How to Feed an Army
November 22, 2015 3:17 PM   Subscribe

Feeling overwhelmed by the prospect of feeding your holiday guests? Maybe you should refresh yourself on "How to Feed an Army" (1901). Perhaps a history lesson on feeding the troops would inspire you? (Break out your P38.) Ever wonder about the nutritional content of combat rations? Can sailors bring ship-grown lettuce to the table?

Inspired by this podcast, "War and Pizza," from 99% Invisible; much, much more information on feeding large numbers of people can be found in this technical volume, "Military Food Engineering and Ration Technology." Next time you're in a grocery store, or peering at your pantry items, consider how the U.S. military's Natick Center's work on food engineering and packaging is quietly, and in a shelf-stable fashion, represented. (MREs, previously, from 2003.)
posted by MonkeyToes (24 comments total) 35 users marked this as a favorite
 
YES FOOD HISTORY
posted by The Whelk at 3:49 PM on November 22, 2015 [3 favorites]


"One man, Carl F. Rehnborg"

Nutrilite.
posted by clavdivs at 4:09 PM on November 22, 2015


I love reading about this stuff. Here's another that I found recently that's a good addition.

Joy of Field Rations
posted by Karaage at 4:30 PM on November 22, 2015 [6 favorites]


Joy of Field Rations

Terrific find, thanks!
posted by MonkeyToes at 4:36 PM on November 22, 2015


Got my P-38 right here!

Today I baked four loaves of bread and then made two days worth of sloppy Joe pasta. Also a second batch of ice cream in a few minutes. I love cooking bigger bathes than will be eaten immediately.
posted by wenestvedt at 5:29 PM on November 22, 2015 [1 favorite]


So I get the pork, bread, coffee, and sugar, what are the soldiers in the first link doing with all that vinegar?
posted by jfwlucy at 6:12 PM on November 22, 2015


My grandfather ran a field kitchen in the US Army during WWII.

He could never cook for any number of people less than a squad.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 6:19 PM on November 22, 2015 [4 favorites]


My dad carried a P-38 in his wallet. He also had a case of C-RATIONS in the garage. We hunted a lot, and there was a WWII gas mask bag that hung in the basement with spam and beanie weenies and canned peaches and the like. This always went with us when we fished or hunted. One season we left an apple in this bag, and the next fall it had metamorphised into a voodoo shrunken head. The bag smelled deliciously of apples. I'm always reminded of that barrel-rider scene from The Hobbit, because I know exactly how that dwarf felt.

I still have that bag.

My dad bought me a Scout Knife with a can opener, which I was reminded of by this article. The thing was, a knife given as a gift was bad luck; so you had to pay the gifter a penny.

Nowadays, almost every leatherman/micra/EDCmultitool has a can opener.

Though, my favorite way to open a can of beans is still a huge Bowie knife, just because.

In my mind, the modern version of C-RATS/MRE is hitting up the dollar store. They've got everything you need to provision a long trip, in the wilderness. whether by land or by water.

Sorry for any derails, but this post brought back a lot of memories. Thanks MonkeyToes!
posted by valkane at 6:25 PM on November 22, 2015 [4 favorites]


Yes, memories triggered. C Rats were about 50% of my food during the first 6 months of 1968. We figured out a lot of different ways to heat them and what could be combined with what to make it more palatable. I'd home in on the B-1 units to get the cocoa for mixing with the instant coffee. Pretty crude mocha. My key rings currently have P-38s on them. Vegetarian MRE are tolerable, just make sure you've got plenty of drinking water available. I think that all of the field rations cause constipation.
posted by X4ster at 6:44 PM on November 22, 2015 [3 favorites]


So I've never had reason to tell anyone offline or on this but this thread offers a tenuous enough connection. I'm descended from the "supply chain manager" for Rana Sanga's army. After the battle of Khanwa, he settled thereabouts and had numerous offspring. Dad's younger brother traced our genealogy back to him. And the topic of feeding an army has always fascinated me ever since I discovered this bit of family history.
posted by infini at 7:55 PM on November 22, 2015 [6 favorites]


The highlight of visiting my uncle on base when we were little was him sending us home with C-Rations and then we'd invite over our MOST FAVORITE friends and treat them to a pouch-based army meal. Great fun for small children.

Everyone tells me if you're only buying a couple modern MREs to keep around for blizzards or whatever, the jambalaya is the way to go for maximum deliciousness.

