4

votes

What are some common historical military rations?

Answered on September 12, 2014
Created May 21, 2011 at 4:04 PM

It seems to me that historical military ration development follows a sort of evolutionary process where BS gets weeded out. It'd be interesting to have a collection of historical ration staples.

I've heard jerky and Pemmican were standard for the 19th-c British. Any others?

Medium avatar

(10611)

on September 22, 2012
at 08:07 PM

Farming gave people the incentive to wipe out the pesky nomadic paleos. But in order to succeed at farming you need stability. Genghis Khan demonstrated what destruction cavalry could wreak on agrarian societies. The Vikings showed similarly what marine force could do. Both groups dependent on portable rations and thus able to project force without the supply lines an agrarian army needs.

54f75fb54778cfa947990bec1175307a

(665)

on September 22, 2012
at 03:06 PM

Totally agree. I believe that soldiers of empire armies won battles with barbarians because of numbers, organization and better equipment. They were no match in one on one combat as barbarians usually were larger, stronger and healthier.

54f75fb54778cfa947990bec1175307a

(665)

on September 22, 2012
at 02:58 PM

Thanks fromthericefields, corrected. thhq, mobility was a key I agree, horse jerky not only was the best food but also allowed them to snack on the move. Grains however require established camp to cook them.

9f54852ea376e8e416356f547611e052

(2957)

on September 22, 2012
at 12:31 AM

That's a (perhaps not surprisingly) very limited view of military rationing. Legionnaires in the French Foreign Legion, for example, feasts every week. In Finland we have a saying that soldiers march on their bellies (ie. need fuel).

9f54852ea376e8e416356f547611e052

(2957)

on September 22, 2012
at 12:26 AM

That's a (perhaps not surprisingly) very limited view of military rationing. Legionnaires in the French Foreign Legion, for example, feasts every week. In Finland we have a saying that soldiers march on their stomachs (ie. need fuel).

Medium avatar

(10611)

on September 21, 2012
at 02:46 PM

I have read Good Soldier Svejk many times and it's one of my favorite books. Rations are by no means the major subject (though the meat tinning plants of Hungary are mentioned, and alcohol is a major subject); the incompetence of the administration of the war is. One great line: "a country as stupid as this should not be allowed to exist." Same sentiments in Catch 22....time for another reread....

Medium avatar

(10611)

on September 21, 2012
at 02:38 PM

It's interesting that the Mongols got so much use out of their horses, but I think the main strength came from mobility rather than horse jerky. Dark Ages agrarian cultures, tied to locale, had no adequate response to the Mongol blitzkrieg.

Medium avatar

(10611)

on September 21, 2012
at 02:33 PM

Just like dried meat or fish, grain is calorie dense and has a long shelf life. Thus it assists an army's mobility.

7278560e76901ded4081022b54c6e165

on September 21, 2012
at 04:50 AM

Grains are not nutrient dense

13db020c06c22c2f8b129034ddc013e4

(340)

on May 29, 2011
at 02:55 AM

Good points. I suppose the true HG equivalent to a military ration would be provisions for a long hunt.

13db020c06c22c2f8b129034ddc013e4

(340)

on May 29, 2011
at 02:51 AM

Good point Kamal :)

21fd060d0796fdb8a4a990441e08eae7

(24543)

on May 29, 2011
at 02:02 AM

I am! Unfortunately the dissertation has to be a little more boring than this, or else no professors will support you.

Bdcb2101fd3f1853cfd645094d8ad086

on May 29, 2011
at 01:04 AM

Paleolithic time scales dwarf the history of military rations. Let's not lose sight of the basic scientific hypothesis of paleolithic dietary practice: the evolutionary heritage of humans determines our optimal diet. Civilization, and large scale military operations, are 5000 years old at MOST.

13db020c06c22c2f8b129034ddc013e4

(340)

on May 25, 2011
at 01:34 AM

musk flavored candy - yikes!

95601768ec9cb75cc3a9cbcd2271ed14

(2206)

on May 22, 2011
at 03:04 AM

Looking through more of those historical articles right now. 1917 is really the year of margarine and "lard substitute" which I assume is shortening. Yuck.

95601768ec9cb75cc3a9cbcd2271ed14

(2206)

on May 22, 2011
at 03:01 AM

Looking through some of those historical articles right now. 1917 is really the year of margarine and "lard substitute" which I assume is shortening. Gross.

