During the years I served on Navy ships underway on deployment, one of the most anticipated days was the mid-point of the cruise when the Command authorized a barbecue for the crew. This was known as “Steel Beach”. We all would form long lines to have a burger, roasted chicken, hot dogs, and potato salad, baked beans and chips. And a beer. But I can understand the excitement about a barbecue – even a steel beach one. It seems to be part of the human DNA to enjoy roasted meat. Perhaps it was the way food had to be containerized, frozen, powdered, steam-blanched for long voyages. At least, we never had salt beef, hard-tack or meal-wormy bread of our sailing ship forebears.
I guess I could have fared worse. Meals Ready to Eat, or MREs have been issued to servicemen on the battlefield – or during Chief initiations – or in SERE schools for generations. But in our changing society, I hope that vegetarians or vegans do not come to control the food selection of a captive audience be they on a forward operating base or a deployed destroyer. In Twenty-First Century society, we have a number of people who choose to eat vegetarian or even more radically, make food choices as “vegans”. The latter disdain any product that has anything to do with animal-origin; these folks condemn animal-related food industries. Of course, prior to modern refrigeration and frequent underway replenishment, I imagine had there been vegans onboard a ship thirty years ago, they would have been hard-pressed to determine if what was offered from the galley had been a creature at one time. SOS and powered eggs at breakfast, or sliders at lunch hardly seemed to be animal products.
One of my childhood cartoon heroes, Popeye, certainly had a thing for spinach. But I don’t think he would ever have turned away from barbecued steak, ribs, or a brat. I certainly never saw any war movie where the men (and women) lined up for soy or critically read the ingredients in any of the slop they were served. I learned as a child while watching movies about dinosaurs, aliens, and vampires, there is an undeniable dominance of meat-eating creatures over plant-eaters. Tyrannosaurs were definitely the hunters that preyed upon the herbivores. Lions and other big cats, wolves, foxes, and coyotes are predators. Barracuda, killer whales and other cetaceans are meat eaters. I know that human beings are more omnivorous, and when times were tough, hunter-gatherers would get by on flour ground from plants. A rabbit or lamb might do if a bison was not available. I have heard of some Amazonian warriors eating their enemies. The Aztecs did have a thing about human hearts, but a Sailor would have to be very hungry to eat someone you had played Spades with late nights.
Gratefully, cannibals do not seem prevalent in the military services. Nor do I encounter any at my employer. But I have encountered vegans. And some of these are a little ill-tempered, particularly when you tease them why they are not joining you in savoring barbecue for lunch or the team picnics. But inquiring further, I learn that vegans are predisposed to feeding their cats or dogs in the same manner they have chosen for themselves. While I can understand personal choice in the type of sustenance that humans put in their bodies, I am at a loss to understand how we humans project the same ethos on our dogs and cats.
Then again, I was eating some cantaloupe tonight with my dog monitoring my every slurp. To humor him, I gave him a small chunk. He ATE the chunk of cantaloupe. But of course, he had also just eaten scraps of the barbecue roast I had on my dinner plate. Omnivores. I would think it cruel and unusual punishment to restrict him to soy proteins and vegetables. He might decide to snack on me one night. Vegans can be a little unpredictable.