“Magic, science, magic, science, tomato paste.”
America loves to eat what their heroes eat. What’s the point of living in a Capitalistic society if you can’t buy the food that astronauts eat? And while you can’t go out and purchase a “Firefighter’s Dinner” you can purchase a bottle of American Honey and drink it in your office’s broom closet at ten in the morning. Which is why it is surprising that, of the various ways we can force our children to emulate our most American professions, you have to go on ebay if you want to buy our soldiers’ Field Rations.
Yes, MREs (Meal, Ready-to-Eat) have been around since 1981, and while some 99% of our population will never get to try them, we’ve spent more time and money perfecting these culinary taunting of the laws of physics than we did trying to make a pen that can write in space.
We normally would find these practically indestructible edibles pretty American on their own right, but it wasn’t until reading this article describing the Army’s efforts to create caffeinated beef jerky that we decided to have MREs jump the queue and get their own, personal Fun Fact.
MREs Will Outlast Anything in Your Kitchen
Combat rations in the American armed forces have evolved from “This (probably) won’t give you dysentery” to “This (actually) can survive a fall from a plane.” These upgrades were not easy to come by, though admittedly we didn’t start really giving a shit until about 30 years ago. During the Revolutionary War, there was a Congressional Resolution declaring that soldiers had to be given enough food to feed a man in the day. Before the American colonial soldiers could sarcastically say, “Gee, that’s very nice of you” they found themselves being given an unappetizing combination of rice, peas, and meat.
By the Civil War, to acknowledge the fact that it was somewhat tougher to have to go through the bloodiest war on your native soil while killing your former countrymen, the military began using canned goods for rations, eventually creating canned kits that contained canned meat, pork, bread, sugar, salt and coffee.
The best part of waking up…
Science became the name of the game during World War I, but the aim of progress wasn’t so much “Let’s give our brave soldiers a palpable meal” as it was “If their food uses up less space in their packs it gives them more room for guns!” So instead of canned, “wet” food, we got salted and dried meats that had some nutritious benefit (you’re on your own as far as scurvy goes) while still being lightweight.
In World War II, field rations became more varied, though good old 1940s know-how led to a host of problems. The M-Rations, designed to be easily digested at high altitudes, had a hefty 4,800 calories, but also weighed more than most other rations, and were only edible if you heated them. K-Rations, the daily combat food ration, had a full 2,000 fewer calories and had a few pesky side effects such as massive weight loss and vitamin deficiency. Ultimately, for cost-cutting purposes, the end of WWII and the Korean War primarily utilized the C-Ration, which was not well liked since it was bland, monotonous, and heavy. We’re pretty sure that celebrity chefs are fed C-Rations as a form of punishment whenever they get busted for a DUI.
It’s never a good sign when you ask, “Are those meat patties, or crackers?”
From 1958 until 1980, including the Vietnam War, the MCI, or Meal, Combat, Individual were the go-to wet canned rations for our men and, well let’s face it, just men at the time in the armed forces. MCIs were still called C-Rations by many because they were still fairly shitty. While most soldiers were expected to eat primarily A-Rations (fresh food from the Garrison) or B-Rations (preserved food prepared at a field kitchen) many, especially in war-time, were stuck eating MCIs frequently. Given that MCIs were only designed as a “modest” increase over C-Rations, they clearly didn’t end up having the best reputation.
The Meal, Ready-to-Eat, apart from continuing the military’s odd habit of using commas when making their acronyms, were over 15 years in the making. Their first attempt, 1966’s LRP Ration succeeded in as a “lightweight, easy-to-transport ration” but failed as “a ration that supplies proper nutrition” while “not only working when mixed with bulky C-rations” and “requiring almost a liter of parasitic swamp water to become edible” food source.
Oddly enough, this water does not mix well with American stomachs.
The MRE, lighter and more nutritious than the LRPs, came into standard issue in 1986, at which point it was left alone until soldiers started to say things like “Uh, these taste like shit.” As a result, MREs have been in continual development since 1993 and as the 1990’s progressed, the focus drifted from “Let’s feed soldiers something less likely to get them killed” and the emphasis became, “Let’s give them something that they’ll enjoy eating, that also will be less likely to get them killed.”
While a MRE in 1988 had unfortunately unsavory versions of “Tuna with Noodles” and “Omelet with Ham,” in 2011 our soldiers can have meals such as Buffalo Chicken, Ratatouille, and Lemon Pepper Tuna. Granted, not all of these are winners, and some nicknames that have lingered ever since the origin of the MREs include “Meals Rejected by Everyone,” “Meals, Rarely Edible,” and “Man, we Really don’t have Even an idea for a joke here.” That’s why the focus since 1993 has been to improve the quality steadily each year.
For example, four years later, G.I. Jane came out (nipple).
Of course, the fact that these meals (well, most of them) don’t taste (fully) like cardboard is actually impressive given the requirements every MRE has to meet. They have to provide enough nutrition to be consumed for a maximum of 21 days consecutively. They have to be able to survive parachute drops from 1,250 feet, non-parachute drops from 98 feet, and be able to survive for three years at a steady temperature of 81 degrees. They also have to be able to last for nine months in 100 degree weather, and short durations at 120 degrees as well. They include water, but still only weigh between 18 and 26 ounces.
And, as mentioned earlier, they’ve recently added caffeinated beef jerky.
While a few enterprising Americans might be ready to point out that caffeinated beef jerky, flavored with Guarana, already exists in the open market. And while that is true, we can’t say the same for caffeinated apple sauce and bubble gum. And we definitely can’t say the you can buy caffeinated beef jerky that can survive a fall from the top of the Empire States Building.
Yes, we’re finally using American culinary technology to feel our soldiers beef jerky with caffeine in it and gum that gives them energy, and it’s about damn time. And even though they’re not quite able to master pizza (come on, guys, Lunchables was able to pull that one off) we can at least hold out hope that we can someday incorporate something like Gummy Bear Bratwurst or mandated bottles of liquor to these things. But until then, keep on feeding our troops, America.