16 September 2015

The Barracks: Field Rations and Space Food

Napoleon once said: "that army marches on its stomach", and how true he was. While we live in the 21st century with all manner of modern technology, soldiers and astronauts still need to eat. Military rations are the subject of jokes and insults, but the modern military field ration packs is lightyears better than the shit that my Grandfather ate in World War II and Korea. Today, the can has been replaced by the vacuum sealed pouch of various packs that all contain thousands of calories, and while these 21st ration packs are better than cans of old, but they still receive their share of mockery. In this blog article, we will exploring and explaining military field rations, space food, and some examples of "future food".

What are Field Rations?
There is a separation between military rations and field rations. Unlike chow prepared in the mess hall, which is military rations, the field rations are designed for in-field nutrition. Field rations are prepackaged meals designed specifically for the needs of the soldiers during deployments in the field and the conditions the soldiers may find themselves. Given the chaos of in-field conditions, field rations are constructed to be minimum preparation and to maximum the nutrition. This means they are calorically dense, weather-tight, and needing little or no outside gear with the in-packaging heating chemicals to make the meal that much more special.      

What is Space Food?
Due to micro-gravity environment of space, eating and drinking normally is not possible, and specialized food and drink were needed. Since the dawn of manned space flight, astronauts have been consuming an ever-improving diet of modified foods for space. There is also the considerations of packaging, weight, and prepartion. Some foods and drink are ready-to-serve, while others have to be hydrated in their packages. Other considerations have to be made with the action of the bodily functions and foods, such as carbonated drinks. Unlike military field rations, space food is more setup to be enjoyed as normal as possible.

The Importance of Food to the Military/Astronauts
Everything on this planet needs to eat, but few species relish in this daily ritual in the way that humans do. The cooking of food over the fire in early human communities may have led to the development of language and society. While food is an important social activity, in the military and in space, it can be key to morale and unit cohesion. Chow time can be the time when the soldiers take a break from their duties and the stress while sharing a meal with their fellow warfighters. It can also be a reminder of home, a time to talk and share, or just a time to refuel and reframe their mental space. The same is true of astronauts. Chow time is a time to take a break from the stress of working in outer space, but with the added bonus of eating in zero-gee.

The Brief History of Field Rations
Packing food away from your home while on an expedition has been part of the human story since we left to hunt and find new lands. On the body of European iceman Otzi found in the Austrian Alps had food packed on his person for his long journey, namely dried meat and hard bread, and the same was true of foot soldiers throughout time. Dried meat and hard dried were commonplace, with local sources being added. While most armies had traveling cooks, soldiers had to have their own sources of food. It was common prior 1832, to have several ounces of rum or other spirits. However, this was replaced with coffee and sugar; both still appear in rations even today. In 1907, we would see the first real issuing of fielding rations as we know it today: the Iron Ration. This was an meat-favored cake with some chocolate bars and salt/pepper. This came in at one pound, and was sealed in tin. During the First World War, military rations would be expanded and sealed against the harsh conditions of the modern battlefield. While several were tried, the Reserve Ration was more akin to the familiar rations of World War II, Korea, and Vietnam. These were canned meats, like Pork-n-Beans, with hard biscuits, coffee, chocolate, and cigarettes.
By the 2nd World War, several types of rations were used with alphabet names. For example, C-Rations were canned meals and common, with K-Rations being used for assault units, and being contained a large box with several elements that packed over 2,000 calories. Most interesting was the D-Ration. In some World War II films, we see large, thick chocolate bars. These were not a king-sized candy bar, but an older version of the nutrient bars of today. D-Rats were an vitamin reinforced four-ounce chocolate brick-bar that was meant for starvation prevention were not sweet like normal chocolate, but a taste similar to bland oats and flour. It was meant for emergencies. The 3rd Reich used familiar staples of  German cooking for their own rations. Most German units pooled their rations to make a stew added with foraged ingredients. This world would see the development of many ration types for all manner of battlefield conditions and situations.
Post-war continued to see canned rations being the favored medium of battlefield nutrient. The familiar C-Rations of World War II, became the C-Rats of Korea and World War II. While cans were heavy, they were durable enough to survive the rigors of the harsh battlefields of Korea and Vietnam. Soldiers jokes that during Korea, they ate World War II leftovers, and during Vietnam, they ate Korean leftovers. While C-Rations were still used, A and B were also used, which are field kitchen rations, and canned or package meals via field kitchens. These canned wet meals were official known as MCI or "meals, combat, individual". During Vietnam, the precursor to the MRE was seen in the form of the LRP freeze-dried ration developed for Special Forces units.
This idea of a package meal with various elements would be experimented with since 1963, and finally lead to the development of the Meal, Ready-to-Eat (MRE) in 1981. The MREs would see their first combat deployment in the Invasion of Grenada. Unlike many of the canned rations, the US Military and other armed forces around the world, have been improving and expanding the menu. Today, the standard MRE has 24 main entrees with over 150 other items. In addition, specialized beverage bags were added to allow soldiers to mix dried drink packs with their backpack hydration systems. The idea of the MRE would not be lost on other military organizations, and soon, MRE-like battlefield nutrient systems were developed and fielded; finally ending the reign of the almighty can.    

The History of Space Food
Outer space presents certain challenges to food preparation, assembly, and service. The first meal in space was consumed by the first man in space, Yuri Gagarin. Three 5.64oz  toothpaste-like foil tubes were onboard the Vostok I, two were meat paste, and one was chocolate. Yummy. While food tubes were a symbol of manned space flight, they were abandoned due to weight after the 1960's, and dehydrated foods were more favored by the USA and USSR. With better hot water rehydration system and the "spoon-bowl" system allowed for greater choices for food. Spicy foods were a favorite to counter the head congestion suffered by space travellers. By the time of the Space Shuttle and Mir, the USSR and NASA had developed a better system for delivering meals in space, and often foods were seals in pouches that were easily rehydrated and warmed. Today, onboard the ISS, many meals options exist, along with fresh foods and even Espresso! Much like military rations, space foods have an entire system of cataloging that includes eight different categories.

Modern Military Field Rations
All modern military field rations utilize the American MRE template, but not the endless variety. Here is a list of the various modern US Military ration types. It is surprising to see the diversity of the military field rations available. If there is a environment, than it seems that the US Armed Forces has an field ration type to fit those conditions!

The First Strike Ration (FSR)
This is the "Meals-on-the-Go" for military assault units during more intense, dynamic combat conditions. Unlike most MREs that require some preparation, the FSR is designed to be eaten on the go and designed to roll with the situation. With all of these factors in mind, the FSR is less weight (50% less), greater calories, less associate items, and single FSR pack is enough calories for one day. FSR has 2900 calories, compared to 1250 calories in one MRE pack.  

The Classic MRE
The classic brown-bag lunch of the US military since 1981, the MRE. The MRE has become the fore bearer of the modern military field rations, the hope of Doomsday Preppers, and a symbol of our modern technology. MREs are a calorie dense, hearty packages, and designed for all of the rigors of battlefield conditions. In one pouch, a soldier can have a day's worth of calories with all manner of snacks, beverages, and entrees to appeal to any soldier or prepper. At the moment, the US military fields 24 entrees, with some being meatless, with over 150 combinations of extras that keep it interesting. Trading MRE pieces is a time honored tradition as it was in the grade school cafeteria. While options are one appeal of the MRE, one of the greatest appeals to the civilian and military market of the MRE is shelf-life. According to tests, if the MRE package is kept in normal temperatures, than shelf-life can be numbered in years. MREInfo.com tested entrees dating from 10 to 11 years ago. These MREs had been stores in household conditions for their lives. The author found them to okay and he didn't die. The site did say that the applesauce and the cheese spread were two items to avoid in decade-old MREs.

Long Range Patrol Meal (LRP)
The concept of the Long Range Patrol Meal has been experimented with since the Vietnam War, and is similar in style to the Cold Weather MRE with less preparation, more calories, and less weight. These were developed from the jungle fighting rations of the US in the Pacific theater. To save the weight, the old wet canned (dog food) rations in the metal containers (dog food cans) were replaced by pouches and needed water to rehydrate. This posed issues when water was an issue and the need to boil the water. The LRP meal ration pack was redesigned with the meals being able to be rehydrated in the pouch themselves. I was unable to locate much information on if the LRP ration on the popularity of the this type of military ration.

The HooAH! Bar
Given the popularity of civilian energy bars, like Cliffbar and PowerBar, the US military began to explore developing their own energy bar. In 1996, this dairy-based reinforced bar that was created and was original going to be part of the standard MRE ration pack, however that changed. Popularity fueled the military to offer the energy bar as a standalone product, and these became a hot item on the civilian market, despite similar civilian energy bars. The HooAH! Bar and other similar military energy bars have a long shelf life (3+years) and are available in a wide range of favorites. I've read that military energy bars are kept within easy reach of the soldiers while on the move. Soldiers have been known to keep these on their personal gear, even if they are humping a pack.

Religious Kosher/Halal
Give the religious diet restrictions present in most of the world's major religions, and some soldiers who follow those religious dietary teachings fueled specialized Halal/Kosher meals. Prior to these specialized rations, soldiers were forced to make due and trade for what they needed. In 2004, these special MREs have been issued to soldiers requesting them, and they more rare than the typical ration packs. Some of the entrees are similar to the humanitarian rations.

The Tailored Operation Training Manual (TOTM)
Think of this odd military ration classification has the "dieter's special" of field rations. The TOTM is designed around lessening the caloric amount of typical MREs; from 1250 to 997 calories. The TOTM was specifically centered around soldiers that were needing field rations, but not the massive amount of calories. Generally, these "lower-calorie" ration packs are issued to soldiers during field instruction, classroom instruction, and less intense training environments. Unlike the standard MRE, the TOTM looks less military, and has less meal options. These are often the first rations that newer troops experience during their basic training. These are less common on the civilian market.

Unitized Group Ration (UGR)
Unlike MREs or other indivdual ration packs, the UGR are designed to feed larger numbers of soldiers via prepacked foods. Classified as "B Rations", the UGR are are designed to be used in field chow halls, far away from the ability to provide fresh foods, but still maintaining the ability to feed soldiers hot meals in a unit setting. Often, field kitchens use hot water to heat the pouches, but even beyond the field kitchen, B rations like the UGR can be used in the field by a simple pull, heating the rations in under a minute. These are the massive feeding system for the US military that are based around MRE elements, including the new long shelf-life sandwichs.

Various Food Packets for Survival
One of the odd military rations was the survival rations that are placed in emergency escape vehicles or even emergency shelters. These are designed to be stored for years, and provide nutrient in small packages. These calorie-dense rations (2400kcals+) are packaged with water, flares, and basic need items. Some of the rations take the form of nutrient bars with over 2400 calories. These rations are seen in use onboard naval vessels, Coast Guard, and even cruise ships. Some campers and hiker use these instead of packing freeze-dried food pouches.

Aircrew Build-to-Order Meal Module (ABOMM)
Most military rations are developed with ground operations in mind, but the DOD/USAF/US Army Aviation has developed a specialized military ration pack called the ABOMM for in-flight nutritional needs. These specialized rations were developed with aircrews needing to eat while on the job, and the typical MREs were too difficult to manage. There is no prep needed, and little mess. In 2013, the test of these lower-calorie rations were conducted, and they were approved, but these are much more rare military field rations than the typical MRE.  

Cold Weather MRE (MCW)
Given the challenges of cold combat conditions, there is a specialized Cold Weather MRE, the Meal Cold Weather (MCW). These meals are designed to be in colder conditions with less water in the food itself, more drink mixture packs, packed in white plastic, and an increase in overall calories to make up for the increased caloric demand of the body in cold conditions.

Humanitarian Daily Ration (HDR)
One of the missions of the most modern military organizations is to serve during humanitarian crises. The US military developed a specialized variant of the military MRE for just such an event: the HDR or Humanitarian Daily Ration. Packing over 2,000 calories, the HDR is designed to be accepted for all dietetic needs and restrictions. These yellow and pinkish package ration packs were developed with the stresses of humanitarian missions and local conditions, along with the ability to be airdropped. Five menus with 3 choices of meatless entrees give the HDR a range of favors and appeal.  

The Challenge of Food on Long-Term Manned Space Flight
Food, water, waste, mass, and fuel are all limiting factors for long-term manned space flight, and  The issue is storing enough foodstuffs onboard our spacecraft for extended trips into the black. While modern space rations are very good, we have to consider the space and mass needed to store years worth of rations for an entire crew. Any spaceship will have micro-gravity gardens, but proteins, carbs, and fats will be an issue, and there have been some creative answers. Some believe that we should be eating insects for long-term manned space flight as part the answer....yeah...makes that trip to Mars look not so good, huh? Others believe that cloned meat will be the answer, or algae, or even 3D printer technology will solve the question of food and deep space exploration. The fact is that humans need about 2200-3000 calories, over four pounds of water, 70 grams of protein, a pound of carbs and fats. Any spacecraft will be an closed ecosystem, and waste is the enemy, and complete recycling the goal. In space travel, waste not, want not is the golden rule. This makes CELSS or Controlled Environment Life Support System the technological goal.
Livestock will be difficult to take with us to the stars for in-flight meal service. While animals could be created once the ship has reached it destination, normal meat sources will be impossible during flight, and while ship stores will be one answer, another is insects...yes, eating bugs. Already, the world eats insects, and food-grade insects and even insect-based flour could be used for the protein during long-term spaceflight. Algae and insect powder could be used to construct protein-rich breads will a minimum of waste and resources. Even more "interesting" would be the practice of raising our food-grade insects in micro-gravity farms onboard the ship with less space taken up by the bug farms than fish. I've watched a few videos of people cooking with insects, and the faces they made did not inspire me to embrace eating bugs instead of yummy cows.
Algae has been a likely candidate for a spaceflight superfood that could serve for the protein, and it is already proven and embraced. Some believe, like George Sessoon and Rodney Dale, that the Manna that the wandering Israelites consumed from the Bible and the Koran is some sort of algae-based food from Like insects, algae can be grown onboard ship within vats, and be processed into a number of food items and would help with oxygen production. The side effect of too much algae ingestion is gout, which is not fun.
Another option is applying 3D printing technology to micro-manufacturing food out of raw resources. Of course, insects and algae would be part of the raw ingredients for our 3D food printer. NASA recently invested $125,000 in a grant to see if 3D printer food technology was a worthy avenue for solving long-term space travel nutritional needs.

Food Pills?
This is one of those future food myths that I can remember from watching The Jetsons back in the day. During one episode, Elroy is sent to his room, and Jane begs George to allow her to give their son some "peanut butter & jelly capsules".Food pills were also thought to be a way for women to be liberated from the slaving in the kitchen duties...back in 1893. But can you use food pills instead of eating. The answer is no. While pill can prove vitamins, fiber, and other elements of nutrient, the calories, fats, proteins are unable to be formed into a pill. Researchers that have tried to eat concentrated foodstuffs, like monkey food, were beset with cravings for hot real food. Then there is the depression and other mental health reactions that also accompanied the monkey food diet.

Food From an 3D Printer?
NASA has given $125,000 in funding for a real-world "universal food synthesizer" that will use the basic building blocks of foodstuffs and combine them to the desired dish. Even the US Army has been eyeballing the technology for in-field kitchens that could use less staff to prepare meals. The idea is that these machines will use cartridges of various types of base foodstuffs, including algae, insect powder, and seaweed to construct meals. Most are geometric food cubes, but the concept is solid and so is the food. It is not very exciting. We could see 3D printer food to more akin to early sci-fi visions of geometric foods where color determines if it is a sweet, a protein, vegetable, or even fruit. The advantage of 3D printer foods is that various types of dishes could be made from space-saving cartridges, overall nutritional standards could be easily standardized, and it could cut down on staff, energy costs, and transport costs. In the future, we could see the chow halls or mess tents of previous wars be eliminated in favor of a room filled with 3D food printers that assembly a limited number dishes in minutes. I am still guessing that the familiar table sauces will be present...those cubes look dry. However, the food would lack a certain flare or variation. It could be an issue of eating the same thing, with no variation day after day. We could see some beverages being composed out of 3D foodstuffs. At the moment of order, the brew on-demand system would dump a few concentrated cubes of coffee, or tea, or juice into a glass, and create the desired beverage with water.

Drinking Cola in Space
Carbonated drinks are some of the most popular on Earth, but they present challenges in micro-gravity. Gas that normally escapes during consummation on Earth, does not in space, and causes more burps and more gas released during that process. These burps are not just gas, but also liquid, or "wet burps", and this can and does lead to vomit. Floating spheres of liquid in micro-gravity can be dangerous to equipment. There is also the issue of carbonated drinks becoming foamy messes, due to lack of separation. The same is also true of beer. Pepsi and Coca-Cola have tried to import cola into the final frontier, but with limited success. Coco-Coke had a specialized dispenser can that looks like a shaving cream can flown in July of 1985 on STS-51-F. Oddly, the cola was the infamous New Coke! Later in 1996, a dispenser machine was used for Coca-Cola classic, Diet Coke, and Powerade. Pepsi was also flown also during STS-51-F, in another type of dispenser nozzle-can. Given that was during the bloody Cola Wars, NASA did not want to pick sides, and given the challenges, NASA decided to leave cola drinks off of the menu, along with Jack-and-Coke.

International Military Rations
You can tell a great deal about a society by what they pack in their military rations, and how they pack it. While it is true that the American military MRE field ration has been a revolution, and most nations have followed in a similar pattern, international military rations, there is still something special and unique in the foods other nation pack up for their soldier's sack lunch. Some elements are universal, like sweets, coffee, sugar, and tea. The entrees are a rainbow of choices with all kinds of exotic options. I've read that American soldiers will trade pieces of their own MREs for some elements of the international rations. The American MREs tend to be more diverse than other military organization field rations.

The Implications of the ST Food Replicator
In depictions of food in sci-fi, nothing has compared to the impact of the ST:TNG Replicator. We would countless times, our brave space trekkers touch a few buttons, bark an order at the machine, and within a few seconds, the desired dish would magically assembly before their eyes. This is intoxicating technology. Despite the magic of the Trek Replicators, there will be still the need for logistics. One reader of FWS, Daniel, commented this recently: "I don't really see how replicators or some other cornucopia machine do away with the supply train at all. Your assembler still needs the raw feedstock for it after all. Which needs to be mined, refined, packaged, shipped, received, and distributed to the front. If you want to claim it makes things out of raw energy it makes the problem worse, because now you still have the supply chain, but now it is for reactor fuel, and it needs enough that it can generate ~10^17 joules for every kilogram of raw feedstock they otherwise would have been shipping in. Magic recyclers where you shovel in dirt and it is able to make things out of that doesn't really help either, because readily accessible materials that can be reconstituted into feedstock and materiel probably won't have the more interesting elements and isotopes you need in sufficient quantities. There is really no way around having to deal with logistics"

The Fake Food Cubes of Sci-Fi
Given that eating is a common human experience that will always be present in our lives for eternity, sci-fi has attempted to show how "sci-fi the future is" via food. One common trope in science fiction seemed to be very fake looking cubed or geometrically shaped foodstuffs in bright bold colors, This has been seen in Star Trek, the 1979 Battlestar Galactica, and the 1980's Buck Rogers, and the food's "alieness" only played into the sci-fi angle. This shit always reminded me of Legos, and some of it was made from plastic or even foam. On the original Trek, it was colored pieces of fruit. Wisely, this trend has died out in sci-fi, and been replaced with more realistic depictions of food.

Science Fiction and Space Food
The Space Race was big business for companies that could cash in on the crazy, and the trend of "this is what the astronauts eat in space!" give birth to a number of products. We all remember Tang...This trend died down in the 1970's, but relaunched in the 1980's with items like Space Ice Cream. With space food being a consumer product, it was not lost on creators during the Space Race. Space food was big in the sci-fi of the more pulp era, and some even showed the the realities of eating in space, like 2001: A Space Odyssey and Yesterday's Children by David Gerrold.
There was also the trend of future people would be consuming food in the form of a pill, which was popularized by The Jetsons. With artificial gravity, comes the ability to have "normal" foodstuff products. While movies do feature space food, it is TV series and books that often show more of the daily routine of soldiers and astronauts. In the 1960's, Star Trek, would began to feature the most iconic futuristic food machines in sci-fi that led to the TNG replicator. These altered thinking of food in the distant future, and caused creators to start thinking inventive ways to fuse high-technology and food. Currently, sci-fi has projecting the end of meat as we know it, with heavy uses of soy and even tofu to replicate the experience and taste of animal meat, as seen in The Forever War. Sci-fi works are so projecting the use of banks of automated dispensers as seen in films like Prometheus, ALIENS, and AVATAR. These food dispensers are reminiscent of the old style Automats of the 1950's. It is likely that 3D food printers will be appear more in future science fiction works...including mine.

Science Fiction and Field Rations
While projecting food into the future is a common vehicle for creators to demonstrate how different their future is from today, field rations are less common in science fiction. Often, rations take the form of emergency rations and are symbol of how bad the shit has gotten in our story. This is often used in Star Trek universe as a counter to the food replicators, the yin and yang of high technology. However, true military field rations are rarely seen sci-fi, along with the typical setting of when those ration packs are consumed. For example, you rarely see or read soldiers just digging into chow while out in the field, as is common in military films and books. If we do see field or emergency rations in a sci-fi work, it is often crackers or biscuits or simply relabeled dehydrated camping food packages. Because, food is more science fiction if it comes out of a foiled pouch.  

Food in my own Science Fiction Writings
This may come as a surprise, but I love to cook, and I do love Coca-Coke (trying to quit drinking the stuff...but, I wish I knew how to quit you!), and of course, coffee. This means that food and drink appears in my novels in all shapes and sizes. Military ration packs are featured along with shipboard various foods and drinks. Often, what I am into at the moment of writing, appears in the novels. In a earlier short story, I was drinking Starbucks Cafe Americanos, and they popped up, and during the writing of Endangered Species, I was drinking energy drinks from time-to-time, which also made into the story. I also enjoy writing about food and the scenes that they create. Often, some of the best scenes for character interaction comes when it is chow time. I do often make statements about the conditions of the world, and how it is different from today with food as much as technology. For example, a majority of stories discuss the expense and rarity of "real" animal meats. This is likely an outcropping of my reading older sci-fi stories where meat is rare, and soy has replaced it.

Examples of Space Food/Ration Packs in Sci-Fi

Lembas from The Lord of the Rings Universe
We nearly never discuss fantasy here on FWS, but I am a big fan of the JRR Tolkien books (not the films) and I wanted to add this shining example of an fantasy field ration. This special food made by Elves was a field ration for the Fellowship, and this leaf-wrapped was specially designed for long treks. Okay, so, these magically cornbread can stay fresh for months, and a few bites were enough to fill a normal person...well, maybe not an Texan.

The Food Synthesizers from the Star Trek Universe
The Food synthesizers of the original series ere something of a in-between food prep technology. Food replicators were the apex, and food synthesizers are the middle. We see in TOS that old-style computer cards are used to order up a certain desired meal. So, what the hell is an "food synthesizer"? It is basically a high-speed delivery system of micro turbolifts that speed food from an central kitchen assembly area to various lounges onboard the ship via the iconic food slots. It appears to food being made up from thin air. Food onboard the original Enterprise was indeed made from real foodstuffs and simply delivered up to the desired location. According to Mr. Scott's Guide to the Enterprise (Pocket Books, 1987), by the Movie-Era, the refit NCC-1701 was using an "food processor". This midway point between the food synthesizer and the replicator, used micro-transport systems to assembly food from basic nutrient building blocks. The desired dish was then assembled, taking anywhere between 20 to 90 seconds, at the food slot. This food technology was not really seen in the films.

The Drac Military "Egg" Rations from Enemy Mine
Besides makeup, weird languages, and funny looking features, alien species can be set apart in science fiction via their choices at mealtime. Such was true of the Klingons and the Prawns, but in 1985's Enemy Mine, we seen an rare example of alien military emergency rations. In the film, the Drac pilot, Jerry, crash lands on a hostile alien world. Inside of what remains of his space fighter, we see a open container of egg-shaped green emergency survival rations. These look like a row of Easter eggs in a egg holder for your refrigerator. When the human space pilot Davidge attempt to eat one of the egg shaped rations, he nearly vomits. I guess the BTA does not give their pilots emergency survival rations.

The Yeast Vats from Caves of Steel by Isaac Asimov
One of the best books ever written by the grand master of science fiction was Caves of Steel and it tells the story of an Earth besieged by the humans that went out into space and established colonies. As they pushed out, humans back on Earth founded massive underground cities that housed the 8 billion humans. To feed the unwashed masses of underground humans (Morloks?), the cities have turned to yeast farming to augment other sources of foodstuffs. But, there is no choice in what food you eat in the assigned community kitchens. You sit at your assigned seating, and get what the slot-gods deem. Asimov, being a god of course, used this element to full advantage and really made you believe that in the future that there would only be yeast...and yeast-lords. Let us see how many of you get that reference.

Soylent Green from Soylent Green
Of course, this is one of the most famous examples of food in sci-fi, but why is it one this list? First, I basically had to include it, and Soylent Green is an interesting example of a global ration...that is made from people. Soylent corporation uses corpses to be converted to the Soylent Green crackers, but lies to the public, saying that Soylent Green is made from ocean plankton farming. Most everyone on Earth eats Soylent Green because it is the global ration for the dying human race.

The Protein Resequencer from Star Trek: Enterprise
Given that the adventures of the NX-01 were set in the 2150's, the technology that we knew in the 23rd and 24th centuries did not exist. Instead, the cutting-edge NX-01 Enterprise was fitted with a real live cook, galley, and chow hall. Everyday, chief would whipped a daily menu complete with deserts, however, he didn't do it alone. Onboard the ship was the "protein resequencer", which extended the supply of the food stores and the limited hydroponic greenhouse, especially during the Xendi Campaign. The chief was never seen, but during the final episode of ST:ENT, Commander Riker played the chief on a holodeck reenactment of the final voyage of the old NX-01. It showed that the chief worked with real, live ingredients along with using kitchen tools and cooking skills. This is one of the few chiefs ever seen in the Star Trek universe. So what the hell is an protein resequencer? It took proteins and reordered them to form other proteins as raw material for various foods. However, they still needed a cook and more real foodstuffs.

The Common Area onboard the USCSS Nostromo
When we examine films like 1979's ALIEN, we can see a different presentation of future food. The good space trucker crew of the USCSS Nostromo are seen eating several large meals, and all seem to be from tall plastic clear contains that looks like it came from the Container Store catalog. Various foodstuffs from the cereal and grain family are seen, and it is my guess that the food in those large plastic containers are re-hydrated en masse to be served family style for common ship-wide meals. Of course, if we listen to Parker, the only good thing on the good ship Nostromo was the coffee.

The Food Replicator from the Star Trek Universe
One of the most advanced food preparation technology ever seen in sci-fi is the ST:TNG food replicator. It seems like magic that only a few commands can summon any of its 4500 meal on-file in any nutrition requirements in a few seconds to any of the 100 replicators onboard the Enterprise D. Flexibility is key to the replicator, and to give that flexibility to the crew for food and drink, the raw food stock is houses as molecules that re-arrange to met the demand. This takes a great deal of computer operation, but less energy than one might think. While not commonly used, the raw food stock can come from recycle wastes...just think about that for a minute.
Not all food replicators are the same. During the alternate universe Enterprise D battleship, all power is poured into offensive and defensive systems, causing replicators be at half-power. This causes the entire crew and marines to be on military replicator rations called TKLs.Then there are the ones in Ten-Forward and onboard the Captain's private Yacht. These specialized food machines are fitted with finer quantum geometry transformational matrix field emitters that allow for closer replication and assembly of more "difficult" foods. Also, some locations are allowed to generate full octane alcohol drinks. One popular theory online is that due to the replicators, most of the Federation could be vegan or mostly, since they rarely raise animals for meat. While replicators are common in serve with Starfleet and in homes, real food is still prepared and consumed...just look at Ben Sisko's dad's Cajun restaurant in New Orleans.

The Space Food from 2001: A Space Odyssey
In 1968, 2001: A Space Odyssey was a vision of the future in space, and it featured mostly hard-science space travel realities, including food. Throughout the film, characters would eat in zero-gee conditions, and the food (and other concepts) was developed by an NASA scientific adviser Fred Ordway. To the film's credit, most of the depictions of food in space are correct and that are many scenes with the space food, some are iconic to the film and sci-fi as a whole.

The Jedi Food Pills from the Star Wars Universe
In the prequel SW films we finally witness what real Jedi worn before the fall of the Order after the Clone Wars. One interesting item was the small finger length cylinders worn on the standard Jedi utility belt. These 12 small cylinders were the emergency food pellets used by the Jedi in the field. There is little or nothing known about these little items, but at least the production was thinking about what Jedi in the field would need. It is likely that the food pellets were a mega-shot of everything the body needs including caffeine, protein, vitamins, fiber, and a shit ton of calories. Each one was likely good enough for a full day of intake. It was not advisable to live off of the food pellets, they were designed for emergency survival.

The Food Cube from the Farscape Universe
In the show, we see a number of characters eating Food Cubes, and they have become an icon of sci-fi food. They are natural-colored cracker-like objects packed with the basic nutrient for most sentient alien species, and are not the most exciting food in all of outer space, but they do get the job done. So, what the Frell were the Food Cubes made from? According to some theories on the old interwebs and actress Claudia Black, the Food Cubes from Farscape were made from Haw Flakes, a type of Chinese sweets made from the Hawthorn fruit. Or that the Food Cubes were colored Tofu, and shaped. I would like to believe that they were the Haw Flakes.

Emergency Rations from Star Trek: Enterprise
All Federation starships carry emergency rations in special cases when the main power or the replicator network is down. The ST show that featured emergency rations more than one else was ST:ENT. These appear to be the classic sci-fi foil-packs that was likely relabeled camping food pouches. During the excellent episode Shuttlepod One, we see Tucker and Reed using the emergency rations onboard the tiny shuttlepod, and even using the leftover mashed potatoes as a means to plug up a hole in the hull.

Food Dispenser and Food Pills from the Jetsons
I grew up watching the Jetsons, and I was interested in how 1960's creators were thinking our far-future society of the 21st century was going to look. Oddly, the Jetsons had a great deal of food in the series, and were inventive about how that food was made and consumed. In the show, we see Jane, the wife, using old style punch cards on a massive food venting machine or just punching a few buttons and food magically arriving in the middle of the table. The show never had any consistency when it came to the food technology, and different types of food vending machines were featured. What the Jetsons does make clear, is that food preparation in the future would be done by machines and not human hands. I sometimes believe that the production staff of TNG were inspirited by the Jetsons when coming up with the food replicators.

That Fucking White Shit from The Matrix
While the people of Zion are eating real foodstuffs, the crews of the hover-ships are forced to eat these bowls of white shit described as "snot". This substance was packed with everything that the body needed for nutrient. Of course, it was better than what was going to be in the film. Giant cockroaches eaten like Lobster with melted butter. Seriously, giant cockroaches. Some have taken issue with the white shit in the Matrix, but it was a symbol of how bad things have gotten in the future and how humans have adapted to the new bleak reality. So glad they did not use the giant cockroaches.

The Algae foodstuff from Battlestar Galactica
Now, everyone who reads FWS should know that I frakking love BSG, but when the "entire food supply of the ragtag fleet is contaminated" storyline was revealed, I rolled my eyes. It was so underdone and sloppy, but it resulted in some damn good episodes. To feed the thousands of humans trapped onboard the ships, the Galactica located a planet that had massive algae blooms, and this sludge was pumped out and processed into protein bars, crackers, and mush. For the rest of the show, Algae was what was for dinner...and lunch...and breakfast for the fleet. While the use of algae was sounded and realistic, it could have been have been given a better genesis than a one-line explanation.

The Military Rations from Alien Legion
Throughout the run of Alien Legion under the Marvel spinoff brand Epic, we see a variety of future military rations. Due to this military sc-fi comic dealing with three alien galaxies that is populated by thousands of species, there is challenges of fielding rations to all of those various lifeforms with their many nutritional needs. The comics make mention several times of rations being categorized based on biology, and certain symbols were for certain species, if you were from planet X and species Y, than you eat rations marked with a blue triangle. While inventive, this could be a nightmare for logistical considerations, and species in the Legion could starve if something were to happen to the supply train. Legionaries and other alien warriors would carry individual ration packs that looked more akin to cookies and in issue #5 of the relaunched Alien Legion comic book, we see Grimod being forced to eat Harkilon rations.

The Military Food Rations from the Star Wars Universe
We've seen military emergency rations in the Star Wars universe but nothing like in The Empire Strikes Back, when Luke travels to the Dagobah system. On that swampland world, we see Luke set up camp from supplies stored in his X-Wing, and he reveals a plastic box filled will manner of foodstuffs. These were standard ration packs for pilots in case of being shot down. Of course, they are not always preferred by some, like Yoda, who questioned their nutritional value. Even as a kid, I always thought that the ration packs that Luke uses was an odd assortment of foodstuffs. It turns out that the ration pack in the 1980 film was actually an fishing tackle box filled with all manner of snack foods. I can say, at else this is not fake plastic geometric pieces.

The Colonial Nutrient/Immunization Ration Bars from Firefly, the Episode "Serenity"
In the premiere episode of the landmark sci-fi series, the good crew of the Serenity savages an colonial transport, and locates some very valuable cargo: starter ration bars for colonial settlement. These imprinted government goods are designed to feed families and provide immunizations for pioneers founding colonial settlements. Much like dried beef and hard tack, these bars were designed to get the settlers through until crops were harvested. These bars were prized and expensive due to their nutrient abilities and immunization, but were heavy to transport. While imprinted, these brick-like foodstuffs are sold on the black market, and can be used in local colonial power politics. According to some sources, these ration bars were first designed by the original Terran settlers to the 'verse due to the amount of terraforming that had to be undertaken. Thanks to FWS reader Moran for the heads up on this one!  


The Surprising history of Hot Coco and the Military

The History of Military Field Rations

Cooking on Mars

Next Time on FWS...
At this moment, human beings are orbiting the Earth in the ISS with is devoted to global cooperation, exploration, and scientific discovery. However, it could have been so different. During the Cold War and the Space Race, the US and USSR developed military space stations, some were even put into orbit. In the next blogpost, FWS will be looking at military space stations in reality and in fiction.