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the wonderbread experiment

wonder-1.jpg I never ate much Wonderbread.

Even when I was a kid, I preferred bread that couldn’t be ripped to shreds by chunky-style Skippy, butter, looking at it funny, etc. My mom never bought it either. Her theory was that they manufactured all the goodness out of Wonderbread, then “fortified” it with vitamins after they had turned it into absolute crap. She viewed this process with a great deal of skepticism.

But I must have had Wonderbread at least a few times, because I remember being fascinated by how small you could compress it. I vividly remember taking a slice and rolling it in my hands until it turned into the size of a chickpea.

This is where our journey begins.

While looking for a new Badmouth experiment, I remembered that my friend Shawn, a former football player for the University of California at Davis, had once told me that a fellow player ate an entire loaf of Wonderbread in a single bite by compressing it down into a little ball. Like any other red-blooded American, I was excited by this news. This would make an excellent experiment. There was only one small problem: Shawn had no idea what I was talking about.

He didn’t remember any such story about someone eating a loaf of bread in a single bite. It seems this idea must have come from the fevered recesses of my overworked brain. But, in the interest of science, Shawn was willing to help me out.

He would try to eat an entire loaf of Wonderbread in a single bite, to make my dream a reality.


wonder-4.jpgThe first thing to do was to procure a loaf of Wonderbread. I went to the local Safeway and found three varieties: Small, Big and Thin.

I dismissed Thin immediately. It was as large as the Big loaf, but the slices were cut thinner. I didn’t think there was any benefit with associating the word thin with the Herculean task that Shawn was prepared to undertake. I didn’t want to cheapen his effort.

I bought both a Small and a Big loaf. I thought Shawn could handle a Big loaf, but I wanted to have a back-up plan just in case.

Then we hit the moment of truth. I assembled both loaves of bread and Shawn in the same room. And although Shawn has 200 pounds on the bread easy, there were definite signs of intimidation.

“Let’s start with the Small.”

Okay, he was scared. Who could blame him? With all the fortified vitamins from an entire loaf coarsing through his veins, it was entirely possible that the very clothes would burst from his body, Hulk-style, as his muscles grew to enormous proportions. Small was safer.

wonder-5.jpgThe first trick was to squash the bread down to a more managable size. Reading the side of the label, I discovered that the Small loaf had 18 slices, or enough for approximately nine peanut-butter and jelly sandwiches with the crusts cut off. The loaf also weighed a full English pound.

I began to have my doubts.

At first the compression technique was working great. The bread was flattened in no time, but it also spread out. Shawn picked up his white-bread pancake and squashed it into a small ball — incredibly small. It it were compressed any further, chances were high that individual Wonderbread atoms would attain fusion, releasing all the energy that makes you grow in 12 different ways in one blinding flash that would level 40 city blocks. Yes, we had pushed the envelope in bread-compression technology. The loaf was as small as we could make it — but not small enough.

wonder-9.jpgThe loaf was now approximately the size of a softball. Shawn gamely tried to insert it into his mouth, but it was too large. As for me, I haven’t had anything that big in my mouth since college, and in my defense, I was really drunk at the time.

Although we didn’t prove our theory, I considered this experiment a success. We furthered the realm of bread-related science. Plus we had another entire loaf left. So we decided on phase 2 of the experiment:

How many slices of Wonderbread can Shawn eat in a single bite?

wonder-17.jpgwonder-18.jpg

We cracked open the Big loaf.

We decided to roll the slices into little ready-to-eat balls and stacked them on a plate. Despite my vivid childhood memories, they ended up closer to the size of golf balls than chickpeas.

(For more information about popping balls in your mouth, be sure to read my aborted attempts at exchanging recipes with my Nigerian friend Moshood.)

wonder-16.jpgShawn surveyed the plate and then began to work in earnest. The first few Wonder-balls went in easily enough. And we were both confident that we would make a good showing.

By ball four, room was becoming scarce in Shawn’s mouth. Communication was limited to hand signals, grunts and controlled drooling.

We pressed on.

wonder-13.jpgBalls five and six went in the cheek areas. Giving Shawn a look that could be favorably compared to Marlon Brando in The Godfather or Roeanne Barr in an all-you-can-eat buffet.

wonder-10.jpgTo this day I still can’t explain how we got the seventh slice in there. Unless Shawn posesses the ability to unhinge his bottom jaw to swallow gazelles whole like a giant anaconda, the seventh slice should have been impossible. But somehow, through perserverence of will, Shawn got it in there. And that was all he could fit.

wonder-14.jpgAt this point, a small flaw in our plan reared its ugly head. With all that dough in his mouth, Shawn could barely breath, much less, y’know, chew. He gave it a try.

Veins bulged like leeches trapped under the skin of his neck. Sweat poured from his forhead like summer rains off a tar-thatched porch. His eyes bulged. His jaw made cracked and popped like a too green log thrown on a campfire. But it was no use. He had bit off more than he could chew.

But Shawn’s loss was our gain as we got some lovely photographs as he regurgitated the pulpy mass that once was seven slices of bread. The final picture has been saved at 800 x 600 resolution and makes a lovely desktop wallpaper.

After resetting Shawn’s jaw, we did some math:

A slice weighed 0.96 ounces, so Shawn had managed to cram almost half a pound of bread in his mouth. That was pretty impressive. 7 slices was more than we thought. But how many slices of the Small loaf would that be? More math revealed that since the Small loaf was slightly smaller, it would have taken 7.56 slices of Small Wonderbread to equal the same amount. Due to my shortsightedness we may never know how many Thin slices that would equate to.

So there you have it. Another chapter in our continuing endeavors to further the boundries of junk-food based science. Your thoughts are appreciated.