When push comes to shove, however, food can be a means of survival when it’s not being eaten. There are a few notable, extraordinary instances where food became a weapon. In these cases, it not only bolstered the morale of the combatants, but changed the outcome of the fight.
1. Mithridates defeats Pompey the Great with honey
King Mithridates of Pontus, in what is today Greece and Turkey, was the Roman Army’s designated supervillain. Mithridates went to war with Rome three separate times, with mixed results. The third war saw King Mithridates withdraw to Anatolia at a place called Colchis, pursued by Rome’s legendary general, Pompey the Great.
Bust of Mithridates of Pontus, 1st century AD. By Sting – CC BY-SA 2.5
Mithridates’ army left out large vats of honey collected from local beehives for the pursuing Romans and promptly hid out. When the legions arrived, the poorly-fed Roman feasted on the honey – and soon became sick. The bees’ nectar came from the poisonous rhododendron flower. When the Romans became incapacitated from the honey, Mithridates’ allied tribes moved in and killed 1,000 Romans.
2. Uruguay defeats Brazil with cheese
South America in 1865 was as consumed by war as the United States and the Confederacy. The ruling party of Uruguay was locked in combat with Brazil and a competing Uruguayan faction. During one naval engagement, the Uruguayans ran out of cannonballs.
Brazilian navy and army men during the siege of Paysandu, 1865.
They looked around the ship for anything they could throw at the opposing side that might kill someone. What they found was old Dutch cheeses that were so hard, they might have been petrified. When fashioned into cannonballs and fired, they brought down the enemy ship’s mainmast and sent them packing.
3. Aunt Jemima kills the Japanese
American intelligence operatives from the Office of Strategic Services needed a way to get high explosives to Chinese guerrillas without alerting Japanese customs officials. They concocted a high explosive that could be mixed with flour, baked, and even eaten while retaining its explosive power.
Dee-licious and deadly.
The OSS delivered 15 tons of the powdered high explosive HDX through Japanese lines by mixing it with Aunt Jemima baking flour. If prompted, it could be used to show that the flour was really flour and not explosive death. The Japanese never caught on and the explosive was even used feed Chinese resistance fighters.
4. An American destroyer beats a Japanese sub with potatoes
In 1943, the crew of the American destroyer USS O’Bannon encountered a Japanese submarine. The enemy sub pulled so close to the destroyer that the ship’s guns weren’t able to fire on them, so the crew did the next best thing: flung their potatoes at it.
Plaque commemorating the Potato incident.
On board the Japanese submarine, so the legend goes, the enemy began thinking the Americans were flinging massive amounts of hand grenades at them. These might actually do some real damage so the sub made its escape. The O’Bannon made its escape at the same time.
5. The British repel the Chinese with beer bottles
At the height of the Korean War, Cpl. William Speakman was defending Hill 317 on a freezing cold night. When 6,000 Chinese troops attacked his already worn-out position, he and six others launched counter-attacks and hurled grenades at them to hold them off. Eventually, they ran out of grenades. The situation looked grim.
They began hurling whatever was handy at the Chinese onslaught, which meant they were chucking beer bottles at the enemy during a war. The seven held off the Chinese with beer bottles for so long, his battalion was able to withdraw safely.