutes in the bathroom with Jennifer Tilly, so that's not exactly great. In terms of fake food, though, that's not bad, especially given the impression most fake desserts (casting an accusing glance at you, Tofutti) leaves, which is something like being molested by a guidance counselor: violating and boring simulataneously.

Summary Judgement: Not shitty. In any other scale this would mean a rave, but we're not talking about actual food here, so "not shitty" will have to do. Stallone, you magnificent bastard, this may be your finest work since Death Race 2000! Bravissimo!

Stallone's pudding: would totally win the Death Race 2000 of fake desserts contests.