Iron Rations Tradition / Ritual in Creus | World Anvil
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Iron Rations

Vance stacked the tins up in front of him. Six ration tins for six people, and the Mercenary's Guild's reverse potluck was in full swing. The hunter already regretted his participation in this, but a man's word had to be his bond, even if he was blind drunk at the time...   The organizer of this impromptu weekend dare placed a leaking bag on the table, smelling of offal. She was another hunter that Vance didn't know too well. "Fresh pig organs, livers and pancreas, diced."   Around the table, each brought out their own offering to contribute to the communal Iron Ration, to varying looks of shock and disgust.   "Rooster wattles, two pounds."   "Overnight marinated pine bark. I was told this was edible by the Askri."   "Lesser Alak stingers, devenomed. I hope."   The woman to Vance's right placed her own bag on the table. "Six pounds of cow manure!"   Vance stifled a gag. "No, that's not going in the damned ration pot. Everything is supposed to be edible, we're not eating cow shit."   "Kidding, Vance! Don't be such a prude." She revealed the contents of the bag. "Bull phalluses and gallbladders."   Vance shook his head as he placed his own contribution on the table. "Numblimb leaves, straight from the Korr. Lodia was wondering why I wanted these."   The organizer clapped her hands. "Alright, let's get the tins opened up and the cauldron stirring. We'll all have a story to tell after today." The pot bubbled suspiciously as more and more of this stuff was mashed and dumped into it, but Vance wasn't all that concerned. Most of the ingredients he knew were safe to consume, though he had only eaten wattles before. After twenty minutes, the Iron Ration was ready, and he spooned a pile of paste onto the dish in front of him and got ready to dig in.  
Vance woke up with a start, before relaxing. He was in what looked like the Healer's Covenant, just off the Promenade of the Princeps. Last thing he remembered was his mouth going numb as he chewed the awful paste mixture, but he was pretty sure those were the leaves he brought. He couldn't quite move his extremities, but they were definitely still there. Probably?   A face appeared over his head. "Vance. You are an idiot!" Iocathe raised her voice, before waving an Alak stinger in front of his eyes. "You can't devenom these all the way, I thought you knew that!"   That would explain the partial paralysis. Vance blinked and tried to say something, but all that came out was a guttural groan.   The Cartographer rolled her eyes. "No, nobody died, they're all basically like you and will be for the next few days. Siegfried is going to tan you once you're up and moving, you were the highest rank Mercenary there, it was your responsibility to stop them from doing this stupidity. Or at least ensuring they wouldn't eat stuff that would near kill them." She sighed. "You and I have eaten plenty of this trash while out on voyages, why would you want to eat it while you're in the Capital?"   Vance blinked again. The Cartographer shook her head, then spooned what tasted like sweet jelly into his mouth. "Swallow it. Against all of my instincts, I'm here to try to nurse you back to health. And you had better not make Covenant nurse jokes once you can talk or I'm force feeding you the rest of the iron ration you brewed."


"Iron" Rations are a cuisine borne out of necessity, rather than any sort of cultural affinity or expression of the culinary arts. The industrialization of Etoile after The War of Unification produced something that had never happened before in history - surplus foodstores. The improved efficiencies of Powered logistics and centralized agricultural distribution resulted in overflowing granaries and declining food prices, which impacted Etoilean economic policy - the Principality Trade Florin would degrade in value if Etoile maintained price guarantees for crops that were above the going market rate.   There were a few solutions to this problem, most of which were distasteful - allow the failure of farm interests or a damaged currency (risking food insecurity), destroy food (politically nonviable), or come up with a use for the surplus foods. A crash research program in 644, initiated after a bumper harvest year, came up with the idea of mass processing excess foods into a long-lasting ration, with a few properties - nearly indefinite longevity, unpalatability compared to ordinary food (to prevent competition), and the ability to be refined from virtually any excess agricultural product. The result was the Etoilean Ration, a tin of what could be charitably named 'paste'. While unpleasant to consume, Etoilean Rations last nearly indefinitely, pack the most 'days of survival per pound', and are stockpiled by the hundreds of tons in Etoilean state impound warehouses for civil and military use.   The Iron Ration is, technically, simply eating a tin of ordinary Etoilean Ration with whatever is on hand, but the common understanding of the Iron Ration involves eating something out of desperation, as opposed to simply eating a tin of Ration with an ordinary sausage and bread.