95601768ec9cb75cc3a9cbcd2271ed14

(2206)

on May 22, 2011
at 02:58 AM

I'm sure they are all gross, but the French one made me totally want venison pate. Also, the Australian one introduced me to the concept of "musk flavored candy"--I can't even imagine what that tastes like.

Cf626d3fba66c18297b3f1116a920e58

(3417)

on May 22, 2011
at 01:26 AM

They sometimes supplemented their soldiers' rations with fermented cod liver oil as well. I wonder how much they knew about PUFAs... very advanced people, those Romans.

13db020c06c22c2f8b129034ddc013e4

(340)

on May 21, 2011
at 11:09 PM

Korea looks closest to Paleo. USA looks among the furthest.

13db020c06c22c2f8b129034ddc013e4

(340)

on May 21, 2011
at 11:08 PM

Korea looks closest to Paleo. USA looks furthest...

13db020c06c22c2f8b129034ddc013e4

(340)

on May 21, 2011
at 11:02 PM

Nice find, Amanda

13db020c06c22c2f8b129034ddc013e4

(340)

on May 21, 2011
at 05:13 PM

Somewhere there must be a nutrition phd candidate looking for a topic :)

13db020c06c22c2f8b129034ddc013e4

(340)

on May 21, 2011
at 05:12 PM

Yep. We have our infamous Ancel Keyes to thank once again. Evolutionary processes, unfortunately, take time ;)

667f6c030b0245d71d8ef50c72b097dc

(15976)

on May 21, 2011
at 05:00 PM

Good question. you'd hope that there would be knowledge to be gained from military rations for exactly your reasoning. i fear that we will be let down. But this would make a great project, thesis, etc. Please let us know what you find out.

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14 Answers

4
510bdda8988ed0d4b0ec0b738b4edb73

(20888)

on September 21, 2012
at 02:20 PM

It seems to me that historical military ration development follows a sort of evolutionary process where BS gets weeded out.

Unfortunately, this means you know nothing about the world for defense contracting. Except for the elite forces, the typical war fighter is treated pretty badly when it comes to anything. The way it goes is that a well-meaning, but incompetent company with close ties to the government helps to write the RFP (request for proposal) that the government gives out to solicit ideas for anything from armor, weapons, food, research, anything that a war fighter might need. Then the company with the closest ties to the head of the selection committee gets the contract and they waste the money in bureaucracy ultimately providing a product that is under-performing on the specs, over budget, and late and doesn't provide the desired benefit to the actual man in the field. (You may think this is cynical and just a anti-government rant, but both me and my wife work for different defense contractors, and we see this ALL the time from the inside of the game)

Anyway, what does this have to do with food? Well, there will be big American companies that will have surplus food they need to sell. The government is great at buying surplus at over-market prices. So they'll write up some research that whatever they are selling is good and get it as part of the MRE. That includes companies like Kellogg, Mars (candy), Frito Lay, etc. It is totally possible, for example, for a soldier to get a bag of skittles in his MRE. There is nothing about an MRE (or anything else issued) that is about the health and well-being of the brave men and women who risk their lives. I think it's disgusting, but the system is just too big for me to even make a dent in it.

Sorry for the rant, but when you're inside this game, you can't help but see that there's so much more we could do for our war fighters to keep them safe and healthy, but all that happens is lowest-common denominator work from the contractors for crazy amounts of money.

9f54852ea376e8e416356f547611e052

(2957)

on September 22, 2012
at 12:31 AM

That's a (perhaps not surprisingly) very limited view of military rationing. Legionnaires in the French Foreign Legion, for example, feasts every week. In Finland we have a saying that soldiers march on their bellies (ie. need fuel).

9f54852ea376e8e416356f547611e052

(2957)

on September 22, 2012
at 12:26 AM

That's a (perhaps not surprisingly) very limited view of military rationing. Legionnaires in the French Foreign Legion, for example, feasts every week. In Finland we have a saying that soldiers march on their stomachs (ie. need fuel).

Medium avatar

(10611)

on September 21, 2012
at 02:46 PM

I have read Good Soldier Svejk many times and it's one of my favorite books. Rations are by no means the major subject (though the meat tinning plants of Hungary are mentioned, and alcohol is a major subject); the incompetence of the administration of the war is. One great line: "a country as stupid as this should not be allowed to exist." Same sentiments in Catch 22....time for another reread....

