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From spruce beer to lattes

Posted on Tuesday, November 1, 2011 in Military Spouses

Beef: on the hoof to Mongolian BBQ

Yesterday I was reading about the problem Civil War soldiers faced of finding their food infested with flour beetles and having to decide if they should dunk their hardtack and let the beetles float out, or just toast the bread and eat them cooked. That’s a long way from my husband’s biggest food complaint during the war in Iraq in 2005: the dining facility (DFAC) temporarily ran out of onion rings. Times have obviously changed. But how much?

During the Revolutionary War the Continental Congress passed legislation to fix the components of a soldier’s food allowance. It included beef, peas, flour, milk, spruce beer, soap, and a candle. Next to the lack of vitamins A and C, the biggest problem was the lack of salt. Not just the lack of salt in the rations, but the lack of salt in the country. Salt was used to preserve meat and the salt had to be imported from the Spanish. The solution was to force the soldiers’ food to follow them and hopefully find pasture nearby. When the cattle didn’t have good forage or roads, the soldiers’ provisions dwindled. (Eventually the British West Indies sold salt to us and butchery on the battlefield once again referred primarily to humans.

Wars were tough on cattle. During the spring of 1778 when soldiers were starving, suddenly the cattle finally made it to camp. Unfortunately there were more cattle than could be eaten. Without forage for the cattle or salt to preserve carcasses, the cattle starved.

Later this week the soldier I know best will head to the DFAC in Kuwait for its unique version of Mongolian BBQ.

Rum or coffee

Current soldiers might envy the first soldiers in the U.S. Army. In 1790, the daily ration of four ounces of rum was reduced to only two, but they might get rum, brandy or whiskey. When you consider that they were probably drinking from the same water source as their cattle, the alcohol was probably a good idea. But boozing it up was a fact of life during Colonial times. I’ve read that they got cherubimical by imbibing such alcoholic delights as Rattle-Skull, Stonewall, Bogus, Blackstrap, Bombo, Mimbo, Whistle Belly, Syllabub, Sling, Toddy, and Flip.

None of these drinks were officially available to soldiers after the rum ration was eliminated in 1832. But then Congress must have felt bad about it and allowed enlisted men constructing fortifications or surveying an allowance to pay for their own ration of alcohol. By 1865, even that provision was eliminated.

What beverage replaced the booze? Coffee and sugar. During the Mexican War soldiers also got a bit of vinegar.

Temperance leaders tried to prohibit alcohol on military bases after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. However, policies to encourage moderating soldiers’ drinking were as strong as they got. For the most part officers saw a reasonable amount of drinking as good for morale.

Brewers were required to allocate 15 percent of total annual production of beer for use by the armed forces; local draft boards were authorized to grant deferments to brewery works who were highly skilled and irreplaceable; the Teamsters were ordered to end a strike against Minneapolis breweries because beer manufacturing was considered an industry essential to the war effort; and near the end of the war, the army made plans to operate recaptured French breweries to ensure adequate supplies for the troops (Rubin, 1979, p. 240).

While young soldiers were fighting in Vietnam, the argument was made that if you were old enough to die for your country, you were old enough to drink. Many states lowered the legal age to 18.

Alcohol is still enjoyed and abused by soldiers, even those serving in Islamic countries. Alcohol is fairly easy to get from the locals or have delivered by mail disguised as mouth wash. Heavy drinking is often seen as a symptom of PSTD or as influencing the actions of soldiers involved in criminal acts in Iraq or Afghanistan. Nevertheless, Sen. Jim Webb, a Vietnam veteran and former war correspondent has suggested letting troops in war zones drink alcohol as a way to relieve combat stress.

Coffee is easily available. It’s in the MREs and on bases. Tea is a little harder. The Canadians, Brits, and others have it in their MREs, but not the Americans. My poor husband arrived at his base in Kuwait only to discover that the Starbucks there was out of Earl Gray tea.

Food choices

Potatoes became part of the daily ration during the Civil War, as was pepper. And dried beans added to the variety. WWI saw the addition of butter (or margarine or lard). A total of 17 different food items were available on the list of possible rations. By 1927 this number was up to 23, mostly because of food prices and substitutions.

Now even MREs (meals ready to eat) have great variety. And they are available for purchase by the general public who uses them for disaster preparedness or camping trips. Personally, I find several of them to be rather good and better than most freeze-dried camping foods. The cheese tortellini with marinara sauce is probably my favorite.

The menu plans for DFACs includes menu standards that “should support menu planning for special dietary considerations. Vegetarianism and religious dietary requirements are normally addressed within the framework of the daily menu items offered.”

Sutlers to Starbucks

Sutlers would procure provisions for the military through the Civil War. They were civilians who followed the armies or who received a license to sell to an army post.

Now we have food provided free to soldiers via the DFAC and lots of privately owned establishments you’d easily find in your local shopping area. For example, Camp Arifjan has such fast food favorites such as: Pizza Hut, Charley’s, Hardees’s, 3 Subways, Burger King, Pizza Inn, Taco Bell, KFC, Baskin Robbins, Hawaiian Ice, Panda Oriental, Nathans Hot Dogs, Green Beans Coffee, Hole N One Doughnuts, 2 Starbucks. It only has three DFACs.

Starbucks really are everywhere. See this map of how to get to store 5546. I assume they are preparing to close down shops in Iraq now.

The contracts of modern day sutlers can be lucrative, but they are also costly. Food has to be imported. The contract proposal for the 2011 contract has this line: “The prime vendor bears all risk and responsibility for personal injury or death of its employees or agents or subcontractor employees or agents or for any damage to, loss of or demurrage of equipment during the transportation of product into Iraq.” As the Washington Post reported: “The Kuwait-based Public Warehousing Company/Agility, which has had the Iraq contract from 2003 through this year, has said 30 of its employees have been killed, 200 injured, 300 trucks destroyed and 700 more damaged over the past six years.”

Even with the availability of cinnamon dolce latte, war still sucks.

  1. Interesting stuff! You’re doing a lot of research in your free time.

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