As we tuck into Big Curry month at RIFT, we're taking a closer look at how military innovation has changed the course of modern life around the world. Big Curry Month, in case you haven't heard, is a great way to support the Armed Forces. We're running our own fundraising curry blow-out event on the 27th, but you can get your own started at the official Soldiers' Charity website.
R&D in Armed Forces has always been a major source of everyday innovations, from road systems to the internet. The challenges of organising, operating and maintaining an army have had an impact right down to the food on our tables. Solving the problems of preservation and transportation of food have given us everything from the tin can to the cereal bar. We can trace these innovations right back to ancient times, but if you want to really pin down the birthplace of modern food processing, you could do a lot worse than starting with World War II.
We've already cast a critical eye over the contents of military ration packs around the world. The surprising thing, though, it how much of their contents actually originate there. High-energy MRE bars have evolved into the expensive protein bars currently stocking the supermarket shelves. Meanwhile, “Fabricated Meat Modules” are the nutritional forefathers of the “boneless pork rib” products you find in your favourite fast food chains. Even instant coffee is derived from military R&D – albeit into better ways to transport blood plasma.
Of course, all this innovation wasn't necessarily designed to produce entirely wholesome food. Ration pack chocolate bars were built to melt slowly and be a little less appetising so they'd serve well as emergency fuel, rather than a snack. A lot of research went into reducing the water content of food, both to reduce its weight and to keep it from spoiling for longer. Even so, that research still gave rise to the kinds of long-life “intermediate moisture foods” we're used to today, like those chewy-textured cookies and cake bars we all love – and coincidentally never seem to go stale.
Appropriately enough for this month, even the humble curry – the UK's favourite dish – has a military angle to it. While its roots are still very much planted in Indian cuisine, the curries you find in Britain today are largely a product of the West. Curry powder itself, in fact, was originated by Indian merchants and designed to feed the returning British colonial army.
There's a lot of history stuffed into a typical MOD ration pack, and a great deal of innovation behind it. While you're chewing that over, here's some more food for thought. Every year, ABF The Soldiers' Charity helps literally thousands of serving and former Armed Forces families facing hardship or bereavement. Big Curry month is about supporting that work and helping them to do even more. Look into attending an event near you, or consider actually running one yourself. You can pick up a free fundraising pack here.