The galley at the South Pole station is about half the size of my Brooklyn one-bedroom and filled with about as many pots, pans, and cooking gizmos. The difference is it produces four meals a day plus thousands of cookies for 250 people, many of whom are working outdoors in some serious weather. (At right, some of them coming back to the station for lunch in a slight blizzard.)
They deserve their cookies. A typical work day here starts with a good 9 hours, and can easily turn into 12. It’s still early in the summer, more like early spring, so temperatures are not at hat-shedding levels yet, and many of these folks spend their days in 40 to 90 degrees below zero, engaged in physical labor of some sort. After only one week of arduous outdoor work, the carpenters, cargo haulers, and mechanical geniuses that keep things working bought up all the superglue—there is a tiny shop here, open an hour a day-- to patch up their cracking fingers.
In the galley, we have an Executive Chef, three sous-chefs, three cooks, one breakfast chef, and a baker. In addition to breakfast, lunch, and dinner, there is a MidRats meal (midnight rations) for the 70 or so who work all night. Out of all the cooks, the baker--as chief Sugar Purveyor, is most adored, though seldom seen due to his nocturnal hours. When hungry workers assemble at 5:30am for breakfast, they are greeted by freshly made cinnamon rolls, apple cake, granola bars, or whatever magically appears on chrome bar.
Amundsen figured an Antarctic explorer needed a good 7,700 calories per day to survive this whacky weather that is unfit even for microbes and cockroaches. No big surprise, then, that this is a big meat and potatoes crowd. Actually, this environment is one of the only ones I can think of that might warrant that kind of diet—low fat vegans would have a hard time surviving this kind of physical rigor.
Back in Brooklyn this year, I was eating a vegan diet for several months before landing on The Ice. That idea lasted about a day after my arrival. I began, gingerly, to have bacon at breakfast, then a beer bratwurst at lunch. I still have not been able to go as far as a steak and baked potato, but then my ice exposure is limited to about an hour a day--15 minutes each way that it takes to get to work from my room in a somewhat-glorified tent on the outskirts of camp--and I do the round trip twice a day. Even that requires a few calories at a cold 11,000 feet above sea level. (At left see small snowbank that appeared inside my room some time ago and refuses to leave...comfy as it is since the room sometimes veered around the high 30's at night for the first two weeks I lived in it.)
My day begins at 4:30 with an evil alarm clock. I pull on my chef uniform, then the padded Carhart overalls, a fleece jacket, and a superduper Pole jacket…and this is just to get to the building where the nearest bathroom is located. I then appear in the galley at 5am to help with breakfast and make a hot lunch. By 3pm my work is supposedly over, and I redress, then walk back to my bed for a nap. If it is a shower day (only two, two-minute showers per week for most, but galley workers get three) , I indulge in the sweetest two minutes of the day after snoozing, then attend dinner in the dining hall feeling almost human.
This is the driest environment in the world—and chapped lips and cracked hands are a given. My lips give all the appearance of ruby lipstick, but they are simply windbitten and moisture-starved to a ruddy hue. Burt’s Bees Lip Balm is making a good profit down here.
As far as green goes, South Pole station crew haven’t seen a fresh vegetable, piece of fruit, or real egg all winter. Weather is just now getting warm enough that planes can arrive with this type of supply—and people and construction materials are the first priority. Incidentally, at righyou see the interior of the dome, former South Pole Station and now our surplus refrigerator. All the boxes lined up under this magnificent 50 year old structure are filled with tater tots, green peas and such. The new strucure is on stilts so it doesn't get buried in the drifting snow which inevitably happens to all things around here.
Here's today's lunch menu, which I did not make since it is my day off and I get to write instead. But it is a pretty good indicator of what’s on...and what's available without any "freshies" as the Polies call them.
Shrimp Fajitas (with frozen peppers)
Pasta with Pesto Cream
Rice and Beans