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On assignment for Legal Times in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, senior reporter Vanessa Blum, who is also one-half of our “Food Court” team, found time to file the following diary from the U.S. outpost describing her dining travails. People often refer to the job of journalists as “feeding the beast” due to the media’s voracious appetite for breaking news. But when the U.S. military arranged to house 60 reporters, cameramen, technicians, and TV producers at the U.S. Naval Base at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, to cover the first military commissions in nearly 60 years, there was literal feeding to worry about as well. Aug. 21: We arrive at Guantánamo Bay by C-130 cargo plane around lunchtime and, after clearing security, are herded to the chow hall for our first meal. For me, a few bites of tasteless cheese pizza followed by a generous bowl of soft-serve chocolate ice cream. Perhaps I’m behind on the latest ice cream innovations, but I marvel that the ice cream twists out of the machine studded with bits of chocolate and chocolate-covered nuts. It’s not half-bad, but I vow to have more willpower at dinner. Lunch and dinner at the mess hall each costs a whopping $3.25. I’m not the only one who wonders if tonight’s chicken parmesan is just the same fried chicken patties offered on the lunch buffet, only doused in marinara. I force myself to finish a heap of overcooked broccoli and relent on the ice cream issue. Today has been an incredibly long and draining day. Tomorrow I will exercise more restraint. Aug. 22: We convene for breakfast at 6 a.m. only to learn that the galley has not been opened. If there is anything that makes reporters grumpier than missing a meal, it’s losing out on an hour of sleep. After ferrying to the other side of the military base, our military escorts drop us at the bustling Gold Hill Galley, where I discover the pleasures of machine-dispensed Freedom Vanilla Cappuccino. “If French Vanilla is now Freedom Vanilla,” one reporter queries, “is the new Guantánamo Bay motto ‘Honor-bound to protect France’?” The first military commission hearings are still two days away, and it seems that all we do is eat. At lunch, my grilled chicken sandwich is a disaster. The bun literally dissolves when it contacts ketchup, and the chicken breast is so tough and stringy, I have to gnaw my way through. I give up and grab a bowl of soft-serve ice cream — raspberry with chocolate chips. I love this stuff. I’m intrigued by the galley’s posted nutritional information. Every item on the dinner line is identified as low, medium, or high on the “fat-meter” and color-coded green, yellow, or red. Mashed potatoes are given the green light and count as a serving of vegetables. I feel virtuous as I heap a large serving onto my plate, though I can only bear to swallow one bite of the gummy potatoes. Since there is no posted nutritional information for the ice cream, I choose to believe that it is low-fat and Atkins-friendly. Aug. 23: I’ve skipped breakfast and spent two hours touring the Northeast gate between Guantánamo Bay and communist Cuba, so for the first time in three days I am actually hungry when I sit down for lunch. With enough salt, the teriyaki chicken strips are quite tasty. I must also commend Gold Hill Galley for a truly stupendous offering of fresh fruit — plums, peaches, apples, oranges, pears, glistening bunches of plump grapes — every piece just one day shy of ripeness. On the eve of the first military commission hearing in nearly 60 years, major controversy is brewing in the media center. At the last minute, our military handlers announce a change in the courtroom rules, and the chow hall is buzzing. I hardly taste my Cajun pork chops but note they seem to share the consistency and texture of leather. Aug. 24: Now that the military commission proceedings are getting under way, all meals will be brought to the Bulkeley Hall media center, where the hearings are broadcast over a closed-circuit network. Breakfast is eggs, bacon, sausage, French (freedom?) toast, pastries, and fruit. All around me, reporters are falling off their respective diets and loading their plates with carbs. In the afternoon, I have a seat inside the courtroom with a handful of other journalists. We were scooted off before we had time for lunch, and since we are not permitted to bring bags and purses into the courthouse, several of us have no cash to purchase food provided at the court. I mooch some money, but in the end, my soggy chicken fajita is not worth the $7 I paid for it. We miss dinner entirely and have to lobby a public affairs officer to drive us by Subway. At the first familiar bite of my usual, a six-inch veggie and cheese on wheat, I feel a yearning for home. Aug. 25: Breakfast is the same as yesterday. I’m already nostalgic for the mess hall, where at least we had a variety of lousy food to choose from. Lunch, again taken outside the courthouse, would be cold cuts, if the meats weren’t sitting out unrefrigerated in the 90 degree sun. Ignoring the heat, the dust, and the flies, I make myself a sizable turkey and roast beef sandwich. I miss dinner again. When we get back to our quarters at nearly 10 p.m., I make a meal out of foraged tortilla chips, onion dip, double-stuff Oreos, and two Heineken beers. I decide I need to get a comfier assignment. Aug. 26: “Every Thursday is Thanksgiving at Guantánamo,” the cashier at our catered dining station tells me. Sure enough, today’s lunch is turkey, rice, stuffing, sweet potatoes, green beans, and rolls. Nothing looks particularly appealing in the intense heat, and I usually like to follow my Thanksgiving meals with a good long nap, so I’m tempted to just grab a soda. Instead, I take a plate and pile it high. In the past five days, I’ve learned an enduring truth of reporting from the field: Eat now, because you never know when your next meal will be.

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