Illinois businessman Roy Taylor readily admits he won't be making the cover of Bon Appètit with his latest product, an edible soybean-based polymer invented in the labs of Iowa State University. "Theoretically, it won't hurt you if you eat it, beyond maybe some indigestion," says Taylor, who holds an exclusive license to "commercialize" the innovation. But this doesn't deter the entrepreneur from raving about his biodegradable plastic, which breaks down and assimilates back into the environment in roughly 90 days. Although the brown, glue-like base material doesn't yet have a name (our vote: "Tastigear"), researchers have discovered that it can be molded into useful items such as forks, dishes, and knives—which are being tested this spring by the Department of Defense, presumably in hopes that Navy sailors may soon be able to fling their eating utensils over the side of aircraft carriers with a clear conscience. Taylor's Soy Works Corporation is also considering prototypes for future beanware: biodegradable camping equipment, such as cups, tent pegs, and ground sheets.
It's an idea that seems to be garnering preliminary approval from outdoor professionals who must log time picking up after careless campers. "Sounds great, because people always forget tent stakes," declares Kevin McGowan, an outfitting manager for the National Outdoor Leadership School in Lander, Wyoming. The snackable innovation also suggests another potential use: fending off starvation. Taylor's researchers are now working on edible cutlery to be used in "survival rations" in the military's MREs ("meals ready to eat"). But ordinary campers wouldn't want to nosh on a soup spoon merely because they run out of Powerbars, says Jaylin Jane, the Iowa State biochemist who developed the polymer after ten years of research. She finds the stuff to be only marginally less appealing than the average dog's rawhide bone. "It doesn't taste bad—like popcorn," Jane explains. "But it does take a long while to chew."