Culture of military rations

Sunday 17 July 2011, 9.00am HKT

‘An army marches on its stomach.’ — Napoleon Bonaparte

IT HAS BEEN SAID (and rightly so) that logistics is the long pole in the tent. Military campaigns are made or broken on the backs of those much-belittled supply guys. And the long pole in the tent rests very largely on the rations supplied to troops.

You must be indoctrinated in the matter of rations before reading further.

Rations come in two main varieties:

  • garrison ration
  • field ration (or combat ration)

Garrison ration

A garrison ration is regular military ration: the food served to a soldier when stationed somewhere. The quantity and type generally are unlike the rations fed to troops in transit or in combat.

Note that ‘garrison ration’ is mostly a term used in respect to historical militaries. I mean, honestly, to say soldiers not on active sorties having to eat rations is kind of demoralising.

Field ration / combat ration / marching rations

A field ration is meant to be a self-contained package of meals to sustain the soldier on the move or in the battlefield. It is designed for a long shelf life and minimal preparation before eating. It uses tinned, precooked or freeze-dried foods, powered drink mixes and concentrated food bars, suitably tailored to meet national or ethnic tastes.

Field rations are also invaluable for disaster relief because large stocks of these meals can be ferried and distributed easily to victims, providing people with basic nutrition before kitchens could be set up to produce proper meals.

U.S. military rations

Because of American movies and TV shows, most people around the world are much more familiar with American stuff than about their own country’s stuff.

Currently, the U.S. military supplies four main types of rations:

  • A-ration is fresh food prepared on-site (or nearby and transported);
  • B-ration is a unit-sized packaged/preserved ration, most commonly found in tray rations (nicknamed ‘T-rat’) heated by immersion;
  • Meal, Ready-to-Eat (MRE) is the standard individual operational ration and is meant to be completely self-contained meals to sustain the soldier on the go; and
  • First Strike Ration is an individual ration designed to be eaten while on the move.

The Hooah! Bar is an energy bar (the spiritual successor to the D-ration) found in some menus of the MREs.

British military rations

The great cultural tradition of ‘muddling through’ has never left the UK since WW2. Like almost everything else British/English, the UK still operates on ‘variations on a classic theme’ — so it comes up with a couple of themes (menus) and make variations to them along the way. Which is why ration packs (regardless of their contents) are referred to as “Rat Packs” or “Compo” (short for Composite Rations) by the soldiers to eat them.

The Brits provide two main types of rations:

  • Operation Ration Pack, General Purpose (ORP), to feed one soldier for 24 hours; and
  • a larger ration pack intended to feed 10 soldiers for 24 hours, and these larger packs are basically a bigger version of the single-man ORPs with contents in larger quantities.

The ORPs are for field combat use. Each ORP provides two precooked meals (breakfast and ‘main meal’) plus a midday snack in the form of retort pouches and tinned food, all packed inside a small cardboard box. It comes in seven basic menus, adjusted for cold or hot climates, plus three vegetarian and religious variants (three Kosher/Halal and three Hindu/Sikh). Basically, that’s 26 menu choices in total.

Here’s the menu lineup (S = Sikh, H = Halal/Kosher) (click image for full size):

British ration pack menus (click image for full size)

I can’t be bothered to type out the contents of a typical ORP. Suffice it to say, the most interesting in each pack are two things:

  • a specially made Yorkie chocolate bar that is flatter than civilian bars with the slogan “It’s not for civvies [civilians]!”
  • lemon/orange powder (often known as “screech” because it makes the drinker hyperactive) or Lucozade electrolyte powder

Usefully, the cardboard box has a range card printed outside for the soldier to record key features and range of enemy positions. There are other box variations designed for specific environments or tasks.

Interestingly, Vesty Foods Group (VFUK) is the only vendor officially licensed by the British government for the sale and worldwide distribution of the British Army brand ration packs. Only 10-man ration packs are available, priced £76.22 (US$122.87 or €86.94) with a choice of Menus A, B, C, D and E. It doesn’t come with the ranging cardboard box. At that price, it works out to £7.62 per person per 24 hours — not a bad bargain.

* * *

Military rations around the world

Now that you’re suitably indoctrinated about military rations, please take a deep look at these rations (click image for full size):

Dimensions 931 x 668 (click image for full size)

One thing really stands out if you’re not blind (real comments from real people):

“Jesus Christ, PRC [China], can’t you do ANYTHING right?
Even f@#king Mongolia feeds its soldiers better
— and they’re a completely fictional country.”

“Mmmm, cat food … those Chinese soldiers dine well…”

“Makes the Chinese soldiers more tough. I’d like to see you say that
when they swarm down on your country like locusts.”

“Wow, Russians getting down on some brute nutrients.
China seems to have it the roughest.”

“Mmm, tastes like chicken, even though it’s cat.” (re: China)

“One German ration, please.”

“Refugees doing better than China.”

“Has China ever heard of morale?”

“Morale is for filthy capitarist pig dog, not honourable Chinee.”

“We eat capitalist running dog.”

做中國人要捱得… 我寧願餓死好過嘔死
(“To have Chinese people endure this, I’d rather
starve to death than to vomit to death.”)

“Japan I like most because the food is better than your normal Japanese [meal].”

中國軍 … 我驚食左會死
(“Chinese military … I’m afraid I’ll die from eating it.”)

(“Chinese really looks like dog food.”)

“Dogs eat better than this in China.”

“Given the choice between this [the Chinese ration] and death,
I’d take my chances with the enemy.”

* * *

The Naked Listener’s Weblog, 2011.

Images: British ration menu via ♦ Military rations of the world via c4c

2 Responses to “Culture of military rations”

  1. xiaozhoucoldsea said

    holy shit! what the ccp bandits eat looks like tofu, but how do they preserve it in consideration of the lowest temprature in which tofu can keep its shape? they must add various preservatives such as sodium nitrite and other poisons to keep it. they are always good at doing things like that.


    • A friend of mine had actually seen the Chinese ration in real life, and said it resembles vomit!

      Military rations has to (and must) contain preservatives – they are designed to have a long shelf life. Freshness is not really the aim – the point about military rations is that they are meant to provide good-enough nutrition under less-than-ideal conditions such as in field combat or disaster situations. So the use of preservatives such as sodium nitrates etc cannot be objected to.


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