Food innovation has emerged from armed conflict for most of history, according to the cohosts of the Gastropod podcast, Cynthia Graber and Nicola Twilley. In a recent episode on the topic, they note that figuring out how to feed people on the move from battle to battle has always been a challenge, because "over the course of nearly all of human history we haven't had many good solutions for preserving food in ways that are also light and portable."
The first major breakthrough, preserving food in glass jars, was perfected in France in the 1800s—to feed Napoleon's army. The invention of the tin can quickly followed.
Rations in tin cans stayed roughly the same for more than 100 years, until Natick. The U.S. Army Natick Soldier Systems Center (NSSC) in Natick, Massachusetts, is a primary innovator in food science in the United States.
Because of Natick, the history of food innovation in the United States is the history of military food innovation. So says Anastacia Marx de Salcedo in her book Combat-Ready Kitchen: How the U.S. Military Shapes the Way You Eat.
Modern military rations must meet exacting standards: a shelf life of at least three years, safety at a range of extreme temperatures, and taste and texture that is satisfactory to soldiers. These criteria make foods that are also perfect for commercial preparation and civilian consumption.
"As Hollywood is to movies, as Nashville is to country music, and as New York City is to the publishing industry, the Natick Center is to the processed foods that form the bedrock of the American diet," writes de Salcedo. "It's where they invented energy bars, restructured meat, nonstaling bread, and instant coffee."
This isn't an accident, says de Salcedo. The military's inventions are designed to be used by the private sector. Such cross development ensures that, in an emergency, the government can turn to private companies and use the available production lines to make military rations. In return, the companies get access to innovation that might otherwise be out of reach.
Other military technologies, including microwaves, digital cameras, computers, and even duct tape have been enthusiastically embraced by the private sector. Two other examples are covered in this issue of Security Management—the Global Positioning System (GPS) and the unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV).
In 2002, the U.S. military began using UAVs in combat. More than 15 years later, they were firmly entrenched in the private sector. Not reserved for hobbyists, the devices are being tested for routine package delivery, and are already used for dropping contraband over prison walls. Disaster response personnel also use UAVs to assess storm damage and find survivors.
Private security is getting in on the action. In this issue, Associate Editor Lilly Chapa interviews a security manager at a public utility in rural Washington. The utility uses UAVs for surveillance, emergency response, and even routine maintenance—all excellent uses for military innovation.