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Food in Antarctica

Stations

The diet provided at each station is very similar to the kinds of food eaten at home in the UK. The main difference is that fresh fruit and vegetables are limited in their availability. Vegetables, fruit and meat come tinned, dried or frozen but foods such as bread are freshly baked.

Chef at work in the kitchens at Rothera Research Station
Chef at work in the kitchens at Rothera Research Station

Because they may have to cater for more than 100 people, the larger stations have professional chefs. At others, personnel each take turns to cook. At all stations everyone is expected to help with the washing up, cleaning and dealing with the waste.

Depending on the location, research stations either melt their water from the surrounding snow or extract fresh water from the sea. Rothera has a modern desalination plant which removes salt from seawater. Each station also runs its own bar facilities with a limited supply of alcoholic drinks.

The Rothera cook and sacks of flour in the food store at Rothera.
The Rothera cook and sacks of flour in the food store at Rothera.

In summer the frequency of fresh food deliveries may be every few weeks at Rothera (using free cargo spaceon the Dash 7) to only twice at Halley (Ernest Shackleton delivery first and last call). Obviously, in winter there no opportunities to deliver fresh food — a period of nearly 10 months at Halley.

Camping

Not all the research is done at the Stations and small parties often travel to remote field sites. For travelling by sledge or aircraft, the rations need to be light and compact. Whilst camping in the field the meals should be easy and quick to prepare in order to save fuel, and the ration boxes must be well packed to avoid deterioration. BAS has standard sledging ration boxes to last for twenty person-days. They contain food for a balanced and varied diet providing around 3500 kilocalories for each person daily. Such supplies can easily be made to last for longer during less energetic periods (such as lie ups in bad weather), and in favourable summer conditions at low altitudes, when air temperatures are close to or above freezing.

Preparing a meal inside a pyramid tent
Preparing a meal inside a pyramid tent

The supplies consist principally of freeze-dried or dried main meals, several varieties of dried soup, dried vegetables, rice, tea, coffee, drinking chocolate, orange drink, biscuits, chocolate, butter, sugar, porridge, and dried milk. Field parties supplement the food with a “goodies” box which may well contain herbs, spices and even tomato ketchup! Water is made by melting snow and the water purity is exceptional. Cooking is done over paraffin fired primus stoves, still the most dependable and robust system. For all expeditions the preparation of these special sledging rations is expensive. It cost more than twice as much to feed a person at a field camp as it does at the main research station.