Most of our soldiers are fed what is called “the United States military ration.” Much of the military ration consists of prepackaged foods made for easy delivery and suitable for eating in the field. Military rations are made to last long and withstand a wide range of weather conditions so they can be safely stored until needed by our troops. Today we use what the military calls Meal, Ready-to-Eat, or MRE.
Our current MRE’s come in different varieties made to suit various purposes. The A-ration is cooked on-site or close by and is usually fresh food. B-Rations usually come in trays and are prepackaged and reheated at the serving site. Meal, Ready-to-Eat is pre-packed food served in the field, and the First Strike ration is prepackaged and designed to be eaten on the go.
Did you know we’ve been feeding our troops since before we were officially a nation? The Continental Congress instituted both the garrison and spirit rations, which were served from the Revolutionary War through the Spanish American War. The garrison ration was food—proteins, bread, and vegetables. For preservation sake, the proteins were often salted and the “bread” was usually hardtack. If you’ve ever seen an example of hardtack you may agree that many soldiers were probably hard-pressed to chew it down to a point where it could be swallowed! Woe to the soldier with poor teeth! The spirit ration of rum, whiskey, or brandy kept spirits up and probably came in handy for soaking and softening hardtack, but it was changed to coffee and sugar in 1832. During the Civil War the consistency of food delivery was spotty for both rebel and union soldiers.
World War I military fare included distribution of the Iron Ration, which incorporated that era’s modern conveniences and came in the form of tin containers originally filled with a mixture of wheat and bouillon, and chocolate bars. Not terribly nutritious or delicious sounding. The Trench Ration served, as you might expect, to soldiers in the trenches sounds equally bleak: tin cans of a limited array of proteins, such as sardines, salmon, and corned beef. Both the weight of the packaging and the poor food selection became problematic as the war wore on. Small improvements were made via the Reserve Ration, which included coffee, tobacco, and broadened the protein variety a bit.
By the time we had men again in the field fighting the 2nd World War, the food had improved and included fresh, prepackaged, and canned foods. The quality of food that a soldier received depended upon his location, though. And while the local fresh food sources could be plentiful and tasty, the emergency ration began to result in vitamin deficiencies. After World War II canned food called C-rations remained standard for field forces until it was replaced with the current MRE ration in 1983.
All in all, military life can be tough on a foodie! As you plan your menu for the night or the week, appreciate all of the options available to you, and give thanks to the members of our military whose culinary sacrifices are the least of those they make for us.
Wish a soldier, past or present, well on Armed Forces Day, tomorrow.
Imge courtesy of nuttakit / FreeDigitalPhotos.net