- [Arlo] Antarctica is a continent where basically no food grows.
(calm instrumental music) - Penguins regurgitate seafood (penguin growls) to feed their young.
And we caught a bird feasting on the placenta of a newborn seal.
(bird caws) - [Arlo] You could say options are pretty limited here.
So, what are we, now hardened Antarctic explorers, supposed to eat?
- From the moment we landed-- What's this?
Arlo and I were basically obsessed with food.
Stop eating nuts.
We're about to order a pizza.
(muffled speaking) - [Caitlin] If you're gonna get a slice of pizza 20 minutes before dinnertime I'm at least gonna shame you about it.
For good reason.
- That's the fuel, yeah.
- [Caitlin] Tom Senty is the culinary manager at McMurdo Station.
- The amount of calories needed for somebody working out in the deep field can be 32 to almost 5,000 calories everyday.
- [Arlo] For context, the USDA recommends average adults to consume between 1,600 and 3,000 calories per day.
(shovel whooshes) Not only is working down here, just by nature, very physically demanding but the extreme cold (wind blows) also itself causes you to burn more calories to keep warm.
- And we're not just making this up.
Loads of scientific research supports it.
(bells ding) So we craved food, especially carbs, all the time.
There's like three more pounds of pasta in there.
- [Arlo] And it's not just us.
- My second year, I decided to go on a diet and my diet meant no thirds.
- No what?
- No thirds.
- No thirds.
(people laugh) - You still have seconds.
(upbeat instrumental music) - [Arlo] The station is home to around 900 people in summer so the kitchen staff is responsible for feeding a lot of very hungry mouths.
- [Caitlin] And a huge amount of food needs to be prepared to keep the station running.
Wow, this is big.
Everything in here is like supersized.
- Like that is a tub of chips.
And that takes a lot of planning.
- So we're creeping on almost thinking a million meals out to make sure I don't run out of bacon right at the end, if you will.
- [Caitlin] A massive food order is placed in May for the following year.
All the food then gets shipped down on a boat that arrives in January, and that food needs to feed the population for the next year.
(machines whir) You're planning for a million meals 18 months in advance.
- [Arlo] So, how do they do it?
What is the secret sauce?
(muffled speaking) - Our first clue can be found here, (peaceful instrumental music) in the historically preserved hut of Robert Falcon Scott.
So is everything that we're seeing in here vintage from-- - Yes, it's exactly as-- - So like that pot.
- That pot, yeah.
- Scott used that pot.
- Yeah, Scott used that pot.
- And this table.
Oh sorry, I probably wasn't supposed to touch it.
(Michael laughs) We'll cut that part out.
- [Arlo] Scott's team was one of the earliest (Caitlin laughs) to explore the continent.
- Okay, I told you I'd cook you something.
(laughs) - [Arlo] And some of their provisions are literally still on the shelf.
All right, no wait, come back.
Where you going?
All right, I just wanna point out how Heinz was still a thing at this time.
(Caitlin laughs) - Pickling, canning, jarring, and other methods kept these foods shelf-stable for those explorers, and they're still here today.
Anchovy paste, gooseberry, pickles, those are a big thing here.
- What do you think that is?
- [Caitlin] They're kinda my favorite Antarctica food.
I wonder if this stuff is still edible, like can you eat something that was pickled a hundred years ago?
- [Arlo] You could try.
(laughs) - Somebody in the galley mentioned to me that expiration dates are not really a thing.
- [Michael] That's true.
- [Arlo] That might sound like an exaggeration but it's no joke.
Expiration dates are actually just ignored down here.
- I've had like a sandwich in my backpack that I've had for a month and I still would not hesitate to eat that thing.
- [Arlo] We were told that they're more of a suggestion.
(engine roars) - What's your expiration date?
- It's rubbed off.
I think it's 10 June 2015.
And that's just something we had to embrace.
- [Zac] How's it taste?
- Like cardboard with a slight peanut butter tinge.
And it's not just bars.
Would you like a bite?
- [Zac] You're really selling it.
(Caitlin laughs) (upbeat instrumental music) - Even in the McMurdo galley a lot of the food that's served is expired.
