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- It all started in 1997 when I was a kid in Florida. My dad brought home a case of US rations from the Army Navy Store. The first one I had was a 1993 ham slice meal. I didn’t know how to work the heating pouch that came with it, I just ate it cold. I didn’t even care. This is what heroes eat, I thought. I’ve been fascinated ever since.
- Over the years, I began finding and documenting vintage rations. Eventually, I started filming myself opening them, talking about their history and tasting them on YouTube. I realised that, holy jeez, some of this food lasts for ever!
- I love it when I find one that’s perfectly fine. I’ve had a chocolate cookie from a US 1951 Korean war ration. It tasted like a Chips Ahoy! cookie. I’ve had instant coffee from the second world war. It was strangely acidic, yet so good. I’ve eaten hot dogs from a US 1982 ration. They were properly preserved but a little bit soft.
- If it’s dangerous, I won’t eat it. It’s that visual, smell and taste test. Take apple sauce. I draw the line when it turns black. If the smell is sour, sharp, metallic, then I pass on it.
- Yes, I’ve had food poisoning. The worst was in 2015, when I got E coli poisoning from an in-date beef and barley ration from Ukraine. I was admitted to the emergency room for four hours. I have no insurance, so it was a $15,531 medical bill. I don’t talk about it much because I don’t want to make Ukrainian people upset. It’s not their fault. There were a lot of problems with that batch, but they’ve changed the design since then.
- I haven’t got sick since I started on YouTube, and I’ve eaten some really old stuff, like 61-year-old peanut butter and even civil war hard tack. It’s a thick, hard cracker made from flour and water. I bought a piece from a dealer who had a batch from 1863. (I don’t ever open anything unless I have a duplicate.) It was like extremely hard rubber, and tasted like musty books and mothballs.
- Hard tack was not palatable, not filling. But rations have come a long way. One of the best I’ve had was a 2016 Norwegian Arctic field ration reindeer stew with lingonberries. It was incredible comfort food.
- It’s amazing how much you can tell about a country from its rations. The modern British 24-hour ration has treacle pudding and four sachets of tea. It just screams British. Italy’s instant coffee is very dark roast, very bold, very complex. Some of their menus even include a shot of grappa with breakfast. The Japanese heaters cook sticky rice perfectly.
- A lot of people are eating rations, and they don’t even know it. Freeze-dried camping food comes from the US Long Range Patrol ration developed for Vietnam in the 1960s. There’s also been incredible advancement from cans to soft, lightweight pouches. The US Army invented the “retort” pouch in the 1970s, and it’s used by commercial companies such as Uncle Ben’s and Sunkist today.
- For me, one of the most important things is documenting history. One of the rarest rations I’ve opened is a Royal Air Force emergency flying ration from 1943. I got it from an old lady at an antiques show in Florida. I was so excited to buy it, I was shaking. The original ration had barley sugar and gum but the one I found just had malted milk tablets and energy tablets left. I ate one malted milk tablet. I filmed it, talked about it, and hopefully the rest of the ration will be on display in a museum in the next year or so.
- As for the energy tablets, I’m 99 per cent sure they’re amphetamines. That stuff is designed to keep a person alert and evade the enemy. A downed pilot might have to take those tablets just to stay awake. A lot of times those rations would make the difference between succumbing or getting out alive. The poor guys, that’s all they had. That just tells the story right there.
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