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Tuesday, September 05, 2017

Strong Men And Food

A man in the Berwick garrison, in 1597, when times were hard and inflation had increased rapidly, got a daily ration of a twelve-ounce loaf, three pints of beer, one-and-a-half pounds of beef, three-quarters of a pound of cheese, and a quarter of a pound of butter – this was a considerable reduction in what his ration had been some years earlier.[i]

In the old days, you needed more calories.

And more muscle. There’s a lovely moment in Michael Crichton’s “Timeline”, a novel about a group of time travellers who go back to fourteenth century France to test their historical understanding. One of them, a fit young fellow, gets challenged to a joust. The squire assigned to help our horonaut into his armour looks at the American’s gym-buffed physique and enquires politely, “You have had a fever?”

For today’s soft life, a man needs c. 2,500 calories a day[ii] but many eat much more.[iii] However in wartime it’s a different story – in the cold, sodden trenches of WWI “it was the stated aim of the British Army that each soldier should consume 4,000 calories a day”.[iv]

In WWII, the Japanese – then a smaller-bodied people because of a shortage of protein in the national diet – were issued less in the way of rations, but supplemented it with local foods and vitamin pills.[v] American field rations varied from the 2,830-calorie “K” (short duration; overuse could lead to malnourishment) to 4,000 calories for jungle warfare and 4,800 for mountain missions.[vi]

In 1970s civvy Britain, it was lino floors, no central heating and much walking. Maybe that’s where I’ve gone wrong. I could save a fortune if I turned off the CH and garaged the car; but would the cost of a high protein diet wipe out the advantage? Still, I’d be fitter…

Mine’s a double quarterpounder with cheese – Cheddar, not that yellow plastic stuff.

[i] George MacDonald Fraser, “The Steel Bonnets” (1971) - Collins Harvill edn, p.55

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