Hundreds of exhibitors came to show their wares at the 2014 Sea Air Space expo near Washington, D.C., but none drew a crowd as much as Naval Supply Systems Command’s booth around lunchtime.
Smiling attendees milled around with small plates of seared snapper and field greens prepared by Navy culinary specialists, getting a small taste of the Navy’s plans for meals underway.
“What it does is, it cuts the edge off of all the technology that’s going around here,” Cmdr. Danny King, director of food service for NAVSUP, said of his booth. “So you’ve got all this great technology, millions and millions of dollars, but at the end of the day a sailor’s still got to eat.”
Sailors underway are a captive audience for culinary specialists, but they can still go the ship’s store or the geedunk machine when they’re hungry. King said the idea is to draw them to the mess by cooking fresh, tasty dishes they recognize, like steak and shrimp.
One mouth-watering example: Culinary Specialist 1st Class (SW) Matthew Susienka’s pan-seared red snapper with candied pecans and frisée salad. It isn’t included on a ship’s meal plan, but it could be.
“We can absolutely do this underway. We have all of the ingredients to do it underway,” Susienka said.
This is part of the Navy’s shift away from “advanced food products” — packaged meals you can heat up and serve, like school lunches or airplane meals — toward fresher, more nutritious ingredients. NAVSUP plans to kick the underway menus up a notch.
As it turns out, purchasing, storing and refrigerating fresh foods isn’t much more complicated or expensive than buying processed foods instead.
“Advanced food products actually decreased our space size. Those boxes are more bulky and it took up more space,” King said.
And thanks to technology, the Navy has blankets they can lay over food supplies that absorb food-spoiling ethylene gas from the air, extending freshness for 21 days. King also described a light system that sanitizes the air in storage spaces, to keep bacteria and fungus at bay for longer periods of time.
As far as cost goes, King said, fresh ingredients are cheaper than packaged foods, and the health benefits to the sailor come out in the cost of medical care later on.