When you grow up in a small rural town in the Finger Lakes area of New York State as I did, you can hold on to some strange misconceptions because you don’t know any better. When I started moving around the US and the UK as a military wife I learned that dirt isn’t the same wherever you go. In some places, it isn’t even the same color. And the plants that thrived near my childhood home wouldn’t necessarily survive in another location. The same holds for birds. I learned about different backyard songbirds each time I moved. I enjoyed getting acquainted with them and knowing their proper names.

From lack of experience, I also thought food was the same wherever one might travel. If I hadn’t left my home area I wouldn’t have been introduced to Huevos Rancheros, Greek gyros, or jerked chicken served with plantains. I would never have had steak au poivre in a French restaurant in London or enjoyed the beignets that New Orleans is famous for. I wouldn’t have been able to go to a port and buy fresh-caught shrimp from a deep-sea fisherman. I wouldn’t have learned there are many ways to make baked beans other than the way my mother did. Nor would I have been introduced to Yorkshire pudding which is not a dish of cold creamy mousse but what I know as a popover. While living in England familiar foods were called by different names, for example, French fries are chips, and what I call stew is goulash. I like my food, it wasn’t a problem, just another interesting experience.

I was a dependent, a support to my husband, comfortable at home with our little ones. I never had to serve in a war zone or “in the field” where active-duty military members were fed K-rations, or C-rations depending on the time period of service. Stories from veterans about what those rations looked and tasted like can be high spirited with expletives thrown in. I have heard one man say, “They included that tiny bottle of Tabasco sauce and I used it to make whatever I was looking at palatable.” In the reverse, I have heard high praise for the canned cherry cobbler.

The MREs that are in use currently have a better reputation than the rations did according to the people who I know that have eaten them. I include a complete list of what is in the package because I have always wondered how toilet paper gets supplied. (IF you eat, you must go!) It doesn’t sound like a bad meal to me, but I’m not too fussy when it comes to food choices.

QUICK NUTRITION FOR SOLDIERS ON THE GO

GoArmy.com article on MREs

MREs are the main operational food ration for the United States Armed Forces. It originated from the c-rations and k-rations from World War II, and later developed into MCI (Meal, Combat, Individual) rations used in Korea and Vietnam. In 1980 the MRE was developed and is still the U.S. Army’s primary ration.

Generally, an MRE contains the following items:

  • Entree – the main course, such as spaghetti or beef stew
  • Side dish – rice, corn, fruit, or mashed potatoes, etc.
  • Cracker or bread
  • Spread – peanut butter, jelly, or cheese spread
  • Dessert – cookies or pound cakes
  • Candy – M&Ms, Skittles, or Tootsie Rolls
  • Beverages – Gatorade-like mixes, cocoa, dairy shakes, coffee, tea
  • Hot sauce or seasoning – in some MREs
  • Flameless Ration Heater – to heat the entree
  • Accessories – spoon, matches, creamer, sugar, salt, chewing gum, toilet paper, etc.

Each MRE provides an average of 1,250 calories (13 percent protein, 36 percent fat, and 51 percent carbohydrates) and one-third of the Military Recommended Daily Allowance of vitamins and minerals. A full day’s worth of meals would consist of three MREs. 

In my Veterans writing group we have discussed food on more than one occasion. Some of the prompts were: tell about a dish you ate in a foreign country, a memorable or holiday meal you had while serving, a unique way of cooking something you were familiar with, or an entree you learned to like though you didn’t expect to. Both of the WWII vets wrote about fresh-made German sausage. While sharing their stories they discovered they had been in the same sausage shop in Europe a few months apart. The owner stood back and watched on both occasions as the Americans took/stole his inventory. The rest of the story is that the shop owner moved to Buffalo, NY, after the war and my friends found out so went to visit him and apologize for their wartime actions. “We were just hungry. We meant him no ill will,” Kurt told us before going to meet the man for the second time. On their return, Bob explained, “We shook hands and passed around the forgiveness.”

When talking with a Korean War vet about his travels, he mentioned kimchi, made the traditional way, in an inground pit. He said the first time he had it he was skeptical, but by the time he returned to the states from Korea he craved it and still does 60 years later. If you don’t know, it is fermented Napa cabbage and radish with a lot of garlic and plenty of spice. I have to be honest, I have never tried it because of the smell. Maybe I’m missing something.

While living in England, we did our major grocery shopping at the base commissary. It was stocked with familiar name brands and the prices were set for the benefit of the American serving overseas. This was during the mid-1970s so fast-food chains like McDonald’s had not yet opened there. The two items we couldn’t wait to get back to the states to ingest were hot dogs and Kentucky Fried Chicken.  Silly I know, but some flavors can’t be replaced or reproduced in my kitchen. Now I would love to be able to go to an English Chippy for some deep-fried, battered Rockfish and malt vinegar covered chips wrapped together in butcher paper.

Are there any types of food have you been introduced to while traveling and wish you could have again? Use the comments section to share where you’ve been and what type of food played a part in making your memories.

Sue Spitulnik was an Air Force wife who stays connected to the military/veteran community through her membership in the Rochester (NY) Veterans Writing Group. The group has recently published an anthology of some of their military experiences, United in Service, United in Sacrifice, available on Amazon. If you would like to contact her directly you can do so at her blog, susansleggs.com


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