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FIGHTING LIGHTER: Food



I get a lot of feedback (some good, some bad) about the things I pack in my LFR. To an ultralight backpacker, some of it seems odd. To an infantry guy, most of it seems wildly unorthodox. So I'm gonna try to explain my reasoning in the hope that you'll see that, within the context of the preparedness-minded civilian, I make a lot of sense. This first post will be about the rations I carry in the field. I hope this is the first post in a series, but only time will tell.


THE TL;DR VERSION

  • MREs are gay

  • On short patrols, only calories matter. Max out your calorie-to-weight ratio of food

  • Peanut butter, hard cheese, and cured meats have highest calorie-to-weight ratios

  • Choose things that need little to no preparation, so you can stay on the move

  • Get used to foods that you can source locally, when grocery stores aren't open


IMPORTANT FACTORS WHEN CHOOSING RATIONS

  1. Calorie-to-weight ratio. Staying as light as possible while still doing your job, makes doing your job easier. If you don't think gear weight matters, then maybe read someone else's blog, or take a high school level physics course. But your food can weigh a lot, and it's important to keep it to a minimum. Calories represent the raw energy required by your body to do work. Hence the more calories you can get out of one ounce of food, the better it is. In the context of a 3 day patrol or shorter, fuck proteins, fuck carbs, fuck sugars, fuck fats. None of that matters in such a short timespan. You can worry about your macros and how much your tummy hurts when you're back inside the wire. Outside the wire, it's all about cal/oz.

  2. Ease of preparation. How much work is required between taking the food out of your rig, and actually being able to put it in your mouth? With something like a candy bar, you just unwrap it and go. With something like dried beans, you have to soak them and boil them over several hours. Faster is better. Not needing fuel or cooking is better. Counter intuitively, not needing water is actually better. Adding water is an extra preparation step, but dehydrated food always weighs less, which is more important than ease of preparation.

  3. Obtainability. How easy can you sustainably get this stuff? Yeah MREs are high speed and all, but can you grow MREs in your backyard? Can you buy them at the local farmer's market? On a long enough timeline spent in austere conditions in which supply lines have failed and the lights have gone out, everything that you or your neighbors cannot make yourself is going to get progressively rarer, more expensive, and may become entirely unavailable. Have a plan to feed yourself when you can't buy shit from the grocery store anymore.


Time for a deeper dive on those three:


CALORIE-TO-WEIGHT RATIO

Time to pull off my favorite bandaid: STOP USING MRES. They woefully fail all three of the above metrics, but on cal/weight, they really fucking suck. Yes, even if you "field strip" them first. Trust me, I defended MREs for years but the numbers don't lie. To help you understand how they suck, here's a graph I made:


Let this be your guide. The platonic ideal is pure lard, which tops out around 250cal/oz. Nothing can really beat that. Almost any fruits, vegetables, and most meats that aren't extremely fatty will be too low to include on this graph. Fats and/or sugars are the key. Higher percentage of those = higher cal/oz. If you're some kind of monster, then taking bites out of a hunk of pure bacon fat would be the most efficient. But for normal people, peanut butter or olive oil are more realistic options. Peanut butter I can eat raw all day long, very tasty. Olive oil you can do little shots of if you've got a tough stomach, or add as much of it as you can stand to soups and stews to bolster their caloric content.


EASE OF PREPARATION

The platonic ideal here is something that you just pull out of your pouch and take a bite out of. This is actually quite achievable. Protein bars, hard cheeses, and cured meats are all like this. You can even put your peanut butter in a squeeze tube to squirt directly into your mouth. This means that you don't even need to stop walking in order to eat. Doesn't get much better than that. One step down would be things you need to eat with a spoon, followed by things you can rehydrate and eat cold, followed by things you need to boil water for, which require you to sit in one space and burn valuable and consumable fuel for several minutes. Yes yes, I know, your Jetboil is so fast and can boil water in one minute and blah blah peepee poopoo. But how much does that Jetboil weigh? I haven't carried a stove out in the field in probably almost two years now. Stoves are great for the casual hiker, completely unnecessary for the serious patroller. It will never beat food that you can eat without preparation.


OBTAINABILITY

This one is a little more theoretical, since I don't (yet) have a homestead to resupply from and the grocery stores haven't (yet) run out of goods. But I think it's important to keep in mind. In this category, I think cured meats and hard cheeses are the platonic ideal here. They are both calorie dense, and can be made at home, albeit with a little difficulty. The other end of the spectrum is just stuffing your rig with raw onions, beets, and potatoes. I've tried this, and while I could supply a small army with potatoes and onions from my garden, they are very NOT calorie dense, and they take boiling or roasting for a long time to really be palatable. It's up to you to find a middle ground. Bread is pretty good, sitting at around 75 cal/oz, and can easily be baked at home from shelf stable ingredients. Combine it with some homemade jam, cheese, or meats, and you've got a meal that has high cal/oz, can be eaten without preparation, and can be sourced almost entirely from the homestead. I am a big fan of these foods and have been relying on them heavily for the past couple years.


Homemade bread, jam, and goat cheese in the field


MISCELLANEOUS TIPS

  • Eat a large meal before beginning your journey, and after completing it. This means less food you have to carry.

  • If you are using dehydrated food, eat at the same time you stop for water resupply. This lets you rehydrate and eat your food, then top off all your canteens before moving on.

  • Some of you may be concerned about the blandness of my above suggestions. This can easily be corrected by including a small amount of chewing gum, hard candies, or gummies in your kit as a little dessert after meals.



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