A majority of the articles that talk about army food will, without fail, either start with or mention Napoleon’s famed quote – “An army marches on its stomach.” The statement perfectly illustrates the intrinsic relationship between the fighters and the food they need to keep them fighting fit.
But, this didn’t always apply to the Indian army. For example, according to Armies, War and their Food, authored by D. Vijaya Rao, before the World War II, the Indian troops were fed just atta, rice, dal, potatoes, ghee, sugar and salt. Compare this to items such as biscuits, vegetables (fresh and tinned), various types of meat and dishes such as upma, halwa and pulav that you’ll find on the Indian army’s menu today, and the older ration seems meagre, certainly not apt for an army. So, what changed? This episode of The Intersection investigates just that.
The Second World War left a deep impact on our army’s diet. The large-scale expansion (the Indian army was the largest volunteer force during WWII, growing from 194,373 people before 1939, to 2.5 million men by 1945) saw not just a lowering of the physical standards of recruitment, as Samanth and Padmaparna find out, but also resulted in a number of sickly war-time recruits who were deficient in essential nutrients.
And this gave impetus to nutrition research in the Indian army; the aim was to find out whether the nutritional intake was up to scratch and find ways to improve it. Effects of this can easily be seen today. This round up by Vigyan Prasar, for example, talks about the many different ration packs that have been designed by the Defence Food Research Laboratory (DFRL) over years. From Meals-Ready-To-Eat (MRE) Ration to the One Man Compo Pack Ration, today’s Indian soldier eats a highly-customised diet. There’s even a Main Battle Tank (MBT) Ration, which is meant to help a soldier survive in an enclosed environment, such as that of a tank, for three days.
It’s not all just about vitamins, minerals and survival, though. The importance of feeding jawans food they will actually want to eat is not lost on scientists. Just a few years back the DFRL developed non-vegetarian biryanis and sandwiches that have an impressive shelf life of a year. This can be compared to the attempts of US Army’s researchers, who have been trying to develop the holy grail of MRE options – a pizza with a shelf life of three years.
Since the Second World War, food research and science in India have come together to develop a nutritious diet for the Indian army, which takes into consideration operational logistics as well as food preferences and habits.
Listen to the podcast here.