- Expired food is something that you've been eating the entire time you're here.
- Yeah, I noticed.
(laughs) - It's inevitable.
Lots of categories like cheese, for instance, that cheese will get down here already expired.
We haven't even gotten it here yet and it's already expired.
Just because it takes longer than that to even get here.
So we freeze the cheese.
- The second secret to Antarctic cuisine, freeze it.
This is a massive amount of meat.
- And you can feel it's still pretty frozen.
- This is just one.
There's a tub full of them.
Fortunately, there is no shortage of cold space here and this is part of why eating expired food is okay.
We all know that food rots if left out at room temperature.
(liquid splashes) Freezing food can slow the biological activity that makes food spoil.
- [Arlo] So what Caitlin is trying to say is freezing food makes food last longer.
(bell dings) - [Caitlin] The challenge down here is actually thawing the food.
- We'll have to turn on that heater because that much frozen food will bring down the temperature in this cooler to so low that it won't thaw.
- You actually have to heat your refrigerators in Antarctica.
- Yes, exactly.
(cheerful instrumental music) In the McMurdo galley, lots of foods like vegetables and meat arrive frozen and are thawed when needed.
- [Man] Oh man-- - [Caitlin] Frozen veggies.
The third secret of Antarctic cooking, recycle food.
- [Arlo] Yep, you heard that right, recycle.
- Well, I mean we are in Antarctica, it's harsh continent, we can't just run down to whatever grocery store is near by and pick up more product.
- [Caitlin] So you're taking the leftovers and you're just gonna repurpose them and put them right back out there.
- [Justin] Just repurpose, bringing it back up to temperature, throw a little cheese on it, makes it look like it's hot and fresh and ready to go and people eat it up.
- Add cheese, just add cheese, that's the trick.
Sometimes the food is delicious.
Oh, this is what I helped when we saw them cooking in the back.
- [Arlo] Sometimes, it kinda feels like, well, frozen then thawed then recycled food.
Ah, I think I'm good.
(laughs) - I'm definitely getting some bread.
- [Man] Hi.
- I was okay with the vegetables for like the first few days and then after about three days of frozen vegetables, you're like, it's really like eating your vegetables.
- There was a line for spinach.
- Raw spinach.
(laughs) - Raw spinach.
Like, there is never a line for spinach anywhere except in here in Antarctica.
- [Man] It's been a while since we've had just green beans though.
It was just green beans for like seven days in a row.
- [Caitlin] After a while, it gets tiring, huh?
- [Man] You just lower your standards.
Get used to it.
(Caitlin laughs) - You make do and the galley does what they can with what they have.
- [Caitlin] But there are some ways that the McMurdo kitchen truly shines.
- [Man] When there's chicken tenders for lunch I have a better day.
- Taco Tuesdays.
- Chicken tenders for that.
- [Caitlin] What is it with the chicken tenders?
- [Man] They're so good.
- [Hooded Man] What is it not with the chicken tenders?
- [Caitlin] See, now I get excited.
- [Arlo] Aside from the chicken tenders, it's a carb factory.
- [Caitlin] Vats of pasta are made everyday.
They have a bakery with four bakers.
Fresh desserts and artisan bread are made from scratch.
- And perhaps the biggest crowd pleaser-- McMurdo Pizza, this is Bill, how can I help you?
They bake about 18,000 pizzas a year.
So how long you been doing this?
- So this is my fourth season coming down.
- Well pizza, McMurdo pizza, we call it the McMurdo garnish because we have pizza fresh right there, right as you walk by it.
So often, people walk by and take a quick gander and they realize there's fresh, hot pizza sitting right there so they may go over and grab one piece and slide it right onto the top of their plate with all of the food.
- [Caitlin] And it's delicious, it's fresh baked.
- It's amazing, yeah.
- [Caitlin] Not frozen and rethawed.
- Oh no.
- [Caitlin] Not expired.
- We don't have room in our freezer to buy frozen pizzas.
(Caitlin laughs) - It was so good that I ate an embarrassing amount of pizza on this trip.
Hey, is this the line to order a pizza?
So we'll do pineapple on half, anchovies on the other half.
Do you have whole wheat pizza dough?
And it's not the kind of food I usually eat at home.
I'm more of a fruits and veggies kind of girl.
(plane whooshes) In summer, when the big C-17 planes can land on the ice, they can bring fresh food, or freshies as they're called.
(muffled speaking) Stuff like veggies, eggs, and fruit.
And it is coveted.
We haven't had any fresh food in-- - Wait, one more.
- Stop, you're a pig.
(Man laughs) And we haven't had any fresh food (door clacks) for, what was it, a week?
- [Arlo] 10 days.
- 10 days.
- [Arlo] Did we wash these?
- Time for a quick tour of camp.
While McMurdo is equipped with an industrial kitchen-- Welcome to the Whillans Ice Stream.
(upbeat instrumental music) A lot of scientists are living and working at field sites far from the station.
And for them, the food situation is a bit different.
- [Marino] You're not recording, right.
- [Arlo] I am recording, in fact.
- [Caitlin] Before they head out into the field-- - So down this aisle we have teas and Gatorade.
- [Caitlin] They pass through McMurdo and pick up everything they'll need.
Oh peanut butter, that's important.
- Peanut butter and jam.
- Very important.
- [Bija] So a lot of the condiments.
- Peanut butter and jelly, that's gonna be my staple when I'm out there.
- Yeah, so we have basically shelves and shelves of all of the different types of food that folks would need to make a pretty good meal out in the field.
So there's cereal, there's chips, there's crackers-- - [Caitlin] And because they especially will be working and living out in the cold-- - Dehydrated.
- [Caitlin] They get access to this shelf.
- I love the Bumper Bars, too.
I don't know if you all have had Bumper Bars.
- So I've been saying to everybody where I go that I feel like a kid in a candy shop, now I'm like actually a kid in a candy shop here.
- (laughs) It's all the bars.
It's all the bars, it's all he sweet treats.
What do you think?
- I am not endorsing this product but it's very good.
(laughter) - [Arlo] They are also provided with frozen foods like meat, and depending on the size of the camp, they might get a small kitchen or even a grill.
I feel spoiled now.
- Yeah, we're super spoiled out here.
- [Arlo] Often, scientists have to cook their own food.
So what are another examples of recipes that you make?
In the past, we've made a lot of pizza on the grill.
Lots of pasta, pretty much anything with carbs and protein.
- Hold on, hold on, you cook pasta on the grill?
- No, not on the grill.
No, yeah, we have some nice Coleman camping stoves inside to boil up a bunch of water.
(stove whooshes) Yeah, (grill sizzles) it's a pretty nice setup.
- And they can eat pretty well.
Man, this whole time I thought you guys were suffering out here.
- [Shane] Oh yeah, I wouldn't say we're suffering, at all.
No, it's pretty nice.
- [Man] Shane, you are the man.
(door creaks) - [Tom] Food is the morale.
- [Server] Here you go.
(laughs) - You know, morale equals food, food equals morale.
They go hand in hand and that's always so true.
Down here, it goes a long way.
- [Arlo] Food down here isn't just about calories.
(muffled speaking) More than ever, food makes people happy.
- It is fun to make some fresh muffins and see a smile on someone's face who was just staying up all night working on their samples.
- [Caitlin] And it brings people together.
How long do they need?
(oven door creaks) Both in the field-- - My parents actually have a pizzeria back at home so I'm very used to this all-pizza all the time diet.
- I'll do seven days of pizza with you right now.
- There we go, deal.
(men laugh) - [Man] I'm in.
- [Arlo] And in McMurdo.
- [Caitlin] And the way to make friends, (woman laughs) especially when heading out into the field-- - Oh, I can't believe it.
- It's the door in front of the little-- - Oh, I can't believe it.
- [Caitlin] Is to bring them some good food.
- (laughs) Ooh hoo hoo.
- [Caitlin] While not much grows in Antarctica today, that actually wasn't always the case.
Antarctica used to be green and filled with massive dinosaurs that feasted on lush vegetation.
Wanna know more?
Check out NOVA's "Polar Extremes" and follow paleontologist Kirk Johnson as he uncovers the surprising climate history of the poles and investigates how the polar past might hold the key to predicting our climate's future.