Last week was Antarctica, next week is space, but this week Sheila Dillon slipped silently below the waves on Food in Extreme Places: The Submarine (Radio 4, 10 April, 12.30pm). It’s probably the least extreme of all three destinations but there is nothing simple about feeding the 138 submariners that crew “nuclear powered hunter killer submarine” HMS Artful three meals a day (plus snacks) for three months.
It takes two days to load it all on board because submarines aren’t built like a typical warehouse. Every single pallet, box, carton and sack that arrives has to be broken down and repacked in submarine-friendly packets, then manhandled through a little round hole and down a thin vertical ladder before the sub heads out for three months, probably to hunt for shady Russians and dodge torpedoes.
Dillon looked at the labelling while this was going on and questioned why the MOD wasn’t buying more British produce. The MOD declined to say how much it sourced from the UK and muttered something about EU competition rules on procurement. But wherever it came from, it was clear how much the food meant to those on board - and it wasn’t just about relieving hunger.
“Food is the key to a happy crew when there is no night and no day,” said one officer. “Breakfast, lunch and dinner is how we keep our routine.” And quite simply “when the food runs out, we have to come back in. The submarine is a living being, 138 people make it function. And they have to be fed.”