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MREs: They taste better than they look

Discussion in 'Off-topic Zone' started by WoodysGirl, Sep 19, 2008.

  1. WoodysGirl

    WoodysGirl Do it for the Vine! Staff Member

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    As day fades into night, my house is bathed in darkness. Aside from a flashlight and the full moon, I — like thousands of Houstonians — resign myself to eating canned tuna and crackers. Again.

    That is, until an editor told me about MREs.

    "Meals Ready to Eat," she said. "All the guys in the neighborhood are going nuts over them."

    MREs, which nourish U.S. soldiers in the field, originally were developed for astronauts tired of sucking food from toothpaste tubes. Packaged in a rugged plastic bag, each contains a precooked entree, dessert, instant drink (fruit punch, tea, coffee), a spoon and a napkin. It also comes with an element that generates heat using just a little water.

    Since Monday, more than 11 million MREs have been handed out to Hurricane Ike victims, FEMA spokeman Andrew Slaten said.

    While standing in line for MREs at the Second Baptist Church on Woodway, Army Capt. Patrick Brown declared that he'd eaten more than he could count while serving in Iraq last year.

    "The jambalaya is my favorite. Beef stew, too," he said. "They're better than they used to be."

    My yellow-and-green cardboard box contained 12 MREs, including Mexican chicken fajita, meatballs with marinara sauce, penne pasta with vegetarian sausage and roast beef.

    The entrees looked industrial, packaged in airtight aluminum bags. Same for the individually wrapped dessert, crackers, cheese spread and peanut butter tucked in with the main course.

    Following instructions, I removed the roast beef with vegetables from its slim cardboard box and placed it in a green plastic bag containing the index-card-size heating element. I added water, just to the double line, and folded the flap before returning the entree to the box. I rested the package on a teacup (if you were a soldier in the field, you would use a rock) and waited for dinner. A few minutes later, a fizzing noise emanated from the box. Steam? I touched it with my hand and pulled back, mildly burned. Wow, I was cooking without a fire, gas or electricity.

    Each year, the military orders about 36 million MREs, weighing about 1 1/2 pounds each. Soldiers eat three a day for a total of 3,900 calories — nearly twice the 2,000 calories most people eat to stay fit.

    "They also have plenty of salt in them," said Houstonian Mike Montes, a former Marine. "The salt helps (a person) retain water, which was vital for our soldiers in the field. The MREs were also full of protein and high in fat."

    MREs were such novelties that many soldiers handed them out as souvenirs to friends and family members. Montes cautioned recipients to drink plenty of water; MREs may cause constipation.

    Fifteen minutes later, my MRE was ready to eat. I squeezed the aluminum package, containing cubed potatoes and roast beef, onto a paper plate. Murky brown in color and shaped like a pack of cards, it didn't look much like meat.

    But hunger won, and I dived in. The flavor was familiar — it tasted like Dinty Moore stew, a frequent meal of mine while growing up. I decided the MRE tasted better than it looked.

    "Look, nothing can beat Mom's cooking, but MREs beat Dad's cooking," said Don Pectol, vice president of customer service for Utah-based Emergency Essentials.

    I'm not sure I agree. The roast beef wasn't bad, nor was the penne pasta with spicy vegetarian sausage. But the grilled beef patty and the meatballs with marinara tasted "off," tinged with something metallic.

    During Operation Desert Shield and Desert Storm in the early '90s, MRE stood for "Meals Rejected by Everyone."

    But today's are a new breed.

    "They're now known as Meals Relished by Everyone and Meals Respected by Europeans," declared Gerald Darsch, director of the Department of Defense's combat feeding program. "After Hurricane Katrina, we even got letters of appreciation."

    Darsch and his team of food technologists, nutritionists and scientists are based in the U.S. Army Soldier Systems Center in Natick, Mass., where recipes are developed for the 1.4 million people in the armed services.

    The military has changed its approach to feeding soldiers in the past decade.

    "We've come a long way," Darsch said. "Before, the (MRE) program was mired by a father-knows-best mentality. Now the war fighters are driving improvements. We've purged the no-name casseroles and mystery meats. We've added more ethnic and vegetarian choices. This year, we have 28 MRE menus. A decade ago, we only had 12."

    MREs are hard to come by unless you get them from the military via FEMA. Although not always available, they also can be purchased from military-surplus stores and mail-order companies like Emergency Essentials. One MRE retails for about $8; a case of 12 is $80.

