Whether or not the daily challenge of needing to decide what to have for dinner and then having to provision and actually cook the meal is a manoeuvre you abhor or embrace, think on the scale of your problem, and perhaps take some hints from the military. The following story is abbreviated from one appearing in the New York Times of May 24, 1942 - right in the middle of World War II.
2,000,000 Men for Dinner.
By Major General Edmund B. Gregory.
If housewives think they have a few problems they ought to keep the Army Quartermaster Corps in mind. The Army consumes 12,000,000 pounds of food a day and it's the best fed in the world.
Mr. Samuel Johnson once remarked that men seldom think so seriously about anything else as they do about their dinner, and the Quartermaster Corps, which is responsible for feeding upward of 2,000,000 soldiers in our army three times a day, operates on the theory that this goes double for fighting men. We recognize that a well-fed Army is better prepared to do battle. Further, these soldiers are our own sons, and our neighbours’ sons, and they not only need but deserve the best we can give them.
The American fighting man today is well fed – wherever he is. The gigantic job of feeding him involves supplying one kind of ration for men in the Arctic, another for their comrades in the tropics, and an untold variety of meals for their fellow-troups who are stationed at intermediate points. The Quartermasters Corps purchases from 10,000, 000 to 12,000,000 pounds of food each day, and that in itself is a man-sized job. It begins to look more complicated when it is recalled that some of the men we must feed are 12,000 miles away; that others are engaged in unique types of duty where normal rations either cannot be supplied or else are unsuited to their requirements, and that even those engaged in normal troop duty are scattered throughout the 3,000,000 square miles that make up the United States.
The far-flung fronts of World War II complicate the Army supply problem as no other war in our history has done; they make this conflict primarily, as Hanson Baldwin said, a “quartermaster’s war.”
… The soldier at mess is not interested in the fact that we bought some 580,000 head of cattle last year, which is equivalent to a steer every fifty-four seconds. What does interest him is the roast beef on his plate. He gets plenty of it, well cooked. He won’t notice that he is eating more kinds of vegetables than he did back in his civilian days, nor will he realize that what is actually taking place is a revolution in his dietary habits. As a civilian he ate what he liked; in the Army he eats what he likes too, but he augments it with essential foods he never bothered to eat before.
… Master menus are prepared for each day of the month. They vary with the seasons and in accordance with what can be bought on the market. On this Sunday, your soldier in the Second Army Corps Area (New York, New Jersey and Delaware) will be eating three meals based on the menu that appears on this page.
To insure that every Army meal contains all the elements of a good diet, we have adopted the recommendations of the Nutrition Committee of the National Research Council as a minimum standard, and the master menu is so planned that each mess equals or exceeds these recommendations.
… In the main, the Army diet suits the American appetite. There is plenty of beef, poultry and pork for the heavy meal eater, plenty of apple pie and ice-cream, the favorite American desserts, and plenty of all the other food that most Americans enjoy. There are vegetables every day for the confirmed vegetarian, and fish is served as often as it is found on the average home table.
ARMY MENU, MAY 24, SECOND CORPS AREA.
Oatmeal Fresh Milk
Creamed ground beef on toast
Toast Butter Coffee
Roast fresh ham with raisin sauce
Boiled sweet potatoes Creamed onions
Lettuce salad with Russian dressing
Ice Cream Coffee
Italian spaghetti with meat sauce
Sliced cheese buttered broccoli
Apple-celery salad with mayonnaise
I doubt if basic Army cooking had changed much over the decades before WW II, so as the recipe for the day I give you a couple of no-frill ideas for cooking ham from the cookery manual used by Army cooks during the previous war - the United States War Department’s Manual for Army Cooks (1914.)
281. Ham, boiled (for 60 men).
20 pounds ham.
Wash and scrape the ham, removing any part that may be decayed; place in sufficient water to cover it and allow it to boil for one hour; remove from the range and allow to cool before taking from the water; slice and serve either hot or cold.
282. Ham, fried (for 60 men).
25 pounds ham.
Trim off most of the fat and slice thin: if salty, parboil; fry in its own grease in the oven or top of the range.
Appropriate for breakfast when served with eggs.
As my old man (USA 1943-1946) used to sing -
The coffee that they serve us, they say is mighty fine
It looks like muddy water, and tastes like turpentine!
Interesting that they acknowledged vegetarians back then!
Some great social history here. Janet, I think "fresh ham" means leg of pork (uncured): the Americans use, or did, the seemingly contradictory term to refer more to the cut than the meat, which would have been uncured due to the adjective "fresh". Possibly they meant a lightly cured ham, but I think not in fact.
Thanks, Shay! I love the personal anecdotes that get added to my posts!
Hello Gary - thanks for this, I did not appreciate that specific usage. I will have a look through the military cookery manual and see if I can clarify this - although I am sure you are correct!
Hello Sandra - yes, I thought that it was interesting that the military recognised vegetarians then too - recognised but did not actually cater for! It was lean pickings for them if they only got the veg side-dishes intended to accompany the meat!
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