The common joke regarding Iron Rations is that the first ingredient must be one's own starvation. After that, the Etoilean Ration is prepared, with a tin opened and the paste inside scraped out and steeped in water to soften it for consumption. The third, most critical component, is something local to the area that is confirmed edible, yet is so awful to eat that it's preferable to eat Rations instead of whatever it is - bitter berries, Patino Cisternfish heads, bear eyeballs, and so forth. The ingredients are mashed together over a flame and eaten quickly, in order to minimize the risk of expulsion. Etoilean Rations by themselves do not count; there has to be something to add 'local flavor'.   As can be surmised, what a person actually eats when they say they've eaten an 'Iron Ration' is wildly variant depending on the circumstance and location. A common parlor game is to compare the 'worst' Iron Ration people have eaten, in order to find out who's eaten the most disgusting thing and lived to tell the tale.

Components and tools

The Etoilean Ration is hugely important to the concept of the Iron Ration - without its characteristic inedibility, there's no mitigating or flattening the flavors of the local ingredients. Etoilean Rations are composed of a ratio of leafy vegetables, fruits, grains, and meats, all boiled and cooked at a high temperature and mashed together, then heated to remove liquid water and canned under pressure. The resulting paste is sturdy, safe to eat, and a compact source of complete nutrition - recorded instances of survivalists living for multiple months solely off of Etoilean Ration cans have been recorded. These cans are widely distributed and may be picked up free of charge in most cities, as it's vanishingly unlikely anyone will eat these cans over other available foods, given the option.   Rations are prepared in a cookpot, with plenty of boiling water and vigorous stirring and mashing. Any other ingredients are tossed in at this time, raw or not - the twenty minutes of boiling prescribed in most instruction sheets will cook virtually anything, and mashing the other ingredients will evenly distribute it in and around the ration paste.


Iron Rations are something other than a favorite of travelers and explorers deep in the frontier. Within the Principality of Etoile, there is usually some real food to be had in a tavern somewhere along the many wagon-roads, and Iron Rations are typically eaten only by those who are both indigent and unable to gather enough for a meal in the wild. On ships deep in the Bui Sea, iron rations with freshly caught fish become the go-to daily meal once stores of fresh food have run out. For backpackers in climate-hostile areas such as The Whitecaps, hunters will eat iron rations with insects and edible lichen, or occasionally the meat of a bear that they otherwise can't bring back with them. Stories of marooned sailors eating rations with the stingers of Greater Alaks or the livers of Pointer Egrets are at least plausible.


While eaten as a mode of survival in the barren frontiers (with locations such as The Tulhermaa notably being stocked full of Etoilean Ration tins), sometimes Iron Rations are eaten in what are essentially dares and competitions between bored younger people in the cities.
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Aug 1, 2023 22:18

Reading for the Summer Camp Reading Challenge, and this post intrigued me. I like all the details added in (that was my falling down point, I believe), and I really like the story at the start to illustrate this. That's an idea I'll probably steal myself, because it helps make it more interesting!

Aug 14, 2023 00:32

A prose opening has been my tool of choice for generating a sort of story-investment in my world, as it can add a lot of flavor to something that's otherwise quite dry. Thanks for reading!

Aug 2, 2023 06:19 by RandoScorpio

I read this as part of my summercamp reading challenge!   This one made me giggle! Mostly because I've been hungry enough to eat almost anything and it really is the key ingredient to choking down anything off-putting under normal circumstances. The story to go with it was fun as well. I was intimidated by the length at first but found it very engaging and enjoyable.

Aug 14, 2023 00:34

Thanks for reading! About half my articles this year were basically extended jokes, so I'm glad someone had a laugh.

Aug 4, 2023 18:31 by Eric

This strikes me more as a hazing ritual than a meal, but at the same time, it's a creative solution to the surplus problem that development brings!   Regarding Etoilean rations being produced from "virtually any excess agricultural product," I assume this would mainly be bulk/staple crops like cereal grains, soybeans, or even those like alfalfa that are normally used as livestock feed. Do I have the right idea there?

Aug 14, 2023 00:36

That's correct, basically anything that remains edible after being boiled, mashed, and then dried, it's basically people-kibble. As for a hazing ritual, I used to talk about how I had to eat a can of cat food once as a dare, so it links pretty easily here. Thanks for reading!

Aug 12, 2023 07:24

I like the story at the beginning, which encouraged me to read the rest of the text. But what I still don't understand is: why would you want to spice up the cans with something else when everything you need seems to be included? Is it adventurous, does it taste bland or doesn't it look delicious?

Stay imaginative and discover Blue´s Worlds, Elaqitan and Naharin.
Aug 14, 2023 00:38

Thanks for reading! I've read a number of accounts that recommend varying the taste profile of what you eat, even if what you add isn't particularly appetizing, because it's apparently very demoralizing to be eating the same thing day after day - something that's been noted in, for example, the issuing of military rations. A good thing for me to add as clarification to the article, once lockout is done.