Thanks for the MREs
By Steve Geary
All jokes aside, you have to marvel at a meal in a bag that can be stored for three years and tossed from a helicopter - and still beats airline food any day.
It's well after noon and our Land Rover is bumping along what used to be a highway, bouncing us against the truck's side walls whenever it hits a deep rut. We're rolling past Iraqi oil fields somewhere near Basra, and it's been a quiet day, insh'allah. The corporal in charge of the squad is doing his best to alleviate the boredom, leading the boys in one country-western song after another, but it's not really working. Part of the problem is that this squad of Scotsmen really can't sing; the other part is that the rumblings in my stomach are getting louder by the minute.
Then I notice a movement that brightens my mood. The private in the corner, Roger, has pulled out his bag of rations, also known as an MRE. (Leave it to the military to never use a word when you can use an acronym. In this case, MRE stands for Meals, Ready to Eat.)
Wedging himself in place, rifle jammed between his arm and the back hatch to keep his hands free, Roger begins laying out the contents of his bag, which is a plastic version of the brown lunch bag you carried to school. It's a typical MRE menu: there's a main course; a starch; crackers with a spread (in this case, peanut butter); a dessert; and a powdered beverage mix.
Roger's mother would be proud: Once he's laid out his food, using his knees as a food prep bench, he offers to share his peanut butter on a biscuit all around. Despite some trepidations, I take the private up on his offer, and nibble on a cracker smeared with peanut butter. To my surprise, I find it really isn't bad.
As I'm discovering, the modern MRE is no longer an assault on the taste buds or an insult to the palate. Introduced in the early '80s as a replacement for the universally reviled C-rations, MREs didn't fare well at first, quickly acquiring the nickname "Meals, Rejected by Everyone." But two decades of product development and field testing have brought about big changes. Mystery meat has given way to chicken fajitas, New England clam chowder, and mango peach applesauce. The menus have been expanded from 12 to 24, and now include kosher and vegetarian selections. Today's versions even come with a cleverly designed "flameless ration heater" to heat up the food.
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