- 1941 - 1945 -
The Fruit Front, Part 4
Food Scientists & Soldiers' Rations
 

 

     Feeding soldiers has always been a challenge for armies.  In the twentieth century, the Army’s Quartermaster Corps (QMC) used food scientists to make the process more efficient and provide more nutritious food. The QMC depended on corporate research labs before and during the early part of World War II.  In 1936, the school moved to Philadelphia and established a formal laboratory.  They designed types of rations to for various circumstances. 

     In 1937, food scientists at Hershey created a lightweight, high calorie emergency ration (600 calories in each of the three bars) that would withstand high temperatures, called the D-Ration or Logan Bar; yet, by design, it did not taste good enough to tempt soldiers to eat it until ordered to do so by their commanding officer.  Canned fruits were in the B-ration, which was a garrison or base ration that did not use any fresh food, only canned and dehydrated.  The C-ration, created in 1940 as a combat ration, initially included dried fruit.  Eventually, the Quartermaster Corps added canned fruit to the ration, which soldiers appreciated.  

     The Quartermaster Corps also wanted to respond to soldiers’ taste preferences.  One of their studies showed a marked difference between the food preferences of women and men in the army, to accommodate the women’s preferences was an increase a fifty percent increase in fruit cocktail and apples, and a one hundred percent increase in pears, which took the place of decreased bacon and veal supplies.  In other cases, they experimented with entrees, sweets, and beverages.  

     Once the United States entered the war in 1941, University of California -Berkeley contributed its best food technology professors to the military effort.  Both Emil Mrak and William V. Cruess worked with the Quartermaster lab.  William Cruess even gained membership into its Guinea Pig Club.  The Guinea Pig Club was a group that tasted the various rations that food scientists created to see if they were palatable. 

     Improving the transportability of food was a high priorities for food scientists and the Quartermaster Corps.  Although canned food had many benefits for military use, dried food was lighter and took up less space.  As America shipped rations around the world, reducing the space and weight of food reduced the amount of energy and ships required.

     The Fruit Products Lab at the University of California, Berkeley, among other departments, also worked to meet the needs of the military.  Cruess and his colleagues researched dried vegetables again at the request of the military, particularly potatoes, carrots, onions, and beets.  University researchers had abandoned dehydrating vegetables in the 1920s to focus on fruit dehydration because they believed that dried vegetables were inferior to canned vegetables.  Nutrients in vegetables diminished during the drying process, and they did not believe the vegetables would sell in the consumer market.  The military’s need for lighter materials led to revival of the dehydrated vegetable research. 

     Researching cans was also ongoing.  Can makers tried to reduce the amount of tin required for each can. Canners also had to make sure the food arrived in edible condition.  In some climates, cans rusted and deteriorated quickly.  After experimentation in the field, the military required the canners coat cans for the military with a special material that prevented rust.

Sources

California League of Food Processors Papers, University of California - Davis, Shields Library Special Collections

"Dehydration Conference Called at University." The Food Packer, January, 1944.

Fisher, John C. and Carol Fisher. Food in the American Military: A History. Kindle ed. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland, 2011.

Hardigg, Brigader General Carl A. "The Army's Food Needs." The Food Packer, March, 1944.

Shapiro, Laura. Something from the Oven: Reinventing Dinner in 1950s America. Penguin Books, 2005.