As a military wife and advocate for healthy eating, I'm concerned about the foods our troops receive while deployed. Because the food often travels thousands of miles, it can be full of preservatives, additives, coloring, sugars - the list goes on. It can be a challenge for our troops to eat a nourishing diet while protecting our country.
Recently, Michelle Obama announced she would like to help military personnel by providing healthier foods in mess halls, vending machines and snack bars on nationwide military bases. It's a start, and I hope her desire translates into positive action, but what about deployed troops in Iraq, Afghanistan, and other places? Don't we owe it to these brave men and women to offer them healthier foods, too?
During my husband's deployments to Iraq, Afghanistan and Africa, he was stationed on a base with a dining hall. He brought some foods with him, I shipped him foods as the months went along, and he tried to make the healthiest choices he could with what was provided. My husband had the luxury of eating in a dining facility every night, but what about our troops on smaller bases or who carry food with them while they're on patrol?
Generally, the troops receive MREs (Meals Ready to Eat) when in the field. An MRE is a self-contained complete meal. The packaging and ingredients are designed to withstand heat, cold, rough conditions and last for about three years. Each MRE contains an average of 1,250 calories, so a soldier needs to eat three MREs a day to get the Military Recommended Daily Allowance of vitamins, minerals and calories. An MRE generally contains a main course, side dish, dessert, bread, peanut butter, and a powdered drink. The processed ingredients in a typical MRE include: high fructose corn syrup, caramel color, modified food starch, sugar, msg, soy lecithin, hydrogenated vegetable oils, artificial flavors, and the list goes on.
At smaller, Forward Operating Bases (FOBs), food comes in the form of pre-packaged consumer goods sent in large shipping containers. George Bryant, a Marine, described what he was offered in a recent post:
"No matter how much I try to portray an accurate portrait of the food that we are provided in far off places, it would not do justice. It's an amazing situation for those that love junk food. Once while out on a FOB, I walked into the huge shipping container used to store food. I saw a wall of pop tarts, a wall of Famous Amos cookies, and a wall of Rip It energy drinks. These shipping containers are forty feet long. Next to that shipping container was another one that was twenty feet long, full of water, and then a ten foot shipping container with boxes of MRE . I couldn't imagine seeing any human being survive on US soil eating that stuff - let alone thrive."
George wanted to make healthy choices while in the field, but was provided with mostly sugar, flour, and preservatives. His solution? He requested friends and family send him specific foods which withstand extreme conditions and still nourish.
If the government can provide access to brand-name fast food, cookies, and soda, perhaps it's possible to offer healthier foods. These locations are remote so shelf life is critical. For those troops who want healthier options, how about providing vacuum-packed dried meats, nuts, seeds, and dried fruits? A century ago, soldiers went to the field with dried meats, rice, beans and desiccated potatoes. With today's technology, it seems these types of foods could be prepared and vacuum-packed with minimal preservatives and still have a long shelf-life. Will it cost more? Maybe, but let's balance that with the cost of health care and the other challenges our deployed military members face. Michelle Obama wants to provide healthy food for our troops here in the US, why not extend these goals to help our deployed troops?
This issue will take many years to improve. How can we help today? Here's are a list of foods that ship well and have a long shelf-life:
Beef jerky - A protein packed food that withstands heat and cold (just make sure it's vacuum-packed)
Seeds and Nuts - Full of good nutrients and fats to sustain.
Coconut oil - A healthy fat that is great for boosting energy and adding sustenance to the diet.
Canned tuna, salmon or chicken - A high protein food available in cans or vacuum packs.
Granola - An easy to pack food.
Condiments such as Tabasco, honey, mustard, etc. - These are like gold to deployed troops. It can make a meal taste a bit more like home.
If you want to help but don't know a deployed military member, please check out one of these websites: Any Airman, Any Soldier, Any Coast Guardsman, or Any Marine.
What if you're currently deployed or getting ready to go? Think about trying to make one change a week. For example, instead of an energy drink, reach for bottled water or even a cup of coffee with less sugar and preservatives. Don't be afraid to ask friends and family to send certain healthy foods you enjoy. If we all make small changes, we'll move towards a healthier lifestyle.
This issue hits close to home for me since my passion is to educate people about the benefits of real, unprocessed foods. Not everyone shares my passion, but one thing we all share is the freedom our military men and women selflessly protect. That alone is worth our efforts to feed these warriors properly. Let's work toward change which will protect those who protect us.