In my email today I saw this story from my feed Pocket posted from the Philadelphia Magazine. And perhaps it is my age, my nostalgia, or something about potato salad or tuna with mayo – real mayo that is, but mayonnaise stories resonate with me. Alas, in truth I also have succumbed to post -20th Century condiments. The mayo that I do buy – is avocado-based!
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.
Compared to the years I served in the United States Navy, robust health and nutrition of sailors in the Nineteenth Century – the “iron men and wooden ships” of lore- was less a factor of the sea air than good fortune. Logs of ships’ surgeons from that era contain reports of men lost overboard in storms at sea, accidents, cholera, dysentery, over- consumption of alcohol leading to death, infections, sexually-transmitted diseases, run -ins with native populations )in the then- relatively isolated foreign ports), and poor diet.
In the years just after Desert Storm, fresh dairy products, fruit, and vegetables became available fairly regularly at sea due to underway replenishment. Even in the early 1990s, it was not uncommon to have powdered eggs, and ultra-pasteurized milk ( the sort the US Army Veterinary Service certified as safe for consumption) in place of fresh more than a week out of port.
It leads me to wonder aloud, whether the new health-consciousness of many activists for varied range-fed beef and compassionately-raised chicken, organic vegetables and gluten-free choices, have filtered down to our armed forces.
Most of my peers who retired around 2009 -2010, know that the military began a renewed campaign to fight obesity – discharging members who failed to maintain a standard that – even with body-builders – was difficult to achieve. But we also know that society has gotten farther and farther away from healthy diets and regular exercise.
But there are choices. Although, I do not expect my local Pizza Port to alter the menus just yet. And with virtually every town having small breweries popping up, I do not believe “lite” beer is going to be on the minds of the young men and women today. However, for those fewer of us, where the excesses of youth are around our waistlines, in our zeal to stay off medicines and out of hospitals, may yet find ways to exercise moderately and eat tasty, and healthy, food.
When I heard about this Portobello mushroom pizza, I was skeptical. It is remarkably tasty!
But this also has cancer-fighting properties as well as staying off my waistline. And I surprised my doctor last Wednesday with my complete turnaround in health. Thirty-five pounds lighter, blood -chemistry all in the normal range, and much happier. He didn’t ask me how, but when others may, I’ll tell them, “Pizza, fish, Chinese food, fresh vegetables. Yogurt. And more cooking with garlic, turmeric, mushrooms, and herbal ingredients.”
That gives me the ability to enjoy a nice craft beer. Guilt-free. I’m still a Sailor, after-all.