My brother and a friend got stranded in a Michigan blizzard and had to just sit on the side of the road waiting for the blizzard to end and someone e to rescue them. His friend was a hunter and had MREs in his trunk, with the heaters, which heated not just the food but the whole car, so they had a very comfortable and well-fed four-hour wait for the plow and tow truck.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 9:21 PM on November 22, 2015 [2 favorites]


BBC's The Food Chain podcast: Food of War episode on the same subjects, including an interview at the Natick Center.
posted by XMLicious at 2:23 AM on November 23, 2015 [1 favorite]


My grandfather ran a field kitchen in the US Army during WWII.

Stories, please?
posted by MonkeyToes at 3:34 AM on November 23, 2015 [3 favorites]


Yep, have a P-38 in my wallet. Along with a lock pick and tension wrench. Don't tell anyone, okay?
posted by Splunge at 4:59 AM on November 23, 2015


Everyone tells me if you're only buying a couple modern MREs to keep around for blizzards or whatever, the jambalaya is the way to go for maximum deliciousness.

I have been thinking about getting a few MREs in case of hurricane or auto breakdown or blizzard or whatever, but they are kind of expensive! Are they worth it In The Event, or just barely better than eating shoe leather soup?
posted by wenestvedt at 6:14 AM on November 23, 2015 [2 favorites]


(That is pretty de-rail-y, but I really am curious.)
posted by wenestvedt at 6:15 AM on November 23, 2015 [1 favorite]


wenestvedt: "Are they worth it In The Event, or just barely better than eating shoe leather soup?"

No, they're good! I mean definitely better than anything else that's shelf-stable for 5 to 10 years. But you can definitely go to a hunting/camping store and buy the "civilian" MREs that are typically cheaper, slightly less calorie-dense, and often you can buy them pouch-by-pouch (like, entrees alone, sides alone, etc., so you can pick and choose) because they're not being packed for standardized troops in standardized combat settings who need an all-in-one. (And, like, probably your civilian emergency MREs do not need to survive a 100-foot airdrop so they can be way, way less packaged.) The civilian-market ones all say they're good for five years, but probably they're fine for ten as long as they're stored in a dark cool place.

In terms of a set-it-and-forget-it backup, they're hard to beat, especially if you might lose the ability to heat things in a disaster (like if you have an electric stove and you lose electricity a lot, or if you drive long-distance in rural areas a lot and it could potentially take a while to rescue you). Personally I think it's not worth getting all prepper about it, but it's nice to know I've got two days of hot dinners (those things are so calorie-dense it's really like two days of ALL THE FOOD) in case we get snowed in and haven't had a chance to stock up in advance, and my kids will think it's neat and it may distract them from the cabin fever for twenty minutes.

There's definitely cheaper emergency food out there, but for "put it on a shelf and forget about it," MREs are great, and they're definitely tastier than a lot of your emergency food options. Anyway, right now I just get the individual pouches from the sportsman's store, it's not quite such a commitment as a full MRE, and there's a lot of deer hunters around here so I have a lot of choices.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:33 AM on November 23, 2015 [3 favorites]


Stories, please?


There was the time my Grandfather's unit accidentally became the vanguard element of the Third Army's advance on Kassel. I believe they were driving in a deuce-and-a-half and a jeep, and somehow got ahead of their own lines. After a while, they realized that all the German vehicles by the side of the road were still on fire, and that they should probably go back and ask directions.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 10:37 AM on November 23, 2015 [5 favorites]


After a while, they realized that all the German vehicles by the side of the road were still on fire, and that they should probably go back and ask directions.

Co-incidentally, this is also my own heuristic for when to ignore the car GPS unit's instructions.
posted by wenestvedt at 11:01 AM on November 23, 2015 [5 favorites]


Are they worth it In The Event

I don't care what event you're expecting, just DO NOT buy a CASE of Red Feather canned processed cheese. Your wife will give you the hairy eyeball for YEARS.
posted by MonkeyToes at 11:38 AM on November 23, 2015


Hey- she'll be singing a different song when you're both eating fondue in your fallout shelter.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 12:05 PM on November 23, 2015 [1 favorite]


The MRE also functions as a sack of toys; which have more sacks of toys inside. Children love them. Main bag makes for a great diaper or poop bag too.
posted by buzzman at 12:29 PM on November 23, 2015


I loved MRE's in basic training, mostly because they were so calorie dense and we were constantly hungry. Saw a kid pay $20 for a bag of M&M's once. Another thing that often surprises non-military people is how good the food is on many of the bases overseas. One of the places I spent some time at in Afghanistan had crab legs every Friday. War is weird.
posted by Man Bites Dog at 5:30 PM on November 23, 2015


Dang, now I want to try some. Hey, Secret Quonsar -- you listening?!
posted by wenestvedt at 7:40 PM on November 23, 2015


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