A Taste of Home in Foil Packets and Powder
September 7, 2010 4:42 PM   Subscribe

Troops from nearly 50 lands dine on combat meals in Afghanistan — each reminding them of where they’d rather be. More about military rations from around the world.

A couple more examples of rations: French day's rations l Australian
posted by nickyskye (41 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
A former co-worker of mine sepnet 5 years stationed inside of nuke silos. He said that MRE's really weren't all that bad compared to old school military rations.
posted by jonmc at 4:51 PM on September 7, 2010

A friend of mine used to use the handle Armyfood, because he subsisted on MREs in freshman year - they're "so kosher it hurts, unlike the caf food you fuckers keep bringing back".
posted by Fraxas at 5:01 PM on September 7, 2010

The U.S. MRE looks surprisingly OK. But the Italians look like they scored.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 5:01 PM on September 7, 2010

I once ate an MRE in Iraq and it fucked my stomach up for four days. The U.S. troops were handing them out to the Iraqis in an attempt to win them over. The Iraqis were then selling them on the street for about 50 cents a piece. You could get anything from "Jamaican Pork Dinner" to "Jambalaya". I use quotes because this crap resembled and tasted nothing of the description on the packaging. Along with the 101 accompaniments in each package, it was the most disgusting shit I've ever tasted.
posted by gman at 5:02 PM on September 7, 2010

Fascinating! Interesting to see the difference in international rations -- the Italians with their alcohol shot, the Brits with their halal and vegetarian appropriate meals, etc...
posted by modernnomad at 5:04 PM on September 7, 2010

If the Polish army doesn't stop camouflaging its ration packets they're going to end up with a lot of thin soldiers.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 5:05 PM on September 7, 2010 [2 favorites]

I remember eating MREs when we would go on camping trips as a kid. These were the ones in the tin cans and you had to use the P8 can opener. Only thing I really remember about them was the little packet of gum, toilet paper, etc that came with it.
When I evacuated for Katrina we were given a box of British MREs. The lamb stew was really good.
posted by govtdrone at 5:16 PM on September 7, 2010

P8 can opener
Sorry, P-38 can opener.
posted by govtdrone at 5:21 PM on September 7, 2010

I used to have a P-38 can opener on my keychain, but took it off after the airport security started tightening up.

When I was a kid my dad would sometimes bring C-rations home from national guard summer camp (They weren't really C-rations anymore, but they still called them that as a holdover from the old days--but they did come in little green cans. I recall the peaches with great nostalgia). Later he'd bring the vinyl-like bags that each contained a full meal. I thought they were pretty good, for what they are. I thought it was great that they got gum, and sometimes candy, with each meal.

But I've pretty well established that I'll eat anything, at least once, and I'm really good at applying a sort of culinary relativism to food, so none of this is to say that the peaches were really good, nor the gum. The can opener, however, is sublime.
posted by padraigin at 5:37 PM on September 7, 2010

I can't recall Chicken ala King or Meatball with Tomato sauce ever reminding me of somewhere else I'd like to be. The menus always seemed to be striving towards some dietary center where the food could be recognized as such yet not paired with any specific region or ethic group.

Evidence of long-term laboratory-based planning regarding the MRE's is evident in their contents and the changes within over a period of time and the ideal eating session would be one where the eater managed to consume all of the contents along with the appropriate water component (shit's dehydrated, yo) thus receiving the appropriate amounts of caloric intake. However, the situation on the ground differs substantially. MRE's were rarely in short supply and individuals could always scrounge a second or third serving along with the age-old tradition of swapping and combining many ingredients in order to produce a dish that although could not approach flavors of elsewhere, would certainly impress those present.

tl;dr: I lost a lot of business when they put those little Tabasco bottles inside the packages. I tried to differentiate with Calypso sauce, but I wasn't in a very integrated unit at the time.
posted by jsavimbi at 5:57 PM on September 7, 2010 [1 favorite]

I've had MREs (Living near Bragg has its perks.) Some of it is crap but a lot of it can be pretty darn tasty. And it comes with the cutest little miniature bottles of Tabasco.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 6:00 PM on September 7, 2010

Chili Mac is the way to go. Make sure you use the heater (the instructional diagram to which is, I still think, one of the best things ever) and dump in the entire container of hot sauce and the entire salt packet.

Sure, it'll probably back your system up something awful, but no more than a few meals at McDonalds or any other heavily-processed food. Why they don't put a packet of Metamucil or something in there, I have no idea.

The ugly part is when you have to eat one cold, on the move. Then they're all pretty foul. I can't make any recommendations there except to avoid the turkey dinner, and just try to choke as much of it as you want down in one gulp. I've known guys who can make something called 'Ranger Pudding', which involves mixing a lot of the side items plus some water together to make a thick, high-calorie paste, but I always thought it was a lot more work than just eating them all quickly.
posted by Kadin2048 at 6:01 PM on September 7, 2010

While we're on the topic, a few years ago The Smoking Gun posted the results of a U.S. Army taste test of a new MRE.

My favorite feedback is a tie between "chicken loaf was not meant to be" and "needs tobacco products."
posted by Kadin2048 at 6:09 PM on September 7, 2010 [1 favorite]

"chicken loaf was not meant to be"

You did not want to be the one to choose that meal. On a cold day it would be passable to someone who's not offended by fish sauce, but on a hot day it was best to avoid any of the poultry offerings.
posted by jsavimbi at 6:12 PM on September 7, 2010

tl;dr: I lost a lot of business when they put those little Tabasco bottles inside the packages. I tried to differentiate with Calypso sauce, but I wasn't in a very integrated unit at the time.

I did a Tiger Cruise in about 1998 when my sister came home from a deployment on the USS Lincoln carrier. My husband joined her on a cruise on the same boat a couple of years ago.

Of course they're not eating MREs but rather "food" that is supposedly cooked by actual people, though more and more it is just reheated Sysco garbage--fully half of it was when I was there, probably much more of it ten years later when my husband went.

At the time I went, each table in the mess had a condiment caddy that included two types of Tabasco (original and green), the standard ketchup and mustard, A-1 sauce, Worcestershire sauce, and Heinz 57 sauce. When my husband went, he reported that they had added a few additional sauces, including Cholula hot sauce and at least one other type of hot sauce (Frank's Red Hot, perhaps, I can't remember).

tl; dr: military food benefits from a wide variety of sauces, and that's just the "good stuff" they serve when people's parents and siblings are around. jsavimbi, you were ahead of your time.
posted by padraigin at 6:19 PM on September 7, 2010 [1 favorite]

I love that one of the more unifying items is the moist towelette.
posted by Netzapper at 6:20 PM on September 7, 2010

In the German MRE - "Exotic Beverage Powder". Sounds like a literal translation.
posted by stp123 at 6:23 PM on September 7, 2010

jsavimbi, you were ahead of your time.

not so much, it was just that I listened to all the bull conversations in addition to the classroom/field instruction from the more senior fellas and learned a few things. One topic was how to line people up for Tabasco at 25 cents per squirt. I also carried Copenhagen, Kodiak, Red Man chew along with red and white Marlboros and the occasional pack of Newports.

Out at sea was different. The only hot sauce available at the time anywhere in the Navy/Marine Corps kingdom was Frank's. You speak of seeing green/red Tabasco aboard a Tiger cruise. If they were returning from deployment then it's possible that they already carried it aboard. If it was just a one-day thing for show and tell then I'd be skeptical about year-round availability. Food aboard ship wasn't as good as it was in the chow halls, but with the right hookup on the mess decks, one could get by. A case of ramen in my locker also went far.
posted by jsavimbi at 6:30 PM on September 7, 2010 [1 favorite]

I don't think that any food looks good photographed directly above a light box. Sauces just look gross when you can see through them and they are glowing.
posted by smackfu at 6:35 PM on September 7, 2010

My sister claims that those sauces were always there, and that they were much more necessary when Tigers weren't around than when we were :)

I have spent so much money sending giant boxes of nonperishable foods to APO addresses over the last fourteen years. I was actually surprised to see the "convenience store" on the boat with quite a few snack food options, but the limited selection there gets old real fast, when it's all there is for six-plus months.

My sister took a commission eventually but admitted that there was a real allure to the idea powering through to chief petty officer, because they eat so much better than even the officers do when on board ship.
posted by padraigin at 6:37 PM on September 7, 2010

The Candian mac-n-cheese lunch IMP is the best of the lot. I really missed the convenient tubes of peanut butter and honey when they replaced them with cheap plastic packets. Nothing like snacking on a tube of pb throughout a hike in the woods and being able to put it back in your pocket without making a mess.
posted by sunshinesky at 8:08 PM on September 7, 2010

Oh, MREs... man, I remember back in the 1990s we were deployed to Africa and subsisted on MREs for the first few weeks. What we did in our shop was dump everything into a huge desk drawer to create a buffet. It was a great idea in principle, but it sucked by week 2 when all there was was tuna, some sort of turkey loaf, and a sea of crackers and hot sauce. Suddenly we got BAS and the next thing we knew the local hotels and entrepreneurs had a pizza stand and a kitchen-in-a-trailer going outside going 24/7. Good times...

I distinctly remember that crescent moon on the sides of the boxes; our theory was it represented an outhouse as that's where you'd be going if you ate enough of those MREs.

Funny thing was the tactical airlift guys made a point to set us up with TONS of Evian water. We had pallets and pallets of Evian water in the hangar... that was somewhat fancy stuff back then, and we had hundreds of cases of them all over the damn place, even in our hotel rooms.
posted by crapmatic at 8:09 PM on September 7, 2010

Cheese & Vegetable Omelet. So completely disgusting that I'm actually disappointed they've stopped making them and future soldiers will be spared the opportunity to bitch about it too. (At least when the old ones run out, god knows when.)
posted by lullaby at 8:55 PM on September 7, 2010

I've eaten hundreds of the Norwegian ones. The cod casserole shown is one of the better menus, but they are all edible. The only problem is when you get a whole load of the same identical menu for a weeks excercise, and have to eat the same thing day in and day out.
posted by Harald74 at 11:28 PM on September 7, 2010

I remember eating combat rations as an Australian Army cadet in high school. It was rumoured that the cheese made you constipated and the chocolate gave you the runs so the advice amongst cadets was to never eat one without the other.

There were also tales that applying the mosquito repellent brought on hallucinations (cadets received the out of date ration packs discarded by the army). I never found out whether this was true but I can remember all the NCOs confiscating the insect repellent from our ration packs so somebody obviously believed it was.

The sweetened condensed milk comes in a tube like toothpaste and we used love eating it straight from the tube.
posted by quosimosaur at 11:55 PM on September 7, 2010

Thank god I'm not a Lithuanian soldier...
posted by Ahab at 12:55 AM on September 8, 2010

My brother was in the Australian Army and always used to bring home ratpacks from time to time, I really really liked the hardtack and tubes of raspberry jam. I'm sad to see the dearth of Tabasco though, what's with only the Brits getting it?
posted by turgid dahlia at 1:09 AM on September 8, 2010

Oh, and I like how the French and Germans go into battle with pâté for Chrissakes.
posted by turgid dahlia at 1:11 AM on September 8, 2010 [1 favorite]

Ah, ratpacks. I ate many on exercise and even kept some spares in the cupboard when I was a really skint student. 'Rolled oats' with chocolate powder. Mmm. I never touched the horrific Lucozade powder stuff - we called it 'screech' because that's the sound you made when it hit your tongue.

We also used to do a windup on new recruits, called 'The Officer's ration pack'. Dig a hole in the ground and put wine, cheese, truffles, massive bars of chocolate etc in it. Put an empty ratpack box over the hole and then a real, unopened ratpack next to it. Carry out your standard training brief about the 'enlisted ranks ration packs', then switch to the officer's one and start pulling all these ridiculous things out of it, TARDIS-like. It always too a second for the recruits to catch on, but it was hilarious.
posted by Happy Dave at 2:50 AM on September 8, 2010 [2 favorites]

Looking at the NY Times feature I was going to say that the British really lost the packaging battle but then I saw from the other link that the boxes turned into targets.
posted by ninebelow at 5:37 AM on September 8, 2010

This reminds me of a hilarious codec conversation from Metal Gear Solid 4:

Campbell: Speaking of food, Snake...

Snake: Colonel? We're in the middle of something here.

