Military Chow


A truly hilarious video from 1943, Food For Fighters, detailing the dedication of the Army to quality rations for the troops.  I imagine a room full of GI’s watching this video and laughing their heads off.  Virtually every veteran of World War II I have encountered has complained about the quality of the rations.  My late father-in-law was a Navy cook during the War.  He developed a life long detestation  of mutton when he was forced to prepare it for six months aboard ship because it was the only meat they were supplied.  He did his imaginative best, and he was a very good cook, but the sailors were ready to mutiny by the time the ship received a different type of meat.

Veterans of more recent conflicts have been slightly more complimentary as to the quality of military food, although I would note that when servicemen and women are given a choice they usually choose to not eat in mess halls, although the food is free for most enlisted personnel, and a common nickname for MREs, Meals Ready to Eat, is Meals Rejected by the Enemy.  Never fear however, something new is on the horizon:

The Army has developed a sandwich that purportedly stays fresh for two years.

But this sandwich is spectacularly resilient to threats (or hurdles, in Army speak) that would turn it into a dry, moldy mess if they could. Unlike probably any other sandwich out there, this one keeps the microbial forces of nature at bay for up to two years.

How on earth could a BBQ chicken sandwich stay fresh for two years, you ask? And is it even edible? (Yes, according to soldiers interviewed by the BBC. One said, “I’m a big fan.”) We were still puzzled, but fortunately senior food technologist Michelle Richardson was happy to explain.

According to Richardson, who concocts food for the armed forces as part of the Combat Feeding Directorate at the U.S. Army Natick Soldier Research, Development & Engineering Center in Natick, Mass., the trick to extending shelf life is figuring out how to control pH, water activity, moisture content, and oxygen inside the packaging.   “If you think about bacteria as sprinters in a food system, what we’re trying to do is put enough hurdles in so they can’t survive,” Richardson tells The Salt. She says the hurdles include lowering the pH, binding the water to something the bacteria can’t use it, and adding a packet of “oxygen scavengers,” or iron filings, to absorb the oxygen so that it’s not available to bacteria, yeast and mold. “All this keeps the bread, meat and filling from going rancid,” she says.

Two year old sandwiches?  Yummy!  Alas, I suspect  this old Jerry Lewis song still rings true:

Published in: on July 25, 2012 at 5:30 am  Comments (8)  
Tags: ,


  1. It’s good to see ancient traditions going strong: soldiers grousing about their rations (since forever) and technological attempts to improve said rations back to the “desecrated vegetables” of the Civil War.
    According to my brother who was in the Army in the late 90s MREs were dubbed “Meals, rejected by Ethiopians.”

    A couple NY Times articles about our coalitions partners versions of the MRE:

    • I think the old Army adage is true Thomas, the time to worry in a unit is when suddenly soldiers aren’t complaining!

  2. I think you would have to struggle to find anything worse than what we had in my induction month, before I was dispatched to my unit. To give you an idea, I was sick four times in one month, and on one occasion fainted on morning parade. There was “mineral water” that was salt, I kid you not, and wine that was undrinkable; the only way to actually use them was to mix them together. What really made me angry, however, was that when we were put on kitchen duty, we saw that avalanches of good and expensive food, including huge wedges of Parmesan cheese, were just being wasted or misused. It was laziness by the supervising officers,corruption among the suppliers, despair among those who actually worked there – and taxpayers’ money being wasted like water. Then, of course, I was attached to an Alpini unit ran by some of the finest officers in the Italian army, and I never was sick again for the rest of my period. Let’s just say that the first month’s induction had got me ready for the worst that could happen to me anywhere including military jail.

    • Some military experiences are truly universal Fabio. My three years with the United States Army was immediately after Vietnam and frankly the Army was a mess: low morale, budget cutbacks, too many good officers and men getting out, and too many burnouts trying to stay in. The Army improved immensely over the years, primarily due to dedicated officers and noncoms, and the Reagan buildup.

  3. We still had access to C-rats when I was in… you could weaponize the peanut butter. My third year in I drew a cake billet where the First Class in the chow hall drove a Cadillac and was independantly wealthy. It was a small station with only 90-95 personnel. Officer and enlisted mess was together. We ate gooooodddd. Steak at least once a week and shrimp at least once a week. About wanted to cry when I was ordered to Quantico, HDQTRs Battallion for the Marine Corp. Shoot I still want to cry.

  4. When it comes to field rations, any MRE can be made into a fine dish. A little bit of hot sauce and it is all good. As for a two year old sandwich, I am sure it is like fine wine in a box. It just gets older with age.

    • When I was in the Army a Sergeant Major I knew, full blooded Apache, told me that any Army chow was improved if you ate it in the dark with a clothes pin on your nose!

  5. Ah…as the times go by and yes, we had MRE’s in training, but I just got back from deployment, and yes, again, we had MRE’s. I never ate the complete meal, but picked and chose each time I had to endure. I think that in the least, they make for good stories. Great post. Thanks guys!

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: