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Tuesday, December 28, 2004

MREs: A Critical Review 

… or,
“How a Little Bit of Browsing Enabled me to Acquire Some Interesting Eats.”

This is no joke. Though, as you read it, you’ll probably think this is some kind of shaggy dog story.
Hang in there.
It’s a great example of the power of the internet and how you can set off on one simple mission and end up participating in another.

The Mission:
To enter a web-based sweepstakes for a very slim chance to win $500.00.

The Background:
I often work nights. This means that I might end up having to eat a meal at 3:00 AM. It’s hard to plan for that kind of meal. I’m never sure whether I’ll want to eat something substantial or something light. So I keep some options available in my desk drawer. As you might guess, this food has to be well preserved and must not require refrigeration. If I want something light, I re-hydrate a foam cup of desiccated Maruchan Instant Lunch Noodle Soup.
If I want something that feels more like food, I might re-hydrate some other brand’s dried noodle dish.
Some of the best tasting and long lasting food, though, are the products preserved by packaging process. They’re not dried, not frozen, not salted to Dead-Sea levels; these dishes microwave in a minute and a half and actually taste pretty good.
The brand I prefer is called Homestyle Express.

This stuff is made by The Wornick Company.

The Adventure:

How do I know The Wornick Company made my Homestyle Express meals?

Because the packaging my Four Cheese Tortellini came in invited me to visit their website and fill out a questionnaire for a chance to win $500.00.

So I filled out the questionnaire, with little hope that I’d actually win. And it being around 4:00 AM with little for me to do at work, I decided to browse around the company’s site. A click here and a click there and I ended up on their MREs web page.
Yup. That made sense.
Wornick, it turns out, is one of the companies that makes Meals Ready to Eat, for the military.

I’d first heard about MREs after Hurricane Andrew hit Miami, back in 1992. The military set up make-shift mess halls to feed The Public. The Public was, as you might imagine, grateful for this manna from Wornick (or whichever other manufacturers were supplying them).

I’d always wondered about MREs. What did they look like? How long would they last? Did they really taste good?

So I read on: For more information visit DSCP's MRE link —

“Hmmmm… That’s an invitation, if ever I’ve read one,” I thought as I clicked.

Wow. The site had pictures (though I preferred the ones I later found on the Wornick site, and that's what you see here):

They even answered my second question: “The shelf life of the MRE is three (3) years at 80 degrees F. However, the shelf life can be extended through the use of cold storage facilities prior to distribution. “

But what about the taste? Would they let me order some?
Somehow I found myself on the Defense Logistics military website.

I’d also found a form for ordering pallet loads of MREs (though I can’t find that link now). I do remember that the officer ordering the grub had to have all sorts of information I simply couldn’t fake.

The site did, however, have an email link if you had any questions. Again, I clicked. Then I started typing:

Good day,
My name is Charles Field. I am not a member of the military, but am planning to write an article about Meals Ready to Eat. I have been researching Operational Rations and the manufacturers via the internet. This is how I found your email address.
Would it be possible to request a small sampling of MREs to taste-taste as part of my research. If so, please reply with ordering information or resources.

Thank you,
Charles Field

Frankly, I was amazed to receive this prompt and efficient response:


We would not be able to sell product to you due to our policy, but I can send you a few samples. Samples are limited, but I could send you 2-3 MREs. Let me know if OK and what your mailing address is.

Thanks, Joe

A couple of weeks later the gentleman had Fed-Xed me three MREs.

I held onto them until a time when my son’s best friend, Tommy, came for a visit. He was wearing army camo pants, which I thought fitting for the occasion.
That evening, we tried the creamed beef meal.
It came complete with a chemical heating packet, rice pilaf, oatmeal cookie, cocoa beverage powder, and a packet containing salt, pepper, matches, and the ever-present teeny tiny bottle of Tobasco sauce.
We followed the heating directions but still ended up with luke-warm mush. The mush was of good quality, but instead of using chipped beef they used some sort of corned beef. We ate it all, but I wasn’t really crazy about it. Neither were the kids. I really liked the oatmeal cookie, which I’d hidden away so I could retrieve it days later and eat it all by myself.

Sunday night, Tommy came over again. So I broke open the jambalaya and we gave it our taste test.
This meal was a bit spicy, as a jambalaya should be. The kids really loved it and asked for more, but we didn’t have enough for seconds. As you can imagine, one soldier’s ration divides into two very small portions. As it was, I’d only had a small taste of the stuff, leaving more for them to eat. This was to be all of their dinner, not just a snack. (I ate Christmas Dinner leftovers.)
The drink was a day-glo lemon lime drink. It tasted just like Gator-ade, which was fine with the boys. I didn’t try the processed cheese spread on wheat bread wafer. The spread didn’t spread very easily as it’s consistency was a bit like a cross between Play-doh and Silly Putty. The wafer bread was also a hybrid; part-way between a slice of bread and a cracker. It was molded to look vaguely like the slice of bread. This tid-bit didn’t appeal to me at all, but the kids ate it without any complaints. They also bolted down the chocolate covered graham cracker I’d cut in half and the packet of Skittles candies. I didn’t have to sample the Skittles. I know they taste good.

I still have one last MRE to sample: Chicken Tetrazinni. I’m sure it can wait until the next time Tommy visits.

All in all, I have to give these companies a thumbs-up rating. I’m sure that the delivery of nutritional and decent tasting food is a great challenge for our military.

It’s nice to see that our courageous soldiers don’t have to eat that shitty Maruchan Instant Lunch Noodle Soup to survive the rigors of war.

Okay. I’d told Officer Joe that I’d planned to write an article about MREs. You’ve just read it. So, now I don’t feel guilty about asking him for the samples. I mean, I did hold up my end of the bargain, didn’t I?

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