Morale: Soldiers Turn To Foraging For Fast Food


November 25, 2013: Norway recently announced that its military was making an effort to change the eating habits of its troops. This would be accomplished by not serving meat on Mondays. Actually, the mandatory vegetarian menu for Mondays has nothing to do with the health of the troops but more to do with joining the effort to modify global climate by persuading everyone to eat less meat and, in general, put less carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Most meteorologists and climatologists consider this scientifically absurd but the idea has become popular with the media and the non-scientific community in general, and one of the side-effects is Norwegian troops who are not vegetarians being forced to buy their meals off base on Mondays.

Efforts like this are not just a Norwegian problem. The U.S. Air Force and U.S. Army have been having trouble getting troops to eat the free food available to them at their bases even when meat is served. As a result, there are increasingly desperate efforts to improve the military supplied chow. But the air force found that more than half the troops living in barracks were not eating at the air force run dining facilities. Things were not much better in the army. In the navy a large portion of the sailors are at sea, where there are fewer dining options besides the government supplied meals (which, to the navy's credit, have always been considered pretty tasty by the ship crews).

All this is largely because higher pay for the troops has led to some unexpected behavior. One of these changes was that more and more unmarried troops (who comprise about half the force in most countries) don't eat at the "dining facility" (formerly known as the Mess Hall). While the official chow has been getting better, the troops prefer fast food, restaurants, or using a microwave back at the barracks. The unmarried troops in Western nations no longer live in traditional "barracks" (a large room with a few dozen beds and wall lockers) but in rooms and suites competitive with those found in college dorms. Microwaves, and even small refrigerators, are common items, and this enables troops to do without the mess hall.

Commanders have been noticing the sparsely populated dining facilities and in some cases have been forced to close them (by the accountants, which the military has plenty of). When that is done the troops sometimes (when a base has no more mess halls) get extra pay each month with which to buy food. This comes to nearly ten bucks a day. And on some bases common kitchens have been added to some barracks. Unlike civilian roommates, there are NCOs and officers around to order everyone to do their part to keep the kitchen clean. The remaining dining facilities (usually staffed by civilian contractors) have been told to increase attendance or be closed. With this incentive there has been a lot of creativity and catering to all sorts of dining preferences (including vegetarians and regional preferences).

Letting the troops feed themselves is cheaper than running the dining facilities and is a return to a policy that existed for thousands of years, until about a century ago, when the military took over the "food service" task. Now the troops are back to "foraging and preparing" their own meals. Hey, it worked for the Romans who, by the way, were largely vegetarian while on the march and looking for a fight.




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