There are many aspects to a soldier’s life while in combat that rarely get attention on the news. Basic needs such as sleep, bathing and eating get less attention than actual combat circumstances or the trials military men and women face upon returning home.
We’ve seen news clips of entertainers visiting the troupes abroad and providing respite in the form of a stand-up act or music and a good meal during the Holidays, but we rarely think of the day-to-day eating experience on the field. What do soldiers eat? Rather, how do soldiers eat?
Modern food canning and packaging technology allows for greater versatility than at any other time in history. In fact, today’s MRE’s (Meals ready to Eat) are considered to be rather tasty and have found a growing market in the outdoors-man and survivalist industries. These are partially dehydrated meals, many with a shelf life of over ten years.
It is interesting to consider the evolution of “modern” military rations. As you might imagine, shelf life is not the main criteria behind the concept. Equipment transport is a key element in the military strategy. This applies to food packaging as well as essential personal belongings. Rations must be packaged in such a way as to resist the elements and handling, as well as preserve space, among other considerations. This makes for a presentation that is as far away from the comforts of one’s home kitchen as the moon.
The system of food rations that preceded MRE’s, and has come to be known as C-Rations, was developed during the Second World War. This is pure evidence that necessity is indeed the mother of invention. This system established four different types of rations: A, B, C and D. Fresh, prepared foods were known as A-Rations. B-Rations refer to unprepared foods. C-Rations were mostly prepared canned foods and D-Rations include dried emergency bars.
While military men ad women eat in good company, in the sense that they have the ability to share their meals with trusted companions and discuss their common experiences while they do so, the fact remains that they are still in combat at that time.
It is difficult to imagine for anyone who has not experienced the military life, but consider this: meal time is the daily experience we most associate with nurturing and family. More than this, it is associated with sights and aromas that in and of themselves shape our experience of the moment and provide cues we instinctively associate with security, family, comfort, pleasure, leisure and abundance.
As good as modern-day rations might be, sitting for a moment and sharing rations provides the comfort of camaraderie, but the reality of duty and separation from home and family are never out of sight. The meal does bring comfort from immediate circumstances, but it does not provide the holistic comfort of normal meal time.
The men and women who choose to fight for our freedoms give up on basic joys that we so often take for granted. We are not bad for taking such things as a good, carefree meal for granted; we are fortunate, and owe much of this good fortune to them.