Combat-Ready Kitchen: How The U.S. Military Shapes The Way You Eat

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Americans eat more processed foods than anyone elsein the world. We also spend more on military research.These two seemingly unrelated facts are inextricablylinked. If you ever wondered how ready-to-eat foodsinfiltrated your kitchen, youll love this entertainingromp through the secret military history of practicallyeverything you buy at the supermarket.

In a nondescript Boston suburb, in a handful of lowbuildings buffered by trees and a lake, a group of menand women spend their days researching, testing, tasting,and producing the foods that form the bedrock ofthe American diet. If you stumbled into the facility, youmight think the technicians dressed in lab coats andthe shiny kitchen equipment belonged to one of thegiant food conglomerates responsible for your favoritebrand of frozen pizza or microwavable breakfast burritos.So youd be surprised to learn that youve justentered the U.S. Army Natick Soldier Systems Center,ground zero for the processed food industry.

Ever since Napoleon, armies have sought betterways to preserve, store, and transport food for battle.As part of this quest, although most people dont realizeit, the U.S. military spearheaded the invention ofenergy bars, restructured meat, extended-life bread,instant coffee, and much more. But theres been aninsidious mission creep: because the military enlistedindustryhuge corporations such as ADM, ConAgra,General Mills, Hershey, Hormel, Mars, Nabisco,Reynolds, Smithfield, Swift, Tyson, and Unilevertohelp develop and manufacture food for soldiers on thefront line, over the years combat rations, or the keytechnologies used in engineering them, have endedup dominating grocery store shelves and refrigeratorcases. TV dinners, the cheese powder in snack foods,cling wrap . . . The list is almost endless.

Now food writer Anastacia Marx de Salcedoscrutinizes the world of processed food and its longrelationship with the militaryunveiling the twists,turns, successes, failures, and products that have foundtheir way from the armed forces and contractors laboratoriesinto our kitchens. In developing these rations,the army was looking for some of the very same qualitiesas we do in our hectic, fast-paced twenty-first-centurylives: portability, ease of preparation, extended shelf lifeat room temperature, affordability, and appeal to eventhe least adventurous eaters. In other words, the militaryhas us chowing down like special ops.

What is the effect of such a diet, eatenas it isby soldiers and most consumersday in and day out,year after year? We dont really know. Were the guineapigs in a giant public health experiment, one in whichscience and technology, at the beck and call of the military,have taken over our kitchens.

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