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

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

by Anastacia Marx de Salcedo

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Overview

Combat-Ready Kitchen: How the U.S. Military Shapes the Way You Eat by Anastacia Marx de Salcedo

Americans eat more processed foods than anyone else in the world. We also spend more on military research. These two seemingly unrelated facts are inextricably linked. If you ever wondered how ready-to-eat foods infiltrated your kitchen, you’ll love this entertaining romp through the secret military history of practically everything you buy at the supermarket.

In a nondescript Boston suburb, in a handful of low buildings buffered by trees and a lake, a group of men and women spend their days researching, testing, tasting, and producing the foods that form the bedrock of the American diet. If you stumbled into the facility, you might think the technicians dressed in lab coats and the shiny kitchen equipment belonged to one of the giant food conglomerates responsible for your favorite brand of frozen pizza or microwavable breakfast burritos. So you’d be surprised to learn that you’ve just entered the U.S. Army Natick Soldier Systems Center, ground zero for the processed food industry.

Ever since Napoleon, armies have sought better ways to preserve, store, and transport food for battle. As part of this quest, although most people don’t realize it, the U.S. military spearheaded the invention of energy bars, restructured meat, extended-life bread, instant coffee, and much more. But there’s been an insidious mission creep: because the military enlisted industry—huge corporations such as ADM, ConAgra, General Mills, Hershey, Hormel, Mars, Nabisco, Reynolds, Smithfield, Swift, Tyson, and Unilever—to help develop and manufacture food for soldiers on the front line, over the years combat rations, or the key technologies used in engineering them, have ended up dominating grocery store shelves and refrigerator cases. TV dinners, the cheese powder in snack foods, cling wrap . . . The list is almost endless.

Now food writer Anastacia Marx de Salcedo scrutinizes the world of processed food and its long relationship with the military—unveiling the twists, turns, successes, failures, and products that have found their way from the armed forces’ and contractors’ laboratories into our kitchens. In developing these rations, the army was looking for some of the very same qualities as we do in our hectic, fast-paced twenty-first-century lives: portability, ease of preparation, extended shelf life at room temperature, affordability, and appeal to even the least adventurous eaters. In other words, the military has us chowing down like special ops.

What is the effect of such a diet, eaten—as it is by soldiers and most consumers—day in and day out, year after year? We don’t really know. We’re the guinea pigs in a giant public health experiment, one in which science and technology, at the beck and call of the military, have taken over our kitchens.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781591845973
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 08/04/2015
Pages: 304
Product dimensions: 6.30(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.20(d)
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

Anastacia Marx de Salcedo is a food writer whose work has appeared in Salon, Slate, the Boston Globe, and Gourmet magazine and on PBS and NPR blogs. She has worked as a public health consultant, news magazine publisher, and public policy researcher. She lives in Boston.

C. S. E. Cooney launched her voice-acting career narrating short fiction for Podcastle, the world's first audio fantasy magazine. She is a performance poet, singer-songwriter, and fantasy author whose collection Bone Swans has garnered starred reviews from Publishers Weekly and Locus Magazine.

Read an Excerpt

 

For about three days when we were in Kuwait in 2003 and U.S. forces were advancing into Iraq, the sirens would go off, and we’d have to put on our gas masks and our MOPP* gear and get into our bunker. Saddam was sending what we thought were Scuds with chemical weapons at us, but actually turned out to be smaller missiles. We’d have to wait for the all clear, which would sometimes take a long time.

We really shouldn’t have been eating in the bunker, but sometimes we’d get hungry, so we’d eat an MRE.* Usually only one person had one, so we were sharing between everyone. There were probably ten of us in there. It’s a concrete bunker where you can’t stand up, you can’t really sit down, you’re sitting on a sandbag, and you’re leaning forward because your head’s hitting the ceiling. Everyone’s wearing flak jackets, environmental suits, and a gas mask and helmet. So we’d pass around an MRE, take off the gas mask for ten seconds, and grab a bite of, like, Salisbury steak. And then we’d put our gas masks back on and pass it over to the next guy.

I remember when the guy pulled out the MRE. Everyone sitting in there is so hungry, we haven’t eaten in hours, and so when he offered to share, we were all really happy. It was kind of like a bonding moment. We knew that we didn’t have any control over what was going to happen, and we were all breaking the rules by taking our gas masks off and eating when we shouldn’t be. It brought us all to the same place. We were all stuck there. It didn’t matter whether you were a private or a master sergeant, you were stuck there in that bunker.

—DJ, Corporal, United States Marine Corps, Al Jabar, Kuwait, and Al Asad, Iraq, 2003–6

Chapter 1

UNPACKING YOUR CHILD’S LUNCH BOX

D irty, hungry, uncomfortable, and scared. Most of us can’t imagine what it’s like to eat under the circumstances that DJ and his squad did. The experiences of war, if an American constant during the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, seem remote to the average person. And we certainly don’t imagine that the entrée the soldiers shared—a several-years-old beef patty with brown sauce in a laminated plastic-and-foil pouch—has anything to do with the food that fills our refrigerators, cupboards, and shelves. But it does.

I’VE ALWAYS BEEN A PASSIONATE HOME COOK, one who read recipe books in bed like novels, preferred browsing at an ethnic grocer’s or a farmers’ market to shoe shopping, and reliably created magical dinners where people lingered long into the night, talking, drinking, and nibbling until there were no leftovers. Although my own mother was indifferent to the matter, as a child I silently apprenticed myself to the three best cooks I knew—my Yankee grandmother, my Sephardic New Yorker grandfather, and my Mexican friend’s mother—sidling into their kitchens and absorbing by osmosis their doings. At the age of seven, I proudly presented my parents with my first creation: “spiced eggs” scrambled with every single flavoring from the rack. By the time I was in my midtwenties, I had read everything in M. F. K. Fisher’s oeuvre, and, inspired by—but not following—the thousands of recipes I’d mentally collected, cosseted my college boyfriend nightly with delectable little suppers prepared just for him.

