We’re Eating Like Special Ops - And It May Not Be Great For Us

September 04, 2015

It all started with a simple sandwich.

Anastacia Marx de Salcedo

(Penguin/ Random House)

“One day I was sitting there putting together a sandwich for my kids, feeling kind of virtuous and then I started to think about the ingredients of the sandwich and I realized that they really weren’t very healthy or fresh and that got me started doing some research on the individual ingredients,” said Anastacia Marx de Salcedo.

What she found was at the origin of two of them – the supermarket bread and the packaged deli meat there was an obscure U.S. Army base – the Natick Soldier Systems Center.

“And I asked myself – hmm, what’s the Army doing in our food?”

That led her to start a multi-year research project that became her book Combat Ready Kitchen.

“In the book I give a tour of the supermarket,” said Marx de Salcedo. “I go through the sections and I can find usually several influences in each section from produce where you have the modified atmosphere packaging that is used for salads and greens to refrigerated guacamole to the meat department to the center of the supermarket.”

“In this ordinary office suite west of Boston, for reason that have nothing to do with your health and well-being, your tastes and preferences, or your pocketbook, a group of men and women choose the techniques that are used to manufacture practically everything you now eat – and are choosing everything you will eat in the future. Anastacia Marx de Salcedo, Combat Ready Kitchen

That’s where you hit the jackpot. Canned goods, instant coffee, instant soups, baking mixes, energy and granola bars, bakery items that are soft and chew at room temperature – the list goes on and on. In short, you can add almost anything with a long shelf life to that list.

The relationship Marx de Salcedo finds is complicated. On the one hand the military research was instrumental in the development of some crucial aspects of food safety but at the same time…

“I think one of the issues is this: the army is developing these rations which are intended to be eaten for a short period of time in extreme conditions,” said Marx de Salcedo.

Thus, she says they pack in the calories and nutrients any way possible. “And that’s fine when you’re at war, but when you take these same values that are emphasized in those foods and apply them to consumer foods, then you end up consuming things that may not be healthy when eaten over the long term.”