So it is quite worth while to review the best that has been done along this line, show wherein the most promising experiments have failed, and restate the problem anew—then let fresh inventive genius tackle it. And a few suggestions may not be out of place.
Beginning again with erbswurst, as prototype of such foods; theoretically it is highly nutritious, though less fit for continuous use as a sole diet than baked beans, even though the latter were desiccated, Practically it soon palls on the palate, upsets the stomach, and, like any other food composed almost wholly of legumes, causes flatulent dyspepsia or other disorders of the digestive tract.
The British army tried it, and Tommy Atkins let out a howl that reached from South Africa to London. The War Office replaced it with another German invention, Kopf's soup, which also had pea meal for its basis but had a higher content of fat (17.25%). This was superior in potential energy, but the after effects were similar to those of erbswurst. It was plain that an exclusive diet, if only for a day or two, of legumes and fat would soon put a man to the bad. England discarded the iron ration and placated Tommy with jam—a wise move, as we shall see.
In 1900 a new kind of emergency ration was introduced in our own army. This was made up of eight ounces of a meat-and-cereal powder, four ounces of sweet chocolate, and some salt and pepper; all put up in a tin can eight inches long and thin enough to slip easily into one's pocket. This pound of food was calculated to subsist a man in full strength and vigor for one day. Details of its preparation are here copied from official sources:
"The chocolate component consists of equal weights of pure chocolate and pure sugar molded into cakes of one and one-third ounces each. Three of these go into the day's ration.
"The bread and meat component consists of:
"(1) Fresh lean beef free from visible fat and sinew, ground in a meat grinder and desiccated so as to contain five per cent or less of moisture, the heat never being allowed to cook it in the slightest degree. The dried product is then reduced to powder and carefully sifted through a fine-meshed sieve, the resulting flour being the meat component.
"(2) Cooked kiln-dried wheat, the outer bran removed, is parched and then ground to a coarse powder. This yields the bread component. Sixteen parts of the meat, thirty-two parts of the bread, and one part of common salt, all by weight, are thoroughly mixed in such small quantities as to be entirely homogeneous and compressed into four-ounce cakes. Three of these go into the day's ration. The bread and meat may be eaten dry, or be stirred in cold water and eaten; or one cake may be boiled for five minutes in three pints of water, and seasoned [as soup] ; or one cake may be boiled for five minutes in one pint of water to make a thick porridge and be eaten hot or cold. When cold it may be sliced, and, if fat is available, may be fried. Three-fourths of an ounce of salt and one gramme of pepper are in the can for seasoning".
At first glance it might seem that the bread and meat components of this ration were essentially the same as the pinole and jerked venison of our Indians and white frontiersmen—and it is quite likely that the inventors had those primitive foods in mind, seeking only to condense them still further without impairing their famous nutritive values. Practically, however, there is little resemblance. Jerky retains much of the meat juice, which gives it its pleasant flavor. Desiccated meat contains no juice, and its taste is altogether different. Pulverized, parched wheat is a sort of pinole, but in this case it was first cooked, then parched, and the flavor was inferior.
Finally the meat powder and grain powder were mixed and sifted into a homogeneous mass, compressed, and sealed up in an air-tight tin. One need not even taste such a product to know that it could not possibly satisfy the palate like the old-time preparations.
The emergency ration gave satisfaction for a time, but eventually there were many complaints that it was indigestible, or otherwise unwholesome. Scientists reported that it was lacking in nutrition. The troops did not like its taste, and their officers warned them to husband their hard bread and bacon as long as they could, since a very limited amount of either or both, taken with, the emergency ration, made it far more palatable. Another fault of this "near-food" was that the can that held it was so thick and heavy that it made the gross weight of the article almost as great as that of the regular haversack ration, which cost much less and had a better taste.
In 1913 the Secretary of War ordered the discontinuance of this emergency ration, notwithstanding that great quantities of it still were in storage. The problem of getting up a better one was turned over to food experts of the Department of Agriculture. About a year later a new emergency ration was, I believe, adopted, composed of bean flour, lean meat, raisins, and a small percentage of wheat flour. This is said to be palatable and nutritious, but I do not know how well it may have stood the test of service.
The Problem of an emergency ration is not merely one of condensing the utmost nutriment into the least bulk and weight. One cannot live on butter or peanuts alone, however high their caloric value may be. The stuff must be digestible: it must neither nauseate nor clog the system. When a man is faint from hunger (and that is the only time he ever will need an emergency ration) his stomach must not be forced to any uncommon stunts. And so I hold that a half ration of palatable food that is readily assimilated does more good than a full quota of stuff that taxes a man's gastric strength or disorders his bowels. And there is a good deal to be said for mere palatability. Food that tastes bad is bad, for nobody can work well on it.
Of course, an emergency ration is not intended to be used long at a time. It is not meant to interchange with the regular reserve ration of hard bread, bacon, or preserved meat, dried vegetables, coffee, sugar, and salt, that soldiers carry on their persons during a campaign. The iron ration proper is a minimum bulk and weight of unspoilable food that is complete in itself, packed in a waterproof and insect-proof cover, and it is never to be opened save in extremity when reserve rations have run out and supply trains cannot connect with the troops. Yet this is the very time when men are likely to be exhausted and famished. It is the very time when their systems demand food that tastes good and that assimilates easily.