4
13db020c06c22c2f8b129034ddc013e4

on May 23, 2011
at 01:22 AM

From Dr. Eades, quoting Weatherford's "Genghis Khan":

The Chinese noted with surprise and disgust the ability of the Mongol warriors to survive on little food and water for long periods; according to one, the entire army could camp without a single puff of smoke since they needed no fires to cook. Compared to the Jurched soldiers, the Mongols were much healthier and stronger. The Mongols consumed a steady diet of meat, milk, yogurt, and other diary products, and they fought men who lived on gruel made from various grains. The grain diet of the peasant warriors stunted their bones, rotted their teeth, and left them weak and prone to disease. In contrast, the poorest Mongol soldier ate mostly protein, thereby giving him strong teeth and bones. Unlike the Jurched soldiers, who were dependent on a heavy carbohydrate diet, the Mongols could more easily go a day or two without food.

3
Bdcb2101fd3f1853cfd645094d8ad086

on May 29, 2011
at 01:01 AM

Large scale military operations are entirely neolithic and historically have been sustained by two activities: plundering agricultural village economies and living on the harvest of agriculturally based civilizations. The earliest dominant military powers were grain based economies (Mesopotamia, Egypt, Harapan India, China) and no civilization has ever formed which did not use slave or serf labor and military masses fed by means of cheap, abundant grain.

Just because you can sustain a dominant labor and or fighting force with bread and water does not make it interesting from the perspective of trying to establish which dietary habits are evolutionarily based or likely most healthy.

13db020c06c22c2f8b129034ddc013e4

(340)

on May 29, 2011
at 02:55 AM

Good points. I suppose the true HG equivalent to a military ration would be provisions for a long hunt.

54f75fb54778cfa947990bec1175307a

(665)

on September 22, 2012
at 03:06 PM

Totally agree. I believe that soldiers of empire armies won battles with barbarians because of numbers, organization and better equipment. They were no match in one on one combat as barbarians usually were larger, stronger and healthier.

2
13c5a9f1678d75b93f269cdcf69f14d5

(2339)

on May 22, 2011
at 01:24 AM

http://www.amazon.com/Pickled-Potted-Canned-Science-Preserving/dp/0743216334

This book had chapters on army and navy rations and another on expeditions. Very interesting read.

2
03281912f1cb9e4e771a8a83af302e3a

(1204)

on May 22, 2011
at 01:23 AM

"We are at rest five miles behind the front. Yesterday we were relieved and our belies are full of beef and haricot beans. We are satisfied and at peace. Each man has another tin-full for the evening; and, what is more, there is a double ration of sausage and bread. This puts a man in fine trim. We have not had such luck as this in a long time."

~Erich Maria Remarque

2
95601768ec9cb75cc3a9cbcd2271ed14

(2206)

on May 21, 2011
at 09:25 PM

A list of several articles that discuss military rations throughout America's history.

The NYT recently had this really neat pictorial feature and article about the current MREs produced for different nations' troops.

13db020c06c22c2f8b129034ddc013e4

(340)

on May 21, 2011
at 11:08 PM

Korea looks closest to Paleo. USA looks furthest...

13db020c06c22c2f8b129034ddc013e4

(340)

on May 21, 2011
at 11:02 PM

Nice find, Amanda

95601768ec9cb75cc3a9cbcd2271ed14

(2206)

on May 22, 2011
at 03:04 AM

Looking through more of those historical articles right now. 1917 is really the year of margarine and "lard substitute" which I assume is shortening. Yuck.

95601768ec9cb75cc3a9cbcd2271ed14

(2206)

on May 22, 2011
at 02:58 AM

I'm sure they are all gross, but the French one made me totally want venison pate. Also, the Australian one introduced me to the concept of "musk flavored candy"--I can't even imagine what that tastes like.

13db020c06c22c2f8b129034ddc013e4

(340)

on May 21, 2011
at 11:09 PM

Korea looks closest to Paleo. USA looks among the furthest.

95601768ec9cb75cc3a9cbcd2271ed14

(2206)

on May 22, 2011
at 03:01 AM

Looking through some of those historical articles right now. 1917 is really the year of margarine and "lard substitute" which I assume is shortening. Gross.

