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Friday, June 4, 2010

Hungry Heroes

The Pentagon recently created a 26 page recipe for "bombproof" brownies.  This recipe was published by the Department of Defense and isn't referred to as a recipe .... but a formula.  It has become an internet sensation for news outlets, bloggers, and even twitter users.  But where did the need for "bombproof" brownies come from??

Food is probably the last thing we think about when discussing a war.  But what exactly do those soldiers eat when they're stuck in a trench out in the middle of a jungle for weeks on end??   How is the food delivered?  How is it prepared and saved?  How often do they even get to eat?  What are the edible options?  How has it changed throughout the history of wars??
Well,  my favorite foodies, I have many of these answers for you.  Last week for my special Memorial Day radio show,  I covered all of these questions.  I have to admit, I was pretty fascinated as I conducted all my research.  In fact,  I became so engrossed in studying this information that it completely consumed me for several days.  There is no possible way for me to share all the historical information I collected.  So in this blog,  I will simply highlight certain aspects that I found most intriguing.  However I do encourage you to look online for even more information which can satisfy your own hungry curiosity.  But again, please note - I am not covering every war and these are only highlights.  - So let's embrace Memorial Day from a foodie perspective.

Memorial Day was originally called Decoration Day and is a day of remembrance for those who have died in our nation's service.  First observed on May 30, 1868 - the tradition began by placing flowers on the graves of both Union and Confederate soldiers.  Yet the south refused to acknowledge the holiday until after World War 1 because they didn't want to share the holiday with the north.   (talk about holding a grudge!)

CIVIL WAR:   Food historians claim that the north generally ate better than the south.  Certain packing companies chose only to send food to the Union armies during the Industrial Revolution.  In the south, plantation owners ate very differently from their slaves, as you could probably suspect.  However, the slaves still ate better than what our pre-conceived notions may think.  For example, it was quite common for workers who completed their duties early to be released to go hunt and fish for themselves - keeping whatever they wanted.  Many slave women were allowed to plant their own vegetable gardens in their own quarters.  The birth of "soul food" came from a combination of the rations slaves were given from their masters mixed with whatever they could grow, hunt, or catch for themselves. 
The state of Georgia itself had considerably lower prices on their food distribution and sales than any other southern state.  For example, bacon could be bought for 2 cents.  Rice was at 4 cents.  Sugars sold for 25 cents.  Soda was popular at 25 cents.  Molassas at 50 cents.  Peas, which were in great demand, sold in large quantities for 85 cents.   (all prices subject to weight and quantity) 
Perserving foods and canning foods became popular during the Civil War for the first time.

WORLD WAR I:   Sadly,  food alone was considered a luxury for the soldiers trapped in trenches.  Eating hot food or even warmed food was next to impossible.  Food was strictly rationed and restricted.  The British historically receieved meals that far outweighed the quality and quantity of the food the Germans received.  While the German armies were fed mostly bread, potatoes and vegetables only ..... the British were served cheeses, jams, spices, breads, butter, oatmeal, tobacco, tea, chocolate, and even rum!

WORLD WAR II:   In spring of 1942, food rationing for civilians was put into motion.  This drastically changed the American way of life.  Rationing was introduced to avoid public outrage due to shortages and wealthy favoritism.  In 1943, it was nationally mandatory for families to register for "Buying Cards".  This started with the Sugar Buying Cards.  In today's standards, this would be like a coupon book.  But government mandated.  Other rationing methods were also active.  Stamping became a way of life.  Red Stamp rationing covered all meats, butter, fats and oils.  Blue Stamp rationing covered canned food, fruits and veggies, beans and soups.  Ration stamps morphed into 'currency' with every American family being issued a "War Ration Book". (can you imagine our government suddenly telling us today what we can and cannot buy at the grocery store??)   Unfortunately,  this extended into rationing clothing, gas, and oil.
What was the side effect??   The Black Market.  The 3 most popular items on the Black Market were meat, sugar, and gasoline.

VIETNAM:    One word.  Spam.  Period.  If the soldiers were not eating spam, then it was usually powdered rations instead.  ("just add water")   This was seen in spaghetti, rice, chile, and sometimes chicken. The Navy and the Air Force almost always ate the best.  These branches often had the "luxury" of having access to a mess hall or dining facility.  While the Army and Marines would go weeks at a time buried deep in the jungles barely surviving off a can of spam. 


The list of wars and information continue on and on.  I even found recipes online from the wives of Confederate soldiers.  My favorite was a hushpuppy-like recipe called "Confederate Johnnie Cake".  I wish I had more room and more time to write.  But if any of this interested you .... it's only the tip of the ice berg!
Regardless of our foodie opinions . . . . something else jumped out at me while researching this material.  I wanted to share it.  It is the perfect reminder of why we honor Memorial Day. 

In 1915, Moina Michael wrote this poem:


(to my grandfathers, my uncle, and many of my friends  ..... this was for you.)

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