Campbell: Have you ever eaten rations from a country other than the US?

Snake: Of course I have.

Campbell: The UN recently held a ration swap meet between military attaches from each member state. It was a momentous development in the cultivation of mutual understanding of other countries' cuisines.

Rosemary: Roy, this isn't really the time...

Campbell: On the contrary. I want you to hear this too, Rose.

Rosemary: I've already heard it a hundred--

Campbell: You'll survive. Anyway, Snake, I did a taste test and found that French rations were generally the best. The Italians' weren't bad, either. And the Japanese stuff was much better than I expected.

Snake: Really. That's wonderful.

Campbell: But everyone seemed to agree that the worst rations of all were ours. America for the win.

Snake: All right... So what's your point?

Campbell: Yep, it must be nice to live in a country that knows how to cook. Those French rations... Delicieux! I wish you would have been there to try some, Snake. And, you too, Rose.
posted by ShawnStruck at 5:54 AM on September 8, 2010

The US Army Quartermaster Foundation has a ton of information on military rations and their history. This where I found out that the beans in tomato sauce I so enjoyed during my time in the Army were no longer in MREs.
posted by QIbHom at 7:44 AM on September 8, 2010

When I was a cadet, MRE's came with two types of biscuits and like everything else were labelled in the traditional military manner. There was a myth (?) that they were included so that soldiers could regulate their bowels in the case of either constipation or diahrrea. Hence the rubric:

"'Biscuits, brown' make you frown; 'biscuits, fruit' make you shoot".
posted by Drexen at 8:41 AM on September 8, 2010

The mac&cheese MRE's were always my favorite, but then I never had to subsist on them for TOO long as I was carrier-based.

As for the quality of food on-board the carrier, it's TOTALLY dependent on who your supply officer is. On a deployment in 99, our 'officer' supply officer rocked, and we ate like kings - and yes there was red and green Tabasco on the table every day, not just during the Tiger cruise. But then, in 01, we had a tool of a supply officer. The 'enlisted' supply officer (i.e. the officer in charge of purchasing and requisitioning supplies for the enlisted meals) was the star of the show. The enlisted ate like royalty. We're talking lobster and steak at least monthly, plus a lot of variety.

Soooo, food quality on board the carrier is really a matter of timing and luck. Real people DO cook real food, but sometimes better than others. Not everyone is a star-chef, and not everyone can follow the military instructions for cooking brownies correctly.

Sometimes you're stuck with what we called 'sand chicken'... procured from the Persian Gulf - gritty, greasy, and tasting oddly like Jet Fuel. And there's only so much you can do with powdered eggs - why do you think all that Tabasco's on the table??
posted by matty at 8:58 AM on September 8, 2010

Also, you can buy MRE's at our local commissary (on-base grocery store). We send them out as stocking stuffers to the hunters and campers in our family every year at Christmas - as well as keep a supply of them on-hand for emergencies.
posted by matty at 9:00 AM on September 8, 2010

The sweetened condensed milk comes in a tube like toothpaste and we used love eating it straight from the tube.

Take one rat pack containing Milk, Sweetened Condensed. Store improperly in some ADF warehouse, probably for 20 odd years. Discard everything but the condensed milk. You are left with the finest vintage of dulce du leche, fit for the gods.
posted by zamboni at 10:20 AM on September 8, 2010

Avoid any MRE with any sort of eggs. Cooked eggs should never have a shelf-life.
posted by thsmchnekllsfascists at 11:03 AM on September 8, 2010

I'd like to see some analysis of the multiculturality of each nation's menu, as an interesting data point for diversity, at least of culinary heritage.
posted by wilful at 8:01 PM on September 8, 2010

The Onion A.V. Club had an amusing taste test of MREs a while back.
posted by Rangeboy at 12:58 AM on September 9, 2010

Oh, and I like how the French and Germans go into battle with pâté for Chrissakes.

Are you implying that you think pâté is fancy or something? Because unless it's made with foie gras, it really, really isn't. It does provide basic sustenance, but it's certainly not healthy.

posted by sunshinesky at 3:24 PM on September 9, 2010

damn... italic fail
posted by sunshinesky at 3:24 PM on September 9, 2010

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