Life on a submarine can feel quite cramped, to say the least. When submariners are stuck underwater in a metal tube for months, you wonder just how they survive in those extreme conditions.

The answer to most of those survivalist questions has to do with the submarine itself. Thanks to the built-in reactor, the warship can produce its own electricity, oxygen, and even convert surrounding saltwater into freshwater. In fact, the reactor can work remotely for years – meaning the only thing preventing anyone from living the rest of his/her life inside a submarine is food.

Yes, food. The one thing apart from water humans can’t live without. You can’t grow plants without sunlight and you can’t bring livestock into an already cramped warship. So how do you feed a crew of starving submariners? And how do you cook in such an area with a tight space?

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American engineer Destin Wilson Sandlin of SmarterEveryDay hopped aboard the USS Toledo submarine for 24 hours and grilled the warship’s kitchen staff on how they get their crew fed. Turns out, they hoard their food at the ports they arrive in.

Depending on the areas and countries they will be passing, submarine chefs will take an advance look at the catalog and plan their shopping list accordingly. They cross-reference this list with what they think the crew will enjoy eating (it takes a couple of ports for them to figure this out) and whip up something scrumptious!

food in a submarine

Frozen foods like chicken, pork, and fish are stored inside a freezer. Further, there’s no pre-made bread on the submarine because it spoils quite fast and no one certainly wants to eat a moldy piece. Instead, the crew makes their own bread on-site using flour, yeast, sugar, salt, eggs, and milk (which are stored in the freezer).

food in a submarine

All these ingredients are used in the kitchen – which looks exactly like the back of a McDonald’s restaurant but with way better working conditions. You’ve got fryers, ovens, microwaves, grill tops, stoves – everything you would ever need to make a great meal. According to the crew Destin interviewed, it usually just takes one person in the kitchen to prepare the meals for the crew. The number of kitchen staff goes higher, however, when something big comes along… like a pizza night!

What’s interesting is that food further helps the crew mark the passage of time. There’s no sunlight inside a submarine and apart from the clocks, you can’t really tell how much time has gone by. Having food delivered to you every 8 hours on a fixed menu per week helps you know just how much time has passed.

food in a submarine

Something as simple as food may not be a big deal for us land-dwellers but for a crew who has to live days underwater, having 3 meals a day can mean more than just a nourishment break. It’s a chance to kick back, connect with your crewmates, and enjoy dishes made from the interesting raw ingredients around the world.


Carlos wrestles gators, and by gators, we mean words. He also loves good design, good books, and good coffee.