Soldiers’ ration kits tell us a lot about their nations


When the US planned to drop American paratroopers into Europe during World War II, the military needed emergency food rations that would be lightweight, small enough to fit inside a uniform pocket, and contain all the calories needed to last one person for several days. The rations’ long journey from American factories to overseas theaters of combat, as well as the increased mobility of soldiers, prompted new research on their efficient design. Thus the invention of the compact, individualized “k-ration,” or daily combat food ration, created by physiologist Ancel Keys (Keys is where the “k-” comes from).

K-rations quickly spread to countries across the world, with each new version reflecting local food culture. In an exhibition entitled Razione K (K-Ration): Meals for Soldiers in Action, Italian industrial designer Giulio Iacchetti offers up all the subtle cultural differences illuminated by these small kits. The show opens from Jan. 22 to Feb. 22 in Milan.

Chocolate, isotonic drinks, muesli, pâté, coffee, chewing gum, and disinfectant wipes were among the common items used by many countries. As for the differences: New Zealand had Thai lamb curry, Thailand had jasmine rice, the UK packed a spork and Tabasco Sauce, and the US had almond-poppy-seed pound cake.

Estonia. Contains: muesli, whole rye bread, coffee, chicken soup with noodles, dark chocolate with cornflakes and guarana, sweet crackers, toffees, tea, isotonic drink, sugar, salt, pepper, liver pâté, beef goulash, disinfectant wipes, plastic bag, and matches. (Courtesy of Giulio Iacchetti)
France. Contains: beef tortellini, oriental salad, salmon pâté, instant soup, milky dessert, salted and sweet biscuits, coffee, tea, instant chocolate drink, sweets, nougat, fruit jelly, energy bar, muesli, isotonic drink powder, jam, tissues, reheating kit, matches, and water purification tablets. (Courtesy of Giulio Iacchetti)
Germany. Contains: ravioli with mushroom sauce, Indian rice with chicken cutlet, bread, biscuits, meat pâté, semolina with fruits, snack, jam, coffee, tea, sugar, coffee whitener, salt, fruit drinks, chocolate, chewing gums, water purification tablets, multipurpose paper, wet wipes, and matches. (Courtesy of Giulio Iacchetti)
Israel. Part of a 24-hour ration for four people. Contains: chicken meatballs with rice, beef meatballs with rice, beans with tomato sauce, rice stuffed grape leaves, vegetarian meal with rice and chickpeas, sweetcorn, green olives, tuna in vegetable oil, chocolate dessert, peanuts, halva, candied fruit mix, plastic bags, tin opener, and water-activated disposable heaters. (Courtesy of Giulio Iacchetti)
Italy. Contains: cereal and chocolate bar, fruit jellies, condensed milk, coffee, chocolate, sugar, salt, ravioli with meat sauce, pork in jelly, crackers, fruit salad, multivitamin tablets, bran tablets, pasta and beans, chicken in jelly, energy bar, toothbrushes, kit for water disinfection, matches, toothpicks, paper rubbish bags, camp stove, fuel bars, napkins, and plastic spoon and cutlery. (Courtesy of Giulio Iacchetti)
Netherlands. Contains: tea, coffee, coffee whitener, sugar, chocolate drink, jam, fruit jelly, vitamin tablets, instant soups, broth powder, fruit drinks, biscuits, meat pâté, candied almonds, chocolate, sweets with vitamin C, sesame bar, sambal, oatmeal block, muesli, meat with peas and potatoes, hot chicken stew, beef and potato hotpot, zipper bags, matches, paper tissues, salt, pepper, chewing gums, toothbrush substitute, and toothpicks. (Courtesy of Giulio Iacchetti)
new zeland-k-ration
New Zealand. Contains: creamy chicken and potatoes, thai lamb curry, chocolate biscuits, marmite, tomato ketchup, salt, pepper, sugar, tea, coffee, condensed milk, waterproof matches, chocolate drink, pad scouring, cheese, muesli, isotonic drink, bread, instant soup, plastic bag, peanuts and raisins, chewing gum, chocolate, napkins, onion flakes, sweets, instant noodles, muesli bars, and strawberry fruit grains. (Courtesy of Giulio Iacchetti)
Poland. Contains: meat with rice and vegetables, canned pork, biscuits, raspberry jam, lemon tea, dried fruit mix, cereal and fruit bar, chewing gums, sweet with coffee extract, salt, pepper, plastic lid, napkin, wet wipe, toilet paper, zipper bag, plastic spoon, straw, hooks, water purification tablets, and water-activated disposable heaters. (Courtesy of Giulio Iacchetti)
Russia. Contains: biscuits, beef goulash, salted lard, liver and meat pâté, beef with buckwheat semolina, ratatouille, fruit and berry concentrate, cheese spread, jam, chocolate, tea, coffee, coffee whitener, sugar, salt, pepper, multivitamin tablets, chewing gums, sweets, water purification tablets, heater, waterproof matches, disinfectant wipes, paper napkins, and plastic spoons and knife. (Courtesy of Giulio Iacchetti)
Spain. Individual lunch ration. Contains: chicken and pasta instant soup, baked beans with sausages, sardines in vegetable oil, apricot cream, water purification tablets, solid fuel tablets, isotonic drink, chewing gum, matches, stove, paper napkins, toothpaste, hand disinfectant, chocolate with almonds, almond nougat, sesame bar, and isoenergetic gel with vitamins. (Courtesy of Giulio Iacchetti)
Sweden. 3600 kcal. Contains: yoghurt with breakfast flakes, chicken Rogan josh with rice, meatballs with pasta, sweets, peanut butter, nut cream, chocolate cake, oat biscuits, salted peanuts, fruit drink, chocolate drink, chewing gums, wet wipes, and coffee. (Courtesy of Giulio Iacchetti)
tanzania_bassa definizione-k-ration
Tanzania. Individual ration for one meal. Contains: chicken stew, rice, porridge, biscuits, mango and orange drinks, coffee, tea, sugar, pepper, salt, wet wipe, paper napkin, matches, fuel tablets, water-activated disposable heaters, and plastic cutlery. (Courtesy of Giulio Iacchetti)
Thailand. Contains: yellow soup with fish, jasmine rice, beef with pepper and garlic, chili powder, fish sauce, dried fruits, and plastic spoon. (Courtesy of Giulio Iacchetti)
UK. Contains: chicken sausage and beans, Mexican tuna pasta, paella, lemon cake, compote, oatie biscuit, raspberry jam, caramel cereal bar, apricot bar, salted cashews, sweets, hazelnut spread with cocoa, fruit drink, hot chocolate, coffee, coffee whitener, tea, Tabasco, sugar, water purification tablets, paper tissues, matches, chewing gums, wet wipes, spork, and re-usable bag. (Courtesy of Giulio Iacchetti)
Ukraine. Contains: millet flour biscuits, canned meats with cereals and minced salami, canned fish, jam, tea, sugar, sweets, plastic spoons, paper napkins, disinfectant wipes, meat broth powder, fruit concentrate, and multivitamin pills. (Courtesy of Giulio Iacchetti)
USA. Individual ration for one vegetarian meal. Contains: ratatouille with pasta, hot snack crackers, almond-poppy-seed pound cake, peanut butter, tropical punch powder, salt, seasoning blend, sugar, coffee, coffee whitener, chewing gums, wet wipe, matches, toilet paper, plastic spoon, water-activated disposable heaters, and hot beverage bag. (Courtesy of Giulio Iacchetti)
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