    They're made to last. MREs will keep for up to three years stored at 80 degrees.

    "We all had our favorites," said Montes, who now works for CenterPoint Energy. "Some were better than others, so we started getting creative. You would trade and mix components, since everything — from the dehydrated strawberries to the cocoa mix — is packaged individually."

    A favorite drink was cocoa mixed with instant coffee, creamer and sugar.

    "You almost got a little mocha latte going there," Montes said.

    To spice things up, the soldiers would carry Tony Chachere's seasonings, garlic salt, cayenne pepper, soy sauce and Italian herbs.

    "They made the MREs more palatable, not so processed-tasting," Montes said. "We also combined meals. Cut up the ham from one MRE and put it into another. You get tired of eating the same meals over and over again. So we created new ones."

    dai.huynh@chron.com
  2. Yeagermeister

    Yeagermeister Active Member

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    UGH!!!!!!! I still have chicken ala king nightmares from the late 80's mre's. *shudders*
  3. BrAinPaiNt

    BrAinPaiNt Brotherhood of the Beard Staff Member

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    You know what is funny. They are not bad if you never ate them and only had to eat them for a limited time.

    However when you have them every freaking day and get stuck with a dehyrdated pork patty aka dried dog turd, a few times you learn to hate them.

    One nice thing was going out with the tankers. If it was cold outside we would just sit them on the exhaust vents and have the tankers fire up the tanks for a few seconds to heat them up.. Sometimes the difference between a cold and hot MRE made a world of difference.

    Speaking of chicken ala king. I think I have told you about how i went about 5 days with every meal containing some form of chicken once. I swear I did not eat any form of chicken for over a year.
  4. gambit187

    gambit187 Active Member

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    Man i used to love

    Beefstew
    spaghetti
    and dried beef and pork patties
    and the chocolate chip cake/cookie thingy

    in the desert you could make a feast with alittle creativity.
  5. BrAinPaiNt

    BrAinPaiNt Brotherhood of the Beard Staff Member

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    That pork patty was NASTY...NASTY.

    Oh and I take it you made some ranger cookies and other treats.

    I used to take the powdered creamer and light it up.

    Kind of funny as some guys would have their night vision goggles on and I would say...hey watch this.

    Fill your hand full of that powdered creamer, light a bic lighter and pour that creamer out of hand and a big old flash of a flame would pop up and the guys with the goggles would be grabbing their faces and hollering.:laugh1:
  6. Yeagermeister

    Yeagermeister Active Member

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    I got out before we got the improved ones. To be honest they all tasted like hot sauce. :laugh2:
  7. burmafrd

    burmafrd Well-Known Member

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    Being in Kuwait I have tried a few. If ANYONE thinks they are anything like regular food you are on drugs.
  8. Garland powerplay

    Garland powerplay Active Member

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    My sentiment exactly what I was thinking.
    After you go back to regular food your system goes into shock. I would be happy to never eat one again. The only thing they're better than is bread & water or nade'.
  9. Kangaroo

    Kangaroo Active Member

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    I went 3 generations of MRE's (over 12 years you get that oh so fun of tasting them)

    Brian Nailed it when you eat them once or twice not to bad when 1-2 meals a day you find out otherwise quickly

    Man what it does to your system once you start back on real food

    Brian as bad as you think those patties where the Omelet with Ham second generation was worse



    :ralph::ralph::ralph::ralph:
  10. Blake

    Blake Member

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    The veggie omelet is absoultely horrid.

    Like was said above...if you have never had an MRE then yea one or two is fine however when you've been out in the field and have had nothing but mre's for 2 straight weeks..you quickly loose your appetite for them. You begin to miss chow hall food really quick.

    The only good thing about MRE"s are the weat snack bread, shakes, and brownies or cookies.
  11. k19

    k19 Active Member

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    Meals Rejected by Ethiopians

    I hated those things, admit a few were more tolerable compared to others but yuck
  12. Signals

    Signals Suspicious looking stranger

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    A friend who just returned from Iraq couple of months ago smuggled a few back with him and gave me menu #2 -BBQ pork rib... Mmmmmm!

    They are a pretty impressive little package, but cant see eating them all the time.

    Got to admit they are better than going hungry. Right?
  13. Kangaroo

    Kangaroo Active Member

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    Haha upgrades back in the day we use to make ranger pudding

    Pull out Hot Chocolate Packet turn sideways tear off a strip pull out the dam canteen poor luke warm water in pouch stir it around eat lumpy

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