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The early days of Polar Exploration were often as much of an investigation into what was required by the human body to keep it warm and well nourished in extreme circumstances as it was an investigation of the Polar environment itself.
A great deal is known today about the requirements for the most basic survival in extreme conditions in terms of what food and clothing is required. Much of this knowledge was discovered the hard way, by men suffering from cold, starvation and deficiencies of vitamins while exploring the Arctic or Antarctic.
A key lesson learned from polar exploration amongst other sources is that hunger and hypothermia are closely linked. Our bodies can only provide enough heat to keep us at our normal temperature as long as they are provided with enough food.
|A Balanced Diet|
A balanced diet requires all of the seven food groups required by humans in sufficient quantities, these are:
Carbohydrates, Fats and Proteins - to supply energy
Vitamins, Minerals, Fiber and Water - to ensure the body runs smoothly
The main sources of energy are carbohydrates and fats, protein is required for the efficient functioning of the body, and can also be used for energy too, so it spans the two groups
A diet that is balanced depends on the individual, how big they are, how old they are, what sex they are and how much activity they engage in.
Two things were found out very early on in Antarctic exploration - that extreme cold makes people feel very hungry and hard work such as that involved in travelling by dog sledge, or especially by manhauling uses a great deal of energy. This energy had to be replaced by eating enough, unfortunately the early explorers didn't eat enough and suffered as a consequence.
We now know:
The food eaten on bases in Antarctica is very similar to the food that you will eat at home, of course, there are national differences in what is on the menu, but it is basically very similar. The biggest deficiency is in the supply of fresh fruit and vegetables - i.e. there aren't any for much of the time, only when a ship comes in or an aircraft lands. This means that for much of the year the food is either frozen, dried or tinned. Modern techniques in food preservation and fortification with vitamins otherwise lost in the preservation process mean that there is no danger of suffering from a deficiency disease, but you do get to accept that food can be fairly bland and not very exciting.
The difference when some fresh vegetables arrive is incredible, you'd never believe that a humble boiled carrot or potato can be so delicious!
Some stations grow fresh vegetables on a hydroponic system where the plants grow in slowly circulating water with nutrients dissolved in it. The Antarctic treaty forbids the import of soil or similar materials to Antarctica because of the possibility of introducing non-native insects, fungi or bacteria. Despite very careful measures, sometimes an outbreak of pests or disease does occur and in this case, the hydroponic facility has to be shut down and all of the plants destroyed.
Out in the field is a different story. "The field" is basically anywhere that isn't on a base and where you have to take your own food with you and prepare it in a tent or other shelter.
First thing - you'll need more food. You're not being kept warm by the environment around you (the building) and you'll be doing more walking about and physical work than on a base.
Second thing - you need to carry this larger quantity of food with you, and it takes up space and weight.
So food for the field is designed to be high energy for low bulk and weight. This means that the food tends to be fairly high fat (which has the highest amount of energy for weight) and dehydrated. Fresh water is one thing that is plentiful in Antarctica even if it does happen to be frozen. It is more efficient to take fuel to melt snow and ice than to have "wet" food which would freeze and need to be melted anyway.
An embarrassing tale of Antarctic grub:
When I first arrived in Antarctica, I was surprised that whenever any one went out for a trip - a few hours or all day - they only ever took chocolate bars to eat. I was most unimpressed with how unhealthy this was, so when I went on my first trip I made some wholesome and nutritious sandwiches (tuna and mayonnaise on wholemeal bread - I remember it well).
Come lunch time, my companion got out his chocolate bar and proceeded to eat it, I got out my sandwiches and after 5 minutes of sucking a frozen corner gave up and resorted to chocolate. Thankfully my companion didn't laugh too much, but I didn't bother with my healthy option again!
As used by field parties - are much more sophisticated now than they used to be. They need to be light, compact, easy and quick to prepare (to save fuel) and well packed. Modern food is also dehydrated which means that it can be more varied than in the past. Freeze-drying means that the weight is much less and modern packaging is significantly lighter than the tins that used to be used.
Sledging rations for
one man day as provided for Scott's expedition to the
South Pole - 1912
One man day manhauling - kilocalories
Modern sledging rations
One man day travelling by skidoo - kilocalories
note the variety of the diet compared to 1912
|Butter and cheese||450||Butter and cheese||700|
|Meat and fish||780|
Total 4590 kilocalories per day
Total 3400 kilocalories per day
The contents of a modern sledging box containing 20 man-days of food, 20 days food for one man or 10 for 2.
Despite attempts to introduce variety, much sledging food tastes quite similar, the cost is more than twice that of
feeding someone at the main base due to expensive dehydrated food and the careful packaging needed.
The food packed into the box. Inside the tent, the box acts as furniture of a sort, as a table to cook and eat on.
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