The Army Eats Out
By Nick Turse
When you think of food and the U.S. Army, what do you picture? Long chow lines with a grunt serving up chipped beef on toast (aka "shit on a shingle")? A lowly private peeling potatoes on KP duty? Unidentifiable slop in a mess hall? Semi-inedible C-rations or palate-numbing Meals-Ready-to-Eat (MREs)? Well think again, my friend.
These days, the Army loves to eat out. Hell, who doesn't? No messy preparation. No dishes to clean up. No fuss, no muss. Not a chip of beef in sight. And, best of all, the tab's being picked up by somebody else. Of course, when the Army goes out to eat, that somebody else turns out to be you and me. And when it's on us, it's no longer an Army of One. Judging by the Pentagon's own accounting, our Army (not to mention the Air Force, Navy, and Marines) has been very hungry and feeding in herds. So where, you might ask, do Army men and women head off to when they nosh in an official capacity; how many taxpayer dollars are they spending; and what, exactly, are they eating?
It turns out that the Army has definite gastronomic likes and dislikes. Some ethnic foods aren't even on the table. Due to the arcane nature of the Pentagon's accounting system, it is almost impossible to know for sure, but the tally on many Asian cuisines (although not Asian bases) appears to be:
Vietnamese restaurants: 0
Thai restaurants: 0
Indian restaurants: 0
Japanese restaurants: 0
And don't even ask about Afghan food!
But while it's a no-go on sushi, cooked fish is another matter entirely. In 2004, for instance, the Army spent over $5,000 at Chic-A-D's Cajun Chicken & Catfish Restaurant in Winnsboro, Louisiana. While five grand probably buys a lot of catfish, it apparently failed to sate the Army's voracious appetite for these bottom-feeders, because that same year the Army also dropped $6,500 at Capt'n Morgan's Steak & Catfish Restaurant in Diberville, Mississippi.
Since, as Napoleon once observed, an army marches on its stomach, the U.S. Army cannot live on catfish alone. Sandwiches are, apparently, also a must as the Army plunked down $13,845 at a Quiznos Classic Subs in Louisiana.
Army stomachs also couldn't seem to get enough of the fine food Arkansas has to offer and so significant sums were dropped at such "Natural State" restaurants as: Rodeo Cafe ($3,485); Molly's Diner ($5,400); Annie's Family Restaurant ($8,996); and the Crispy Taco Mexican Grill ($19,283), among other establishments.
But Arkansas was only a drop in the proverbial bucket (of fried chicken, no doubt). Army folks also sampled the fare at numerous other eateries across the country, including:
Copper Mill Restaurant (Logan, UT) $10,878
Bristol Bar & Grille (Louisville, KY) $5,026
Englewood Cafe (Independence, MO) $5,026
Pericos Mexican Restaurant (Covington, TN) $4,050
Big Mama's Kitchen (Fayette, AL) $3,705
Timber Lodge Steakhouse (Sioux Falls, SD) $2,544
While the military obviously likes its catfish and Mexican food, what it evidently loves best is barbeque. In fact, from Shotgun's Bar-B-Que Restaurant in Texas and Bo's Pit Bar-B-Que in Missouri to the Pig N' Whistle in Tennessee and Longhorn Barbecue in Washington State, the military has sampled barbeque all over the U.S. -- at least thirteen BBQ joints in all in 2004 when it shelled out at least $164,828 to grease those Army fingers.