When the new millennium rolled around, I’d acquired a husband—from Cuba, in Ecuador—and become a mother, which only strengthened my resolve to concoct everything from scratch, even pancakes, whipped cream, and mac ’n’ cheese. I spent an inordinate amount of time provisioning, trucking out to farms weekly for two separate community-supported agriculture locations, one for meat and the other for vegetables; ladling bulk items into flimsy plastic bags at my local co-op; and scouring Asian, Latin, and Middle Eastern groceries for exotic produce, spices, specialty meats, and condiments. Regardless of how much my children pleaded, I refused to stop at McDonald’s on car trips. I even became a leader of Boston’s Slow Food convivium, finding time to organize a cocktail party featuring local Brazilian culture, teach Boston schoolkids how to make their own vegetable burritos, and celebrate the humble bean with a hundred-plus-person potluck and a reading by a renowned food historian. It was exhausting. It was fun. And it made me feel good—proudly conscientious. As many do, I fervently believed that it was important to cook, that it brought together my family in a vital ritual, that the dishes I produced were healthier and more satisfying, and that it was part of a human heritage that embedded us in the world, both past and present.

Which is why, when it came to school, I made the extra effort to pack my daughters a nutritious, homemade meal. I could have signed them up for the school meals program, where blue-capped cafeteria ladies grimly plop onto trays a hot entrée, such as the dreaded sloppy joe, insipid pizza, or turkey with gravy; a vegetable (canned peas/green beans/corn); a slightly rancid carton of milk; and Jell-O, fruit cocktail, or a mealy apple. (The menu has improved slightly in recent years—wheat instead of white buns, no dessert, and some scraggly schoolyard-grown broccoli.) But an involved parent, a mother who cares about what her children eat, makes their lunches herself. To do so, I relaxed my stance against processed foods, which, I have to confess, had long ago snuck into my home, first with my husband and eventually, under the duress of relentless lobbying, with me. Armed with child-pleasing supplies culled from the shelves of the supermarket, I set about my task. Into the nylon carrier with its cunningly zipped insulated vinyl compartments and controlled-atmosphere Tupperware, I put Goldfish, an energy bar, a juice pouch, and a sandwich. This last I’d assembled with my own two hands: soft twelve-grain bread, turkey ham, and a slice of American cheese swathed in Saran wrap. A couple of baby carrots and some grapes to round things out. I put the two lunch boxes in the refrigerator, poured myself a fishbowl of Shiraz, and went to bed, confident that I’d done my best by them.

Or had I?

As my children had gotten older, I’d started a side career as a food writer. After a few pieces about Latin American cooking—fiestas de Pascua (Easter), Ecuadorian soups, street food—I found myself increasingly drawn to writing not about home cooking, my own or that of others, but about the industrial foodstuffs that I, with annoyance, accepted as staples in my pantry. First off the block was that insidious impostor Annie’s mac ’n’ cheese, pretending to be more wholesome than it was: I read the label very carefully, and it turned out to have practically the same components as the neon-orange standby, Kraft’s. The Internet exploded, mostly with vitriolic responses by parents defending their reliance on “the Bunny” and his wares as a decision that was somehow healthier than buying an almost identical nutrition-free product from a major conglomerate.

I had found my topic.

My next piece, on breakfast cereal, led me deeper into the real world of food processing. I dug into the history of our archetypical carbohydrate and read up on its modern-day production, schooling myself in the functioning of that mainstay of manufacturing, the extruder, which uses a screw or a ram to push metal, plastic, ceramics, and food through a long chamber, where it is heated by friction and pressure (and, in some cases, electrical heat) and then forced through a die. In addition to cereal, extruders are used to create many other starchy foods, including pastas, pet foods, and snack foods. The latter can be hollow and then filled, or puffed by exposing them to reduced pressure on exiting. (Cheetos, one of the first extruder-produced junk foods, are fabricated this way.) Extrusion cooking requires little moisture, so the resulting foods are dry and last a long time without refrigeration. As I delved further into the ideas, ingredients, and technology, I began to see that to understand how industrial food was made, I’d need to have a good grasp of physics, chemistry, and biology. Little did I know where that would lead me.

I took my newfound food-science research skills and applied them to children’s lunch boxes. I was in for an unpleasant surprise: by no measure—environmental, nutritional, or freshness—did the meal I’d diligently “prepared” for my children surpass that of the much-maligned school lunch. I compared the Goldfish, energy bar, sandwich, carrots, and grapes with a typical cafeteria meal—chicken tenderloins with sauce, brown rice, cooked frozen carrots, canned peaches in syrup, and milk. The school lunch blew the brown bag out of the water. Many of the ingredients in the cafeteria food come in enormous sacks and cans, minimizing packaging waste, and were prepared in large quantities, cutting the fuel used per serving to almost zero. The refuse from your child’s lunch box, on the other hand, would have sent your grandparents or great-grandparents into cardiac arrest: a laminated pouch from the juice, packaging from the Goldfish and energy bar, plastic wrap in which you put the sandwich, and a paper napkin, not to mention the wrappers from the sandwich ingredients. While the school meal wasn’t exactly a paragon of nutrition—it clocked in at 600 calories, 17.5 grams of fat (3.5 grams saturated), 57 milligrams of cholesterol, and 1,131 milligrams of sodium—it beat out my repast, which had a total of 643 calories, 20.1 grams of fat (8.5 grams saturated), 50 milligrams of cholesterol, 994 milligrams of sodium, and 38 grams of sugar (the school lunch didn’t report sugar). Even more devastating, the cafeteria meal, which is largely concocted of frozen raw or partially cooked ingredients, was much closer to food in its natural state. Sure, the strips of chicken coated with bread crumbs are Tyson’s; the cryonic carrot coins have traveled three thousand miles from California’s Central Valley; and the rice was parboiled and plumped up in an industrial steamer. But overall, this meal had fewer ingredients and the animal and plant tissues of its components were still recognizable.

How did that compare with my offering, put together with the best intentions in the intimacy of my own kitchen? I already knew that the Goldfish, energy bar, and juice pouch had long shelf lives. It’s one of the reasons we parents buy them. The facts that such foods can be stored at room temperature for an extended duration, are easy to carry and hard to destroy, are wrapped in single servings, and are eagerly scarfed up by children make them the leitmotif of the weekday lunch. I let my guilt at including these admittedly overprocessed items be assuaged by the fact that they were just the backdrop to the main act, made the night before from ingredients I myself had excavated from the refrigerator and bread box. Except that the turkey ham, formed from poultry protein that’s been mechanically separated from the bone, tumbled with salt, sugar, preservatives, and plenty of water, then cooked, is also strangely long-lived, lasting for up to two weeks. Ditto the slice of white or orange (a touch of annatto gives it its cheery hue) American cheese, which can be kept for a month. Even the bread, the daily freshness of which was so important that for thousands of years chronically sleep-deprived men spent their nights shoveling dough into and hot loaves out of village ovens, is now long in the tooth—treated with high-fructose corn syrup and starch-snacking enzymes, it goes weeks without changing taste. Together the items in my “homemade” lunch were probably older than my kids.

