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Traditionally Fed: Language of Food

21 Nov 2011 | Lance Cpl. Sarah Dietz

Not all Marines get the luxury of celebrating and feasting stateside. But the Corps, knowing its primary mission and the war in Afghanistan, makes every effort to serve the Marines deployed and at home good food, capping off an event that is memorable and special.

“We were served turkey and potatoes by our company commander on the birthday,” said Lance Cpl. Nicholas Anderson, formerly an infantryman with Company L, 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, who was deployed in Sangin, Afghanistan, for the Corps 235th birthday in 2010. “We had pie instead of cake. We kind of laughed a bit because we cut a pie and gave it to the oldest Marine, who was 28, and the youngest, who was 18. There were no plates so we ate on cardboard.”

Unlike dining on their typical Meals Ready-To-Eat, the Marines with Anderson remembered that day in particular among hundreds of other days deployed, because of the extra special grub.

“It was definitely out of the norm,” Anderson said.

Once a year, Marines around the world micro-inspect their uniforms, stand a little taller, chests out to show off the bling pinned there and partake in traditions that represent the long history of the Corps. But most of all, the Marines who take part in the Marine Corps birthday anxiously wait through the ceremony to dine better than they have all year, knowing full well they get spoiled every year when it comes to chow.

The formal ball dinner is a time for Marines to sit, build camaraderie in celebration and remember the ones who are no longer with them.

Similar to the nationwide Thanksgiving or Christmas feasts, the birthday meal is an elegant event, with many pieces of shining silverware, beautiful centerpieces and candles. The Marines dine with shrimp cocktail, seasoned grilled steak, baked lobster tails, baked potatoes, sautéed mushrooms and onions, steamed Italian-cut green beans, corn on the cob and of course, the traditional Marine Corps birthday cake.

The formal birthday dinner every year is not necessarily the same menu, against popular opinion of “surf and turf” being the norm. While many birthday balls do serve a combination of steak and lobster, there is no official regulation of what the meal should consist of, said Beth Crumley, a historian at the Marine Corps History Division.

No matter where the Marines find themselves around the world, deployed or stateside, each Marine is treated extra special on their birthday, and the birthday meal is a way to show celebration around the Corps.

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