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bullets-and-bread cover art by Kent Whitaker

 

History Publishing Company

Palisades, New York 2013

ISBN 978-1-933909-75-2

330 pages, hard cover. $28.95

 

Bullets and Bread offers an entirely different perspective on food and its preparation. It includes little that would help a home cook prepare a meal for the family or for a dinner party. And there are no beautiful pictures of plated dishes

It's neither a cookbook nor a coffee table book, but we found Bullets and Bread fascinating.

History buffs will have read all about how the U.S. rolled up its sleeves after Pearl Harbor and produced the weaponry necessary to defeat the Axis powers. Small arms, tanks, planes, ships—American industry cranked them out in numbers that couldn't have been imagined in pre-war days. But what about a different, but no less critical, need of the military? Much less is known about the production of food during the war years. Food would have to be packaged and stored, then transported to the personnel who would ultimately consume it. But first it needed to be prepared and served. Few readers in our current era will have first hand knowledge of the subject, though many have heard stories from fathers and grandfathers. It's likely those conversations may have included references to K-rations, SPAM and the colorfully defined “S.O.S.” Not many of these Americans were likely to speak glowingly of the chow they were fed while in uniform. They were young men living away from home, often in miserable conditions. Who wouldn't prefer Sunday dinner and Mom's apple pie?

Kent Whitaker has taught cooking, authored cookbooks and appeared on the Food Network. He brings to his writing an obvious knowledge of food, but also a feeling for a slice of history that concluded years before his birth. Early chapters of Bullets and Bread give insights to the history of feeding troops, innovations in cooking equipment and the military's formal training of cooks, most of whom had no culinary skills when entering World War II service. Later, anecdotes from the men preparing food and the comments of those consuming it are introduced. These give an offset of folksy reality to the earlier, almost academic, historical tone. Logistics of supplying food and preparing it in differing circumstances are compared and the recollections of veterans are sometimes funny, sometimes poignant.

A few recipes for feeding military personnel are included and, of course, these have ingredient quantities no home cook would ever consider. No doubt, many of these recipes were created at some level way up the chain of command. Others suggest that either inconsistent access to basic ingredients or just creativity of the “chef” may have led to innovation. Whitaker also relates a picture of food on the home front during the war years. Print ads and recipes from segments of America's food production industry that were aimed at civilians are both instructive and nostalgic.

Unfortunately, the review copy we got was rife with typos and grammatical errors. Where was the editor? Perhaps these issues have subsequently been corrected. While these problems were irritating (at least to a reviewer), they don't ruin the experience for readers interested in “the big picture.”

More about Bullets and Bread author Kent Whitaker can be found at www.thedeckchef.com.

 

reviewer Dan Clarke's great-grandfather volunteered for military service when the U.S. entered World War I in 1917. Perhaps surprisingly, the Army accepted Tom Vallier, even though he was in his 40's. After basic training, they made him a cook. Whether this was done to keep an old guy out of combat or in the hope that a man with a French surname would be effective in the kitchen is unknown.