My grandpa, George Byer served in the Army as a cook during World War I. He always prided himself on making sure the men had the best meals he was able to make. Wartime doesn’t always mean that the men have the tastiest of meals. In fact, the meals are pretty basic most of the time. Even in this day and age, the men in a war zone often have MREs…which is Meals Ready to Eat. They are basically dried food. They can be eaten as they are, because its not always convenient to heat them. The idea is to create a meal to keep our troops running strong out in the field. They are packed full of calories and nutrients. Of course, that doesn’t mean that they are packed full of taste.
Still, when I look back at my great aunt, Bertha Schumacher Hallgren’s journal, when she spoke of the food the men had to eat during the Civil War, I have to feel awful for those brave men. She spoke of Hardtack, which was served to both armies. It was basically a thick cracker, that they could carry with them. Because of the lack of preservatives in those days, Hardtack was often wormy. It was so wormy, in fact, that the men called them Worm Castles. Hardtack was so hard that the men joked…if you bite into something soft, you might think it’s a worm, but it’s probably a ten penny nail…now that is a hard cracker. When I think of our brave men having to eat such food, it makes me feel nauseous. These are the people that we sent out to fight our battles, while we are safe at home, and here they are eating such awful things. Still, it was what they had, that and dried or salted meats.
I suppose they got used to the food, but I still think that is was sad that we as a people were not able to give them food that was safe to eat. I have to think back on the MREs, and while they might not taste great, at least they don’t have worms. And I have to wonder what Aunt Bertha would have thought of the MRE. She had seen so many awful foods that the men had to eat, but to think of them eating something that was dried…well, that would be just strange. Maybe the MREs weren’t the tastiest meals, but at least they were safe to eat, and many a soldier has survived on them for sure. I guess that sometimes you just have to do what you have to do.