How much say does a military cook have in the menu?

Huh? Why do officers have to pay for their own meals? Do they also have to pay for gas for their tanks, and bullets for their weapons?

To the best of my knowledge, Officers & Chiefs contributed to a fund for their own messes to get better food. Not pay for the basics. We have a few ex-officers in this thread so hopefully they can address this. But what abcdefghij said goes counter to what I recall.

The Chiefs always had a rep for the best mess on the ship outside of the Admiral’s and Captain’s messes.

Tradition. You can’t expect officers to eat the same vile swill that the common rabble do, so they were given extra money to buy food for themselves. Even though they now eat much the same food (on submarines exactly the same food) the enlisted sailors do, they still receive extra money for food, and must pay for meals they eat aboard ship.

Or so it was explained to me.

Although historically, the wardroom used to procure its own provisions as a separate mess, that is largely a relic. Nowadays, whether the there is a separate wardroom galley (food preparation place/kitchen) or not, the food is almost entirely the same stock as the rest of the ship. It’s just that officers have to pay a mess bill for it each month, but the crew doesn’t. A bit of a quirk in the system, though, is that officers only have to pay for meals actually eaten in port, while it is assumed (and they must pay for) they partake in all meals at sea, whether they actually do or not. There are some quirks, too, related to whether or not basic allowance for subsistence is paid while deployed, which ads a further wrinkle into the cost/benefit analysis. If memory serves, enlisted lose their BAS while deployed, whereas officers, because they are always paying for their food (sometimes whether they eat it or not) never lose it. But then BAS doesn’t actually cover the cost of all those meals underway way, so… anyway, Navy accounting is screwy.

Four ships, three different classes of widely varying size, never once had anything but the standard ship’s fare. Which is how I know it’s crap.

My brother (retired chief*) told me before I enlisted that the best food in the Navy was on submarines. I may have complained about a few meals, and of course there were some things that I wouldn’t have liked no matter who cooked them, but overall I was quite happy with the chow.

* Yes, he’d already done his twenty-and-a-bit and retired by the time I enlisted.

What @ASL_v2.0 said (in considerably more detail than I remember after three decades; I’d forgotten all that stuff about when subsistence got paid and which meals were assumed eaten and by whom).

Officers also had to buy our own uniforms, whereas my understanding is that the enlisted members got them issued or got an allowance or something. Maybe we got an allowance too that was just accounted differently (like the BAS)?

I seem to remember that we couldn’t take a tax deduction for the uniforms we were required to buy because the theory was that officers could wear our uniforms out in public. I don’t know what the policy is now that everybody seems to be wearing naval camouflage(!?) (who in the heck are you hiding from that you want to look like seawater?).

Enlisted get issued uniforms in basic and then get an allowance for regular upkeep/replacement while the officers must always pay out of pocket. The flip side is, it’s common to do a sea bag inspection on enlisted sailors along with parts of the disciplinary process, to include just prior to kicking them out with a less than honorable discharge, and then making them pay to replace uniforms which they will then have to turn in without ever wearing (on account of their imminent less than honorable discharge). Dante should have been a Chief Petty Officer in the US Navy (because it’s the kind of out of the box, creative extra graduation of punishment one would expect to find in a work like The Inferno).

And just to be clear, I was paid considerably more than the enlisted men who worked for me, with the possible exception of the Chiefs.

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I recall reading some article or Quora where a submariner said that if his boat’s chef was a Southerner, he’d make great Southern food, but if it was a New Englander he made great clam chowder, etc.

Does a military chef get any say in what ingredients come his way? Could a Louisianan head cook say, “I want to make lots of crawfish ettouffee; have Supply send lots of crawfish my ship’s way?”

my dad ran the mess hall at ft ord in the 70s for a few years and he had a sgt bilko knack for getting what he wanted simply becuase he had a secret When he left Vietnam he had several little packets of seeds stashed …and since he grew things really well being from a family of farmers … and cooks he grew some at the time really hard to find types of pot in the basement since he lived off base … and since the base iwas in Monterrey county farm country he knew all the hippie farmers and they bartered … as far as command was concerned "what they didnt know didnt hurt them "

he not only won awards for the food … he won awards for saving money for the base also …until he was busted in seaside …which he actually didnt get much out of it considering the 15 trash bags of asian pot they supposedly confiscated … I’m told there’s pic of the bust from the local paper with my dad standing there with a “aww gee sucks” look on his face


Brings back memories…at the time I lived near there, I’d have thought leaving in Seaside would have been enough of a punishment… Though compared to other garrison towns around the US, it’s likely a paradise.

Beautiful part of the country. I’m not surprised it’s no longer a military base. It still surprises me the Marines have been able to hang onto Pendleton.

I wondered if diabetic soldiers were allowed to serve. It looks like they will not take new recruits who are, but people who are already enlisted can stay under some circumstances.

Your reference to cauliflower flour made me think of that.

I couldn’t imagine that too many military cooks would get away with raw-vegan menus.

Hmm. On a sub, with the way they do their shifts (I believe it is 6 hours on duty,12 hours off, ~6 of the latter devoted to sleeping), and the fact that you can’t see the sun and sky, skipping the late meal there might prove to be problematic.

It was 6 on,12 off, for most of the crew, but I heard they were considering changing that. With that schedule, over a three-day period you’d eat each of those four meals twice.

On one of those “Look at me! I visit a sub in the Arctic and learn about cooking” videos, the crew say that because there are no day/night/week clues, they serve the same food by day-of-week. The highlight was pizza Friday, so everyone knew it was Friday.

The only other “all I learned was from the movies” was WW2 subs, when the ceiling got taller the longer the voyage, as all the food cans on the floor got used. Well, that and a MASH episode when a wounded solder turns out to be a better chef than a solder. Sorry, OP, for not answering the question, but the answers here are interesting.

I don’t have a definitive reply with regard to the US military, however I have a good friend who works in sales for a multi-national food service company, she specializes in large institutional customers as well as some military.

In the past, there was a lot more “winging it”, but now everything is very precisely planned. One of the things they sell to customers is pretty sophisticated software that allows them to nutritionally plan meals, snacks etc and easily scale up recipe requirements depending on how many people need to be fed plus match costs to the customers budget. It then automatically places orders into her company’s system.

She tells me that their software will automatically make suggestions or modify ingredients in recipes based on local availability of items. For example if they are in the Caribbean then it will automatically suggest whatever tropical fruit is available through their local branches.

From what she’s told me, their software is pretty flexible and it allows individual users like head chefs on a ship the option to modify or create recipes on the fly. It will then match those ad hoc recipes with ingredients, availability, nutrition, budget and determine quantities, cost etc.

Unfortunately, I can’t directly answer your question about how frequently they actually do that.