An Army Marches on its Red Bull

red bull can

I was struck today by this story in The Observer, which came with the following blurb:

Exhaustion and combat stress are besieging US troops in Iraq as they battle with a new type of warfare. Some even rely on Red Bull to get through the day. As desertions and absences increase, the military is struggling to cope with the crisis.

What’s striking, beyond the new horrors of bombing, shooting and torture caused by the US invasion of Iraq, is how food is connected to the success (and failure) of military campaigns. The siege is the most primal link between food and the military, but there are more sophisticated ones.

Indeed, many of the foods we take for granted, and the technologies behind them, were spawned and spread by the military. Canned food, for instance, was an invention specifically contracted for by the French military in the early 19th century, so that sailors would be able to survive long sea crossings. Vacuum sealing was invented at the same time.

In the Second World War, General Marshall made sure that Coca Cola was exempted from sugar quotas and that Coke was made available (for sale, not gratis) to US soldiers, as a symbol of what they were fighting for. By the end of the war, GIs had been thoroughly exposed to Coke, and brought the taste back with them. Indeed, it was only through this that Coke broke out of its largely Southern US market, and became not just a US phenomenon, but a global one.

The upshot: there’s a lot more blood in our food than we know about….