For military food, situational factors related to the conditions under which the food is eaten are, undoubtedly, important. Equally important for military food is the image of the food, as reflected in the attitudes of the individual toward it, his/her expectations for it, and the degree to which the food actually meets those expectations. As shall be shown, each of these variables can be a prepotent factor controlling the acceptability of food its consumption or underconsumption.
If one were to ask the average person about his or her image of military rations, their response would undoubtedly be a negative one. In fact, a negative image of military rations is widely held among the general public, in spite of the fact that many scientists who are actively engaged in research on military rations—product developers, consumer psychologists, nutritionists, etc. know that the intrinsic quality of rations is quite high. Although the origins of the stereotypical image of rations may be obscure, it is certainly perpetuated by the mass media. Figure 10-1 shows what are perhaps the best examples of this stereotypical image of rations—Beetle Bailey cartoons. Even a casual examination of these cartoons reveals that they impugn all aspects of military rations, including their texture (top panels), their general acceptability (middle panels), and their ingredients and/or nutritional quality (bottom panels).
What is surprising about the cartoons in Figure 10-1 is that they were all taken from the Army Times, the weekly military newspaper read by millions of enlisted soldiers worldwide. Thus, U.S. soldiers are constantly exposed to negative images of rations, even from promilitary media sources. As a result, one of the first issues that must be addressed to better understand the problem of underconsumption of rations is the image of military food as held by its primary consumer group—U.S. soldiers.
Figures 10-2 and 10-3, from A. V. Cardello and R. Bell (U.S. Army Natick Research Development and Engineering Center, Natick, Mass., unpublished manuscript, 1995), show data collected from approximately 100 active-duty troops stationed at Fort Devens, Massachusetts, and at Schofield Barracks, Hawaii. Troops were asked, on a written questionnaire, to rate the expected acceptability (Figure 10-2) and the expected quality (Figure 10-3) of 12 different foods when served in each of 7 different military and commercial foodservice facilities.