13db020c06c22c2f8b129034ddc013e4

(340)

on May 25, 2011
at 01:34 AM

musk flavored candy - yikes!

Bdcb2101fd3f1853cfd645094d8ad086

on May 29, 2011
at 01:04 AM

Paleolithic time scales dwarf the history of military rations. Let's not lose sight of the basic scientific hypothesis of paleolithic dietary practice: the evolutionary heritage of humans determines our optimal diet. Civilization, and large scale military operations, are 5000 years old at MOST.

2
Medium avatar

on May 21, 2011
at 05:13 PM

hard tack, butter, coffee, sugar, ham. At least that's what soldiers in the civil war along the outer banks were rationed.

1
54f75fb54778cfa947990bec1175307a

on September 21, 2012
at 02:09 AM

I believe staple of mass armies were grains. Basically that's one of the reasons why vast empires emerged after agriculture adoption as it was possible to feed large armies on marches. Grains are calorie dense and can be stored in dry conditions for thousands of years.

There were some exceptions of course, like Mongols, who ate raw horse meat which they stuck under the saddle so that it tenderized and became salted with horse sweat (balyk). Probably that was the reason why they were the strongest army at the time.

Medium avatar

(10611)

on September 21, 2012
at 02:38 PM

It's interesting that the Mongols got so much use out of their horses, but I think the main strength came from mobility rather than horse jerky. Dark Ages agrarian cultures, tied to locale, had no adequate response to the Mongol blitzkrieg.

7278560e76901ded4081022b54c6e165

on September 21, 2012
at 04:50 AM

Grains are not nutrient dense

Medium avatar

(10611)

on September 21, 2012
at 02:33 PM

Just like dried meat or fish, grain is calorie dense and has a long shelf life. Thus it assists an army's mobility.

54f75fb54778cfa947990bec1175307a

(665)

on September 22, 2012
at 02:58 PM

Thanks fromthericefields, corrected. thhq, mobility was a key I agree, horse jerky not only was the best food but also allowed them to snack on the move. Grains however require established camp to cook them.

Medium avatar

(10611)

on September 22, 2012
at 08:07 PM

Farming gave people the incentive to wipe out the pesky nomadic paleos. But in order to succeed at farming you need stability. Genghis Khan demonstrated what destruction cavalry could wreak on agrarian societies. The Vikings showed similarly what marine force could do. Both groups dependent on portable rations and thus able to project force without the supply lines an agrarian army needs.

1
Medium avatar

(10611)

on September 20, 2012
at 06:52 PM

Napoleon's army marched on brandade, a mixture of potatoes and dried cod. From what I remember the military version was higher in fish than the current pur??e of potatoes, fish and butter.

1
A7ff7aa8d0f8d6cbdb45e514a5452620

(200)

on May 21, 2011
at 05:03 PM

Landjaeger:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Landj%C3%A4ger

i get it from the amish at reading terminal market in philadelphia. like a giant high-quality slim jim.

1
5de22782359b98f35104ccc36ee9148b

on May 21, 2011
at 04:14 PM

If BS got weeded out there would be no vegetarian MREs.

13db020c06c22c2f8b129034ddc013e4

(340)

on May 21, 2011
at 05:12 PM

Yep. We have our infamous Ancel Keyes to thank once again. Evolutionary processes, unfortunately, take time ;)

0
Ee70ee808f748374744404a00e1c22ed

(1163)

on September 21, 2012
at 10:47 PM

Soldiers in colonial-era North America were issued salt pork, bread, and dried peas.

0
E791387b2829c660292308092dc3ca9b

(831)

on September 21, 2012
at 08:47 PM

My ancestors the Scots lived on oats, bannocks specifically. And then of course whatever game they could catch and the occasional rustled cow. But mainly the Scots marched on 100% oat fuel.

0
C1c86f42410cd4788bd9c5cf801dcd8f

(2246)

on May 21, 2011
at 07:33 PM

I read that the Romans used to snack on flax seed.

Cf626d3fba66c18297b3f1116a920e58

(3417)

on May 22, 2011
at 01:26 AM

They sometimes supplemented their soldiers' rations with fermented cod liver oil as well. I wonder how much they knew about PUFAs... very advanced people, those Romans.

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