The Student News Site of Sacramento City College

The Express

The Student News Site of Sacramento City College

The Express

The Student News Site of Sacramento City College

The Express

MREs: Bon appetit!

Ready-to-eat foods are easy to prepare. JD Villanueva |[email protected]

While soldiers are on a mission or doing training exercises in the field, they often have limited access to organized food facilities. During these stretches of time, the United States military provides its service members with lightweight, packaged food rations that are easy to carry in their packs.

These meals, Ready-to-Eat (MREs), are self-contained individual field rations that provide about 1,200 calories per meal. There are around 24 different meal options available ranging from classics like Sloppy Joes to vegetarian options like veggie burgers.

MREs are intended for longevity and convenience in the field, first and foremost. Opinions vary on taste for those civilians who have a choice on what they want to eat, as there is an overwhelming reaction to them, similar to that of the infamous reputation of hospital food.

This is where I come in.

I visited the Veteran’s Club at City College and was treated to an exclusive food tasting by a few of the clubs members. Throughout my taste test I could see that my hosts were glad I was trying the MREs. They had all experienced them during their tours of duty. In a way, I felt like I was getting a peek into military life.

The two MREs I tasted were the veggie burger with barbeque sauce and the chicken fajitas. MREs come sealed in an inconspicuous camouflage-brown colored plastic pouch, with labels and descriptions in bold black writing. Inside the main packs are many individual smaller packs containing basic condiments and a plastic spoon.

Both packs include flameless ration heaters to heat the meals, which can also be safely eaten cold. I chose to have mine heated, and with the help of some of the club’s veterans, I was sampling two hot meals in about 10 minutes.

The flameless ration heaters contain finely powdered iron and magnesium metals and require a small amount of water to activate. When activated, a chemical reaction occurs that heats the food to a certain temperature in a separate pouch. Once hot, I slid the contents out of the pouch and prepared my hot meal.

I decide to start with the veggie burger pack. The veggie burger comes with two pieces of bread that serve as the bun. The bread is dense like thick pita bread and tastes like it was made with extra baking powder and no flour. The burger itself looks and feels like a slice of cafeteria meatloaf with a thick pasty looking red sauce calling itself BBQ sauce. I opted to eat it with just one slice of the bread, making it an open-faced sandwich. The pack even included a tiny bottle of Tabasco sauce I used to enhance the flavor. Or cover it up.

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A military style pre packaged veggie burger gives staff writer Stephen Senn an opportunity to experience military food. JD Villanueva | [email protected]

My first thought after sinking my teeth into it was that I’ve definitely had worse. While it is not going to be served at any five-star restaurants, it doesn’t taste any worse than some of the TV dinners I’d had as a child. This pack included dried cranberries and a powdered tropical fruit punch drink similar to Kool-Aid.

The chicken fajitas were next. While I waited for them to heat, I asked some of the veterans which menu items were their favorites. Former Army men Zack Pierce and Joshua Wenell both favored the chicken tetrazzini, while former Marine Gabriel Guerrero liked the chicken noodle soup pack best. All three seemed to think I got off easy by getting two of the more popular menu choices