So often in this space -- some might say too often -- I focus on and criticize the "bad" side of the food world. Monsanto's ever-creeping push of inserting GMOs into our food supply, the various ways that the GOP is taking food from the poor, the "beef" that's grown in petri dishes, the ingredients in your food that should perhaps be left outside of your body. Those kinds of things. It may seem I'm a pessimist, a "glass is half-empty, but the half that's there is full of polluted poison" kind of guy. But I'm not, really.
Whenever a new technological advancement in food is released, my inherent skepticism is generally overtaken by unbridled enthusiasm. For example, this recent news regarding the military's near completion of a pizza that stays fresh for three years without refrigeration! How can you not get excited about Forever Pizza?
First, to understand why this is such a big accomplishment, you have to understand that eating in a stress-filled combat environment is a whole lot different from eating in the comfort of your own home. So, the MREs -- that's military code for "Meals, Ready to Eat," a primer for which can be found here -- that are carried and eaten by soldiers in the field have to fit a certain criteria. And generally, the main criteria is that it has to be dry.
See: Water allows for things to grow. In food, that means mold and, ultimately, spoilage. Which is why pizza -- long voted by soldiers as the food they'd most like to bring with them -- has been so difficult to replicate in MREs. Due to the moisture level of the tomato sauce, pizzas generally get soggy after a little while, definitely before the stringent "three years in 80 degree heat" timespan that MREs have to get past to be deemed feasible for mass production. But now, their culinary scientists may have figured out how to fix this problem.
The dirty details:
But on-and-off research over the past few years helped them figure out ways to prevent moisture from migrating. That includes using ingredients called humectants -- sugar, salt and syrups can do the trick -- that bind to water and keep it from getting to the dough. But that alone would not help the pizza remain fresh for three years at 80 degrees, so scientists tweaked the acidity of the sauce, cheese and dough to make it harder for oxygen and bacteria to thrive. They also added iron filings to the package to absorb any air remaining in the pouch.
Iron filings and humectants! Mmm, mmmm. Just like Aunt Donatella used to make!
I kid, I kid. In reality, this is unqualified great news. Not only because the soldiers will now be able to chow down on something that reminds them of home, but because -- as is the case with most any technological advance from military brain power -- it will most likely filter into the "civilian" population soon enough.
The freeze-dried techniques developed during World War II are still in use today; just check the hiking snack section of REI. Have you thrown a frozen burrito into the microwave lately? You can thank the developments in radar technology during WWII for that one. And have you ever indulged in the fine mystery meat of Spam? Well... not all of these ideas translate perfectly to the outside population. (Cargo pants are another prime example of this.) But the new properties being introduced to solve the conundrum of The Military Pizza will, in some form, trickle down to the rest of us eventually. It's just a question of how.
Which is to say: Don't be shocked if "Long-Lasting Pizza" finds its way into grocery stores in the next few years. (And then, subsequently, on the shelves of survivalist bunkers.) And when that happens, don't be surprised if, as is the case with all foods, the freshly-made version is a hell of a lot tastier.
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