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PLA Cooks up New Menus to Beef up Soldiers

In a country famous for its delicious food, the quality of life is often judged in a very big way by what is on the dinner table.

But dishes served up to those who might one day have to fight for the country haven't always been up to scratch. Now that could be changing.

In an effort to improve the combat ability of its more than 2 million servicemen, the People's Liberation Army (PLA) has quietly been undertaking a "kitchen revolution" to raise food quality.

The General Logistics Department of the PLA has equipped all units with better kitchenware and, more importantly, skilled chefs, according to a report by the PLA Daily, the official army newspaper.

The food allowance for officers and ordinary soldiers this year is 50 per cent more than five years ago, according to the report.

The daily food expenditure for each serviceman now ranges from 10 yuan (US$1.23) to 38 yuan (US$4.69), depending on where they work and what they do.

Usually, fighter pilots have the best food, followed by sailors and soldiers.

Since 2003, more than 20,000 PLA kitchen staff have passed cooking exams and been given professional chef certificates, the paper said.

Canteens in units with more than 500 servicemen now have electronic ovens, freezers and special machines to make noodles and bean curd (tofu).

Mobile kitchen facilities have also been developed for field operations, allowing officers and soldiers to enjoy nutritious and sanitary meals during camping drills, said the report.

Over the past five years, the PLA's menu has witnessed "remarkable" changes, which have "provided effective support to the increase in combat capabilities of the army," said the report.

Each soldier now has an egg and a glass of milk for breakfast, plus fruit with lunch and supper as well as staples such as rice and steamed buns.

The PLA has a long tradition of feeding soldiers through their own efforts. As well as their soldierly duties, they often grow vegetables or fruit on land around the barracks, and raise poultry and pigs. But in some mountainous or remote areas, having fresh and nutritious food has for a long time been considered a luxury for the army.

Since the outbreak of SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) in 2003, the military has been introducing the use of individual plates for each soldier at mealtimes in order to prevent the spread of infectious diseases.

In some areas with better economic conditions, buffets are even available, said the report.

Since the New China was established in 1949, the military has raised food subsidies for servicemen several times, in accordance with the country's economic situation. Since 1978 alone, expenses have increased 23 times, greatly improving food quality and variety.

(China Daily November 5, 2005)

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