Thursday, July 26, AD 2012
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: