Seriously, are meals in the military as bad as MASH portrayed them?

A female food service specialist serves food across the counter to another soldier
Photo courtesy of U.S. Army

This time of the year is always about the food.   We go over to family’s house and load up on turkey, stuffing, cranberries, and my favorite, pumpkin pie, and repeat again at Christmas.  The food’s always delicious.   But what about the military?  When I was growing up, I watched MASH and saw Hawkeye Pierce inciting a strike because the food was so bad.  Was it really that bad?

The field is a challenging environment even for the most experienced of cooks.  The Next Iron Chef recently aired where the chiefs all had to cook on a beach.  They had limited resources, which not only included the types of food available, but the equipment, and environment.    These were extremely experienced chefs, and they struggled with the environment at times.  Now imagine someone inexperienced in the harsh environment of the desert, where food spoils quickly and they’re using portable stoves.

We left Dhahran after about six weeks, leaving our catered food behind.   Our cooks had to prepare the meals for our battalion.  The battalion had two active duty units, one National Guard, and one Reserve.  The latter two met once a month and trained two weeks a year, so not much experience cooking in the field.

In a logic only the army could have, the battalion pared the two experienced units on one shift and the two inexperienced ones on the other.  The result was two meals that were great, and two meals that were … well, bad seems kind.  How the heck can you botch up  hamburgers and hot dogs?!

Then there was the chili mac, which was the most common army meal.  Tim Dugan, an army cook, notes:

Sometimes we get to change it up, but as a whole, we are required to follow the recipe card exactly.  As a result, when you eat at an Army quality dining facility, you get the same product.  Cooks want to “flex” and make the product a little different, taste a little better, or have a little more flavor.  However, a good shift leader, first cook or DFAC [Dining Facility Manager] manager will keep his or her eye out, and will prevent that from happening.  Non-cooks should know that the Army sets these standard recipe cards to limit cost, control nutrition and prevent allergens.

As a result the soldiers will add hot sauce.  So we’re having chili mac in the mess tent.  We sit down, and there’s this guy across from us pouring on the hot sauce.  He eats a spoonful of it and then takes off his hat and slams into the table.

Oh, dear.  Seems someone got a little too creative with the seasoning …

Yup.  Military meals can have their moments of serious badness.

Linda Adams – Solider, Storyteller

Cover for A Princes, A Boatman, and A Lizard, showing a silhouette of a princess holding a lizard in the palm of her hand.Yay!  My short story “Six Bullets” is now available from Starcatcher Publishing in the the anthology A Princess, A Boatman, and A Lizard.  The story is about a princess who enlists in the military and then must battle her way up a river with only six bullets.

7 thoughts on “Seriously, are meals in the military as bad as MASH portrayed them?

  1. danzierlea December 7, 2012 / 1:02 pm

    … well…
    I unwrapped a turkey and it was green. No, that’s not the worst story or the worst meal, but I’m a bad cook. I didn’t do one thing to that poor bird, though; it was… unfit for duty straight from the store. 😦


    • Linda Adams December 7, 2012 / 8:15 pm

      Eew! Green? Sounds like when a local grocery store chain in California had a butchers strike. Every piece of meat we bought was bad.


  2. jokelly65 May 6, 2013 / 2:29 pm

    their first mistake, is calling it product, that sets the standard for the quality of food right there.. low.. I will admit on average most meals I ate at the chow hall were not bad, not great but not bad LOL.

    but there were times.. and the one that sticks out was baked chicken.. I stand in line, they slap bird on my plate, I look down and see feathers.. yes feathers..I complain, they give me a new piece, which has more feathers than the first piece LOL. some where on the bottom of that pan was a whole bird trying to escape I Just know it.


    • Linda Adams May 7, 2013 / 5:34 pm

      It probably also doesn’t help that the army sends soldiers who don’t graduate from their chosen AIT to cooking school. We were always told “If you don’t pass, you’ll be parking eggs next to bacon.”


      • jokelly65 May 7, 2013 / 7:10 pm

        LOL thats the truth. But on the flip side Uncle Sugars step children are frequently sent to where there is need for warm bodies regardless of MOS. a Friend of mine was 11 bravo, was PCSing to Fulda, and got diverted to Landstuhl Hospital where he was supposed to be a nurse LOL. Uncle Sugar decided once he was there it was better to stick him in the Mess Hall instead. three years later he was finally sent to back to Infantry, at the DMZ.


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