In early 2011, I wrote a piece saying as much for a PBS blog where I was a contributor. My point: the components of the brown bag’s centerpiece foodstuff, far from being fresh and healthy, were positively geriatric, tricked up to appear youthful and brimming with artificial and possibly harmful ingredients. (I may have made an unfortunate comparison to Donatella Versace.) But I’d learned something else in my research, something that I didn’t put in the piece, a puzzling nugget of information that I hoarded for later. As I untangled the thread of extended shelf life for both the turkey ham and the soft “whole grain” bread in my sandwich, at their origins I found attributions to work done by an obscure U.S. Army base, the Natick Soldier Systems Center. What was it, and what was its relation to the processed foods we Americans eat every day?

Those questions became a book proposal. Soon after we sent it out, my agent called with a deal from a Penguin imprint, which I promptly Googled for its specialty. Science? A science publisher wanted my book? But then I realized, yes, of course, the topic, how the military constructs the underpinnings of industrial food, was all about science and technology. The last science course I’d taken was rocks for jocks at Columbia, but I gamely rolled up my sleeves and waded in. Over the next two and a half years, I talked to soldiers, scientists, and historians; I poked around in the Natick Center’s equipment-jammed laboratories; I combed over old meeting notes and reports; I spelunked declassified Department of Defense documents and the U.S. Patent and Trademark database. And I probably became the only regular nonprofessional reader of publications such as Cereal Chemistry, Comprehensive Reviews in Food Science and Food Safety, Journal of Dairy Science, Nebraska Swine Report, Applied and Environmental Microbiology, Journal of Polymer Science, and Toxicological Sciences, including, at times, their back issues to the early 1930s.

The answers to my questions about the Natick Center, contained in these pages, floored me. The reason we send our children to school with heavily processed, hermetically sealed convenience foods isn’t (only) that big corporations, preying on our hectic lifestyle and relief that there’s something the little dears will eat, have created these items, most of them manufactured from the cheapest calories around, to maximize profits—your kid’s health and the planet’s be damned. No, it’s far worse than that. Your child’s lunch isn’t healthful, fresh, or environmentally sound because it wasn’t designed for children. It was designed for soldiers. Almost all of the foodstuffs, or the key technologies used in producing them, originated with the U.S. military in the creation of combat rations. In developing them, the army was seeking some of the very same qualities we do in putting together our children’s out-of-home midday meal: portability, ease of preparation, extended shelf life at room temperature, affordability, and appeal to even the least adventurous eaters. In other words, we’ve got our children chowing down like special ops.

It’s time to unpack your child’s lunch box and unravel the secret military past of just about everything in it.

Chapter 2

AMERICAN FOOD SYSTEM, CENTRAL COMMAND, PART ONE

I ’m not at liberty to divulge the top secret way I got my embarrassingly old and dented Camry to the Natick Soldier Center gatehouse, but suffice it to say there are various uniformed men and a lot of concrete barriers involved. Once inside, my car is checked for improvised explosive devices and I’m met by Lieutenant Colonel David Accetta, a creased-pants, crushing-handshake kind of guy who signs his e-mails “All the Way! David.” He opens the passenger-side door and slides in.

“Buckle up,” he commands, swiveling so I can see the two scars crisscrossing his face as if he’d been run over by an M1 Abrams tank. “This is a federal facility, and we’re strict.” I’m barely going five miles per hour and it’s a parking lot, but I do what he says.

The U.S. Army Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center, a handful of low buildings scattered over seventy-eight acres in a nondescript Boston suburb, could be just another second-tier office park. The Combat Feeding Directorate, one of seven research centers on the site, is toward the back, in an H-shaped, teal-and-aqua-striped building surrounded—like that drive-you-crazy neighbor’s house—by slightly rusting vehicles, except in this case there’s a Humvee, a camouflage-tarped assault kitchen, a shower/laundry unit, and a ten-by-twenty-foot steel box with a containerized chapel.

As Hollywood is to movies, as Nashville is to country music, and as New York City is to the publishing industry, the Natick Center is to the processed foods that form the bedrock of the American diet. It’s where they invented energy bars, restructured meat, nonstaling bread, and instant coffee. And today, in a marathon eight-hour visit, I’ll witness how the U.S. Army designs the rations that—reformulated and repackaged—line our pantry shelves and fill our refrigerators. I’ve breached the secret beating heart of the industrial food system.

The American soldier stationed abroad eats a diet almost as varied as we do here at home. Sparing no expense, the Department of Defense (DOD), via a multibillion-dollar, sole-source “prime vendor” contract (the companies are often owned, at least in part, by former military members and headquartered abroad),1 ships in fresh meat, dairy, and produce from nearby allies. The cost of these perishables is almost double their stateside price tag due to the difficulty of transport over ambush-prone roads and to remote areas with little infrastructure. The fresh supplies are combined with stockpiled staples and preserved items purchased directly from American food conglomerates such as ConAgra, Sara Lee, and Perdue for made-from-scratch meals in the garrison mess halls. (Well, as from-scratch as a modern American meal ever is, that is to say, prepared by opening bags, boxes, bottles, and cans.) And should our warrior ever crave an Ultimate Cheese Lover’s Pizza, a Triple Whopper, or the Colonel’s Crispy Strips, she can visit the fast-food stands that are now a fixture on foreign military bases.

But what about on the front line, when the soldier is engaged in activities that are, of course, the real reason he’s stationed thousands of miles from home, sleeping fitfully in a tent, alternately bored or adrenaline-charged and fearful? Performing a function check on his M16. Searching civilian vehicles at a checkpoint. Digging foxholes. Guiding down a “bird” to an improvised landing strip. Warriors in the field may be there for days on end, their souped-up metabolisms burning up to 4,200 calories over twenty-four hours, but the brutal business of kill or be killed hardly lends itself to sit-down meals. Enter the Natick Center. Their contribution to the army’s feeding strategy is reserved for a single occasion: combat. The graze-’n’-raze product line includes the Meal, Ready-to-Eat (MRE); First Strike Ration; Unitized Group Ration (UGR); Meal, Cold Weather, and Food Packet, Long Range Patrol; and the Modular Operational Ration Enhancement (MORE). Each has been laboriously engineered and manufactured on American soil to deliver an optimal nutritional payload to soldiers half a world and several years away.

Lieutenant Colonel Accetta escorts me into the Combat Feeding Directorate building. Immediately to the left is the Warrior Café, a small meeting room stuffed with rations memorabilia—Civil War hardtack, a jaw-breaking square cracker poked full of holes to ensure even baking; World War II C-rats in gold-lacquered cans with their inevitable companion, the P-38 can opener; the similar Korean and Vietnam War–era canned Meal, Combat, Individuals; tiny vials of synthetic smells; and a wall case full of elderly bakery products. Kathy-Lynn Evangelos, second in charge at the directorate; Lauren Oleksyk, a food scientist; and two Iraq War vets, tall and lanky Corporal Evan Bick and short and broad Jeff Sisto, await us. Introductions are made all around and then eyes snap back to Evangelos, the power center. She flashes the tight smile of someone due elsewhere five minutes ago and launches into her boilerplate overview of the Combat Feeding Program.

“Our shelf life is three years at eighty degrees because combat rations are a war-stopper and protected by Congress. When you go to war, you’ve got to bring your beans and your bullets. And those beans have to be shelf stable, high quality, and ready to go. When you talk to food technologists in the commercial sector, they’ll ask us what our shelf life is and we’ll tell them and they’ll be in shock,” she says, rattling off a list of the typical research activities at a private company: an umpteenth flavor for a product line; a new, giant cookie sandwich; fanciful cracker shapes. But when it comes down to the nitty-gritty—getting those things to last for three, six, or nine months without spoiling or going stale: “Shelf life is the challenge—and the experts are here at Natick.”

Evangelos is already eyeing her watch—her five minutes are up. But I have to ask a question, the one that, although they don’t know it, is the real reason for my visit: How often do the Natick Center’s inventions get adapted by the private sector? “We don’t necessarily want to develop things that are militarily unique, so we’re really anxious when it comes to technology transfer,” she explains. “If it’s something new and innovative, we’re not going to develop it here, use it here, and that’s the end of it. We need to have the commercial sector embrace anything new that comes out of this program.” (Later I ask the eminent food scientist and former Journal of Food Science editor Daryl Lund the same thing. His answer is more explicit: “If an emergency arises, they need to be able to go to those companies and say, ‘Hey, you have a processing line that produces these kinds of foods for the consumer, but now we need you to convert it to produce these same kinds of foods for the military.’”) Spiel done, Evangelos excuses herself, bustles down the hall, and disappears through two swinging doors that lead to another wing of the building.

Immediately, the two vets, corporals Bick and Sisto, heave a cardboard box full of rations onto the table. “Ready to taste?”

The rations, tan bundles made of heavy-grade thermoplastic polyolefin, are easy to toss in a rucksack. They weigh 1⅝ pounds and are just about the size of a brick. Inside each shrink-wrapped package are close to twenty separate items: two transparent plastic bags, one for beverages and the other for the flameless heater; several three- or four-layer pouches made of foil, polyethylene, nylon, and polyester that encase an entrée, pastry items, crackers, breads, cereals, and spreads; cylindrical plastic packets of coffee and a Kool-Aid-like beverage; paper packets of salt and sugar; a plastic spoon; a packet of nondairy creamer; a matchbook; two Chiclets in white-and-red cellophane; and a tightly folded square of toilet paper. (After their meal, soldiers burn or bury all trash.)

The guys are nudging toward me what I’m guessing they think I’ll like, Menu 14, Spicy Penne with Vegetarian Sausage, and Menu 23, Chicken Pesto Pasta, but as an MRE neophyte, I’m going for the gusto. I choose an American classic: Menu 18, Beef Patty, which at 1,200 calories and chock-full of glucose is calibrated to the metabolism of an Ironman triathlete. It’s also been sitting at room temperature for two years. I resolutely rip open the package and start with the most familiar item, Combos, or rather crispy tubes of dough filled with gooey processed cheese. They’re very tasty, and I finish the bag. The whole wheat bread “snack,” on the other hand, can’t be much of an improvement on the aforementioned hardtack. And the pièce de résistance, a hamburger heated in one of the transparent bags by a magnesium, salt, iron, and water chemical reaction, veers alarmingly toward not being fit for human consumption.

“Delicious,” I say.

Next on the tasting menu is the First Strike Ration, which, as Corporal Bick explains, is “designed for a grazing mentality.” It was formally introduced in 2007, after it was found that soldiers were stripping MREs of their snackier elements to make them easier to carry into battle, which, unfortunately, also stripped the meals of their nutritional value. The package, which contains 3,900 calories, enough for an entire day, includes, among other things, a three-year shelf-stable sandwich; an energy bar, originally called the HooAH! bar, in honor of the army call used to affirm or motivate soldiers; and, my personal favorite, caffeinated gum. I pop two pieces into my mouth.

“Careful,” says Lieutenant Colonel Accetta. “Those will give you a stomachache.” Then he gives a half wave. “Excuse me. I have some work to do. I’ll check in on you later.” He strides off toward the back of the building and through the swinging doors.

“Would you like to see the food lab?” asks Lauren Oleksyk, the leader of the Food Processing, Engineering and Technology Team. She’s your archetypical girl-nerd: slight, medium height, dressed to deflect attention. A career food scientist, she doesn’t bother to provide synonyms for words like exothermic reaction or thermal stabilization.

The food lab is the size of a small airplane hangar—spotless stainless steel counters and sinks, gleaming gauges and valves—and practically lifeless, except for three women standing off to the left, talking and laughing as they flatten out rounds of dough, stuff them, and crimp the edges closed. It could be the annual empanada blowout at Tía Elena’s, except instead of rolling pins, they wield steel rods encased in silicone padding. And instead of aprons, they’re wearing lab coats and hairnets. They are food technologists Jacqueline LeBlanc, Danielle Anderson, and Sydney Walker. Today they’re working on the shelf-stable sandwich, perfecting a new sausage-and-cheese flavor to add to the existing lineup of pepperoni and chicken barbecue.

“The secret is the marinade,” says LeBlanc in that conspiratorial tone cooks get when they’re about to share a treasured recipe. I lean forward, expecting some piquant cousin of a traditional barbecue sauce. “Rice syrup and glycerol to bring down the water activity of the sausage. Artificial sausage flavor because anything that’s supposed to last such a long time will lose a little flavor. And we’re trying two different acidulants in the meat. I’m just hoping it doesn’t affect the flavor too much.” Increasing its acidity helps to preserve the meat, because most pathogenic bacteria can’t reproduce at a pH lower than 4.6.

Recipes published in cookbooks and magazines and on Web sites are usually developed and tested over a period of days or weeks. Formulations, their industrial counterparts, can take years. Both start by focusing on flavor, which is achieved by adjusting ingredients, proportions, techniques, and cooking times. But while the recipes created for home or restaurant use may also consider ease of preparation and cost of ingredients, once the desired taste is achieved, the work is pretty much done. With formulations, it’s just beginning. Now the food technologist has to figure out how to maintain the same flavor and texture over many months or years, and to ensure that no spoilage or bacterial contamination occurs.

This balancing act is what makes the shelves of ingredients in Natick’s small “traditional” kitchen—an alcove with a stove, a sink, pots, pans, and ladles off the western side of the industrial-equipment-jammed pilot lab—so jarring. Tins of oregano, thyme, nutmeg, and cinnamon are interspersed with big silver cans of cheddar flakes, banana flakes, and dehydrated peppers. Plastic tubs of Maltrin, a combination of cellulose and guar gum, and carrageenan are mixed in with the flour and sugar. Calcium sulfate, ascorbic acid, and sodium lactate are lined up like bottles of vitamins. Today the Natick Center food scientists are comparing how glucono delta-lactone and pHase, both of which lower the meat’s natural pH level, affect the taste, stability, and safety of the sandwich. They won’t know the answer for two more months—and then, depending on the results, may have to make more tweaks to the formulation. No wonder this item has been in development for almost twenty years.

LeBlanc and Anderson roll the loaded baking rack of sandwiches across the pilot plant. On our way, we pass oversize Hobart and Blodgett mixers, kettles, combination ovens, conveyors, and compactors. The meat-filled rolls are proofed—allowed to rise for an hour in a humid chamber—and then “baked off” for thirteen minutes in a walk-in industrial oven. (And, yes, there’s a handle inside just in case.) After the sandwiches have cooled, we bring them over to the packing area. A young technician, Lauren Pecukonis, holds open small plastic pouches, each labeled with their storage times (T-0, starting time; 2 weeks; 4 weeks) and whether they are a control or one of the two variables. LeBlanc waits until the last minute to cut open a package of oxygen scavengers—there’s a small hiss as they awaken and begin to feed on the air around them, then quickly drops them into each bag. She hands the packet to Pecukonis. “Vacuum-seal it! Quickly!” A loud whoosh. “Oops!” Pecukonis looks sheepish. She’s accidentally vacuum-sealed shut the vacuum sealer.

The easiest way to understand the importance of this packaging to the food it contains is to imagine skinning yourself. (If the thought is too macabre, I’ll allow you to substitute a banana.) The consequences are dire. First, the physical barrier between your insides and the rest of the world is destroyed, causing a big disgusting puddle of blood and guts to leak out. Second, a host of microbial invaders rush in, consuming your vitals and spreading disease. Finally, air, water, light, and temperatures that are either too cold or too hot bring about changes to cells and substances. Let’s be frank: you’re not long for this world. Similarly, without its wrapper, that chicken fajita entrée or giant soft chocolate chip cookie isn’t either. (Although an unstinting hand with the chemical preservatives can do a lot to hold these forces in check.)

The food technologists admit as much. “I’d like to be able to say that formulation is everything,” says LeBlanc. “But to be honest, the reason we get the stability we get is the packaging.”

The Polymer Film Center of Excellence, run by Jeanne Lucciarini, a neatly dressed blonde in a sweater set, is where designing this vital packaging takes place. The room, which is no larger than forty by sixty feet, is crammed with equipment, including five laboratory-size extruders that, with their long barrels and squat, vertical hoppers, look sort of like giant staplers. The machines melt plastic pellets, called resin, and then push the softened material through a specially cut hole. The Natick Center’s equipment produces films, either cast (rolled) or blown, and often in two or more layers simultaneously (the Collin Teach-Line Multilayer Co-Extrusion System can do a whopping nine). These multi-ply wrappings, which may include foil and paper as well, allow rations to last so long, go anywhere, and endure all sorts of physical abuse. Their latest projects, Lucciarini says, focus on nanocomposites, microspheres (which puff up in the film, decreasing the weight and the amount of plastic needed), and biodegradable packaging (the army estimates that each soldier generates eight pounds of waste per day in camp, the bulk of which is plastic and paper).

Once all the sandwiches are sealed into pouches and put into two cardboard containers, we’re ready for the penultimate step: a visit to the warehouse that runs along the back of the main building, where the Natick Center operates what amounts to an amusement park for boxes. Here rations are tested for durability and longevity with rides full of the careening, spinning, jostling, and sloshing that children find so inexplicably pleasurable. There is a drop tester, which hauls packed rations up to the height of a hovering helicopter and then lets them free-fall to the ground below. A compression tester squishes packages between two heavy metal plates, sort of like a giant horizontal mammogram. Over in the corner jiggling merrily away sits a vibration table, which simulates the effect of three hundred miles of bad road in a flatbed truck. We deposit the boxes in the environmental chambers, one of which is set to Bangkok (120°F, 90 percent relative humidity [RH]) and the other to Baghdad (120°F, 5–10 percent RH). I step into each. The dry heat is fine; the moist wilts me like boiled lettuce. Our samples will enjoy a four-week vacation before being opened and checked for spoilage and flavor deterioration.

I won’t be here to enjoy the results, but the Natick Center has arranged for the next best thing: I’m going to act as an evaluator for some sandwiches prepared eight months ago. “I’m going to have to lower my standards,” jokes Sensory Evaluation Coordinator Jill Bates. Usually panelists undergo a rigorous three-month training program before they are let loose on the two thousand consumer-market and one thousand in-house development food items that must be tested every year, which they can then describe with professional terms such as “interfaces,” “cell structure,” and “flavor migration.” Bates hands me a paper plate with half a sandwich, a plastic fork and knife, and a napkin and guides me to one of the dozens of computer stations that line the walls. I sit down, and when prompted by the instructions on the screen, bite, taste, and swallow. Overall, my ratings fall short of positive: The “sausage looks a little congealed,” the “smell [is] overwhelming and slightly repellent,” although I relent and concede the snack as a whole is “surprisingly tasty!” (I am not, however, the harshest in my panel of tasters: Tester 07788 calls the bread spongy, and Tester 02327 slams the conglomeration of meat, cheese, and bun as “soapy/almost moldy.”)

For dessert, a technician has laid out what appear to be several tubes of toothpaste. Tube foods, developed for fighter pilots decades ago, can be hooked up under your oxygen mask and require absolutely no chewing—solids can be so troublesome at 5g! I squirt some into a plastic spoon and taste. They are to real food what a book review is to a book: the simultaneous presentation of an idea—the browned meat and onions, simmered tomato, and a pleasant cheesy top note: easily identifiable as sloppy joe—without all the work of plowing through and assembling everything yourself. The apple pie is just as good, a full-frontal assault of apples with a hint of cinnamon, suspended in a buttery crust. For one wonderful moment, I feel like Violet in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

THE DAY IS DRAWING TO A CLOSE. I’ve seen dozens of technicians in lab coats. I’ve seen hundreds of shiny machines. I’ve been suitably impressed by the long list of food-processing firsts and amused by some of the wackier-seeming inventions. But there’s something important missing.

It’s the suite of offices off toward the left end of the building, where figures occasionally emerge and disappear, a pair of black doors flapping behind them. I don’t ask to be taken in, because what would there be to see, anyway? People hunched over their computers. Someone talking on the phone. A group huddled around a conference table. It wouldn’t look like much. But it’s there that the real work of steering America’s processed-food industry takes place. The labs I’ve been visiting all day are a smoke screen.

Chapter 3

AMERICAN FOOD SYSTEM, CENTRAL COMMAND, PART TWO

59,422 breakfast sausage patties

98,220 eggs

21,082 packages sliced American cheese

2,451 containers frozen apple juice

13,500 packages julienned French fries

24,159 corn dogs

8,682 frozen burritos

T o say the U.S. military buys in bulk is an understatement—the above shopping list is from a single prime vendor contract for facilities near Seattle, Washington, and Hermiston, Oregon, in 2002. The weekly grocery needs of the entire armed forces could pick clean whole regions of their number one agricultural products, leave bare-shelved commissaries across the country, and tie up battalions of baked-goods manufacturers for months. It’s essentially one giant mouth munching the American landscape, and, despite commanding deep discounts on its purchases, with $3.8 billion in annual spending in 2011 alone, it is far and away the nation’s leading institutional grocery buyer. (In the private sector, the annual expenditures of behemoth food distributor Sysco and monster restaurateur McDonald’s exceed those of the Department of Defense.)

These dollars, managed by the Defense Logistics Agency (DLA), the military’s purchasing agency, affect the American food industry as might those of any big spender—red carpets and gold-plated customer care, which means conversations between the agency and industry that probably go something like this: “Hello, Commander, any new contracts on the horizon? The crust was a little pale on the breakfast pastry? We’ll be right on that, sir. You’d like to add some functional ingredients to the processed cheese spread; what would that entail? You were approached by a tofu factory in Oregon about making a soy ginger noodle entrée? Very exciting, but wouldn’t it be easier for you if we just added a soy entrée to our regular line?” These accommodations may orient commercial production to mess halls and combat rations, but it’s not the military’s prodigious purchasing power that’s turned the food industry into G.I. Joe’s brainchild.

No, that happens at the Natick Center, which, in pursuing its mission to “actively leverage leading edge technologies to ensure the warfighter is provided the decisive edge in all aspects of combat feeding,” has infiltrated practically every packaged food in the land. Of course, many, if not most, of the lab’s daily tasks are humdrum—approving new items for the Meal, Ready-to-Eat (MRE) ration, arranging for a small run of prototype plastic pouches with tear notches, and evaluating stainless steel serving pans for the navy are all par for the course. But there’s a whole other category of activity—identifying basic and applied science needs, finding and working with partners for these projects, and disseminating the interim and final results—that exerts a disproportionately large influence on the U.S. food system. This exaggerated power comes not from the size of Natick’s research budget, which is relatively small, but from the simple fact of having an overarching goal, a long-term plan, and relentless focus—which, come to think of it, may be the three traits in life most important to making things happen.

The middle section of this book documents the center’s impact on particular foods or processes, but to get a sense of how the whole operation happens on a day-to-day basis, let’s take a look at the goings-on at the main office at 41 Kansas Street in Natick, Massachusetts, between October 1, 2006, and September 30, 2007 (fiscal year 2007 was the most recent year for which I was allowed information about army partnerships during the writing of this book). It’s there that Natick Center staff plans conferences, sets up site visits, and produces presentations. It’s there that army scientists and technologists collect information about food industry research and offer expertise to academia, companies, and nonprofits. And it’s there that requests for proposals (RFPs)—the documents that describe projects for potential vendors—are written, bids reviewed, contracts awarded, and agreements signed.

The first step is a whole lot of listening. During the year, the Combat Feeding Program talks with “warfighters,” the official armed forces term for soldiers, about their wants and needs—more sandwiches, pizza, bagels, and wraps; fewer traditional meat and potatoes–type meals. It gets requests from the various services and agencies. For example, the army might complain: Our guys are sweating off fifteen pounds or getting heatstroke in the field kitchens. How about lowering the temps to below inferno level? The navy might implore: Can’t you find a way for us to get equipment onto a submarine other than sawing it up deckside? And it gets general direction from the secretary of defense—decrease the soldier’s physical and cognitive burden, reduce the logistics environmental footprint, enhance operational efficiency—who, in turn, gets his or her marching orders from the Defense Science Board, the military’s quadrennial plans, and presidential science and technology policies.

“The Army solicits the entire community in terms of what needs improvement in combat feeding,” explains Gerard “Gerry” Darsch, who was director of the DOD Combat Feeding Directorate from 1994 to 2013. “It could be something very simple. It could be something very complex. And it could be something that requires a lot of high-risk, high-pay-off investment. And not only do we solicit those joint statement-of-need proposals from each service, Natick’s team also generates potential joint statements of need in terms of where we think an investment in science and technology can bring new capability to the battlefield. You really have to have a vision in terms of looking over that fifth ridge, if you will, in terms of a potential solution that would affect the shelf life, the quality, minimize logistics, make it more lightweight, cost-effective, and also include the nutrition warfighters need—even the food-service equipment because that’s a major part of the program as well.”

All of this information is presented twice a year for approval to the Department of Defense Combat Feeding Research and Engineering Board (DOD CFREB). Until the early 1980s, this committee was an outside group organized by the National Academy of Sciences–National Research Council (NAS-NRC) and drawn from academia, industry, and the armed forces—in fact, it dates all the way back to the World War II Committee on Quartermaster Problems. Today it is an internal group composed solely of brass from the army, Marine Corps, navy, air force, and DLA, and chaired by an official from the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering, a civilian who’s also part of the Senior Executive Service, an elite corps of government workers trained to lead, manage, and interpret policy. At each of these meetings, small adjustments are made. “In some cases, we recommend that programs be terminated; in others, that things be accelerated; and in still others, that dollars be shifted,” says Darsch. “What we do better than anybody else is we develop a ten-year program that specifically maps out the amount of time, what the end state of each research category needs to be, and a specific transition from basic research into technology demonstration and then through what we refer to as the ‘valley of death’—moving to commercialization.” At the end of the process, the Combat Feeding Program spits out a detailed set of research and development plans, complete with objectives, tasks, and timetables, for the year.

These projects generally fall into three categories, each of which corresponds to a number in that most shock-and-awe-inspiring of documents, the Defense Budget Justification, the annual tome put together by the armed forces to persuade Congress to continue to fork out their more than half-trillion-dollar allowance. There is 6.1, basic scientific research, which is largely undertaken at universities and in DOD laboratories, of which there are eighty across the country. There is 6.2, applied research, or getting that science to actually do something useful; this happens at universities, DOD labs, nonprofits, and industry partners. And then there is 6.3, figuring out how that something useful can be manufactured; this part of the technology transition process is almost always parceled off to industry. (The Defense Department actually has four more categories, 6.4–6.7, which correspond to manufacturing the item and getting it into the field; these are the favored feeding ground of mammoth military contractors such as Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman.)

To carry out all these different kinds of research projects, the army has at its disposal an alphabet soup of joint ventures, some of which receive government funding, and therefore must abide by reporting requirements, and many of which do not—although they receive a host of other supports—and therefore occupy a vast, mysterious landscape about which little is known. These collaborative undertakings are one of the most important mechanisms through which the Natick Center influences the food industry. In fiscal year (FY) 2007, there were 275 such partnerships. There are the Broad Agency Announcements (BAAs), in which institutions and firms compete for basic research and development projects closely defined by the Combat Feeding Program; their benefit to the contractor is primarily financial. There are Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) awards, which fund businesses with fewer than five hundred employees to seek the answer to technological problems in the hope that this will spur the development of new products. In FY 2007, the Combat Feeding Program had eleven SBIR awards. Many of these were for the development of competing versions of solar-powered refrigerated containers, waste-to-energy converters, and individual beverage chillers; although spending on them was low, these projects may very well influence the consumer market of the future (they are described toward the end of the book). Such straight-up contracts are cursed, however, by the need to comply with government purchasing rules, the Federal Acquisition Regulations (FARs), which require reports on everything from annual revenues and taxes to executive compensation, all laid out in a breezy 1,887-page document.

Then there are the looser arrangements: Patent License Agreements (PLAs), where companies lease military patents for fun and profit; and Educational Partnership Agreements (EPAs), through which the military supports targeted science and technology education for college, high school, elementary school, and even—I kid you not—beauty school students. There are also Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) partnerships, in which the military reimburses a nonprofit educational institution or other government agency for its services; Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) partnerships, in which it does not; and Dual Use Science & Technology (DUST) partnerships, in which both parties contribute funds and share the right to use the end product. For example, as C. Patrick “Pat” Dunne, a retired Natick senior scientist, explains, “Microwave sterilization was really spearheaded by Natick through a dual use science and technology program we initiated with industry and academia. . . . Down the road we’re going to produce that in the military, and it’s going to become big in the commercial sector, too.”

And finally there are the crown jewels of the Defense Department research program: Cooperative Research and Development Agreements (CRADAs) and Other Transactions (OTs). All those complaints businesses have about working with the government—burdensome and intrusive administrative regulations, book-length proposals, demanding socioeconomic requirements, and heavy-handed managerial oversight? Gone. And the rewards? Staff time, services, laboratory facilities, equipment, and materials are theirs for the taking. The significant difference between CRADAs and OTs is that partners cannot receive payment for their participation in CRADAs but they can in OTs, as long as they don’t “profit” from the arrangement.

Still, that doesn’t explain why major food conglomerates such as Campbell Soup Company, ConAgra, Dr Pepper Snapple Group, Frito-Lay/PepsiCo, General Mills, Graphic Packaging, Hormel Foods, Kraft Foods Group, Mars Inc., Michael Foods, Procter & Gamble, Rexam PLC, SoPakCo, and Unilever are lining up to enter into cooperative agreements with the Combat Feeding Program. In FY 2007, Natick’s food division was involved in eighteen separate CRADAs, amounting to a finger in every promising new technology from mini vacuum cleaners for pathogens and membrane-based juice concentrators to high-pressure processing for produce and nutrient-fortified candy and bakery items; they even had an agreement—resulting in a lawsuit*—to commercialize the HooAH! energy bar. Big corporations get involved in CRADAs because they expect something in return: a piece of the vision Natick has for the future of food. As Evangelos of the Combat Feeding Directorate pointed out, industry research tends to be at science’s margins and focused on consumer appeal rather than at the forefront of innovation. When companies work with the army’s subsistence department, whether they receive an exclusive patent or a head start on a breakthrough processing or packaging technology, they get the chance to dominate the market when new products based on it come shooting out of the pipeline.

ACCORDING TO LAWMAKERS, making sure government-funded research and development gets used in new commercial products is exactly what federal agencies should be doing. It’s called technology transfer and when it happens, it’s like a Disney movie for grown-ups: businesses pop up like flowers, employees break into song at their desks, bankers drape rainbows across the sky, and tax collectors tap-dance down the street.

The policy dates back to just after World War II, when the head of the wartime Office of Scientific Research and Development (OSRD), Vannevar Bush, persuaded the government to invest in public science, primarily through universities, to maintain U.S. technological superiority for military readiness and as a deterrent to enemy hostilities. These activities were managed by civilian-controlled laboratories working in close cooperation with the armed forces, and later other branches of the government. The U.S. Army Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center is one of these laboratories. (There are about seven hundred more, some big, some small, and each with a different focus.) At times this arrangement stimulated the development of new products, but because most of the intellectual property from these projects accrued to the federal government, technology transfer, at least as measured by first-generation impacts, was sporadic at best.

By the late 1970s and early 1980s, after a decade of stagflation, a recession, and a contraction in the manufacturing sector, Americans looked west and were alarmed to see Japan, their mild-mannered protégé, in ascendance, perhaps even poised to dominate the global economy. So they did what any quick-witted competitor does under the circumstances: I’ll have what he’s having—in this case, a national industrial policy. In Japan that meant targeting high-risk but high-return industries, such as cameras, cars, and semiconductors, and then playing a combined coach-cheerleader-moneylender role to ensure that they prospered. The United States wasn’t able to stomach quite so much government intervention, although one might argue that financing the majority of the country’s R&D is precisely that. Instead legislators passed a series of laws intended to encourage the federal labs and industry to get intimate.

The romance between government and industry officially began in 1980 with the Stevenson-Wydler Technology Innovation Act, which made it an explicit part of a lab’s mission to transfer the technology it developed to state and local governments and the private sector. A few months later, Congress passed and President Carter signed into law the Bayh-Dole Act, allowing academia, industry, and nonprofits to own the intellectual property—usually a discovery or invention—that resulted from a government contract. (At the time, there were twenty-eight thousand government-owned patents gathering dust on U.S. Patent and Trademark Office shelves.) In 1982 lawmakers created the SBIR program to encourage the labs to park some projects with small high-tech companies. But business was still diffident—all those killjoy bidding and reporting requirements. Who needed the headache? In 1986 Bayh-Dole was amended so that the government could enter into a new kind of relationship, the CRADA, that accommodated the private sector’s desire to do things friends-with-benefits style (that is, fewer rules, more rewards). Various other tweaks were made, but perhaps the most significant was DOD’s ultimate concession, the OT, enabled by statutory provision in 1994, which allowed the industrial sector to do practically everything it ever dreamed of—even get paid for work on which it would keep the patents. Business and government got cozier and cozier, presumably spawning more technology transfer than ever before.*

Which is a good thing, right?

Maybe.

The federal government finances about one-third of all science and technology research and development in the United States, which in FY 2007 was about $370 billion (an investment two to three times that of our closest competitor, China). Of that, although expenditures are broken down about evenly among the three categories—basic, applied, and development—it is by far the most important sponsor of basic research at 59 percent, and relatively less important for development at 18 percent. In our sample year, defense spending on research and development was $82 billion, 60 percent of the federal total. The category percentages flip, however, when compared with the government’s as a whole: DOD accounts for only 6 percent of federal outlays for basic science and 18 percent of those for applied, but a whopping 90 percent for development (which makes complete sense when you think of the colossal machines made by companies like Boeing).

The truth is that within the rarified sphere of science and technology, the U.S. economy has a lot more in common with the socialism of the People’s Republic of China than it does with free-market economics. The fact that the government (and, within it, the Defense Department) is pretty much the only game in town—especially when it comes to basic science—means that research projects are put together with it in mind. You can study anything you want, but if you want to make a living at it—and most academics do—then it needs to be something that attracts funding. And that often means working on one of the many areas deemed essential to the armed forces. The savvy junior scientist knows that if he or she wants to get ahead, the easiest way is to work on a research topic—and handily there are quite a few—related to warcraft.

Then there’s the overwhelming strength of DOD’s own planning apparatus. The yearly priorities set by trade and professional associations such as the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the American Chemical Society, and the National Environmental Health Association have about as much teeth as that annual rite of self-flagellation, the New Year’s resolution, when compared with the regular bottom-up and top-down information gathering, concerted analysis, extremely long time frames (five, ten, twenty-five years), global perspective, and deep pockets (so forgiving when you make a mistake) of the strategy and goal setting of the U.S. military. From this come the precepts that are used to define a welter of specific science and technology projects, which are dispersed each year into the eagerly waving hands of academia, industry, nonprofits, and other government entities like strings of beads at a Mardi Gras parade.

The net effect of all this is that the Defense Department has a disproportionate influence on the direction of many industries, even if basic and applied science is only about a quarter of its research budget. As noted in a 2012 report by the House Committee on Armed Services, “Basic research is especially important in this process of innovation, as it often leads to new areas of knowledge, such as new materials, sensors, nanotechnology, and data extraction, etc., that in turn lead to new areas for development and commercial opportunity. . . . The predominance of basic research for DOD is carried out by the universities. That has in turn led to a trend of increased activities related to commercialization of technologies on university campuses to more quickly translate research into industrial products.”1 (That influence often expands once you get beyond the first generation of impacts—papers, patents, products—but is harder to trace.)

DOD’s grip on the business sector is just as tight. “Sustaining Critical Sectors of the U.S. Defense Industrial Base,” a 2011 think tank report, poses the question, “Does the DIB [defense industrial base]2 function like a normal free market in which the forces of supply and demand dictate efficiency, innovation, and pricing?” and answers with a resounding no. The Defense Department sees absolutely nothing wrong with this. Close ties and careful guidance are needed to ensure that it has contractors in the areas it needs, when it needs them. In fact, the goal for the twenty-first century is to strengthen its puppet master role. According to the House Committee on Armed Services, “[One of the] challenges to ensuring that the industrial base is positioned to support the needs of the nation in the 21st century . . . [is] the lack of a comprehensive DOD strategy for managing and maintaining an industrial base.”3

So what? you might ask. Who cares as long as the result is a wellspring of nifty gadgets and cool new products for us consumers?

Table of Contents

Chapter 1 Unpacking Your Child's Lunch Box 3

Chapter 2 American Food System, Central Command, Part One 10

Chapter 3 American Food System, Central Command, Part Two 20

Chapter 4 A Romp Through the Early History of Combat Rations 33

Chapter 5 Disruptive Innovation: The Tin Can 46

Chapter 6 World War II, the Subsistence Lab, and Its Merry Band of Insiders 66

Chapter 7 What America Runs On 81

Chapter 8 Haw Do You Want That Chunked and Formed Restructured Steak? 106

Chapter 9 A Loaf of Extended-Life Bread, a Hunk of Processed Cheese, and Thou 124

Chapter 10 Plastic Packaging Remodels the Planet 149

Chapter 11 Late-Night Munchies? Break Out the Three-Year-Old Pizza and Months-Old Guacamole 171

Chapter 12 Supermarket Tour 191

Chapter 13 Coming Up Next from the House of Gl Joe 207

Chapter 14 Do We Really Want Our Children Eating like Special Ops? 225

Acknowledgments 237

Notes 241

Selected Sources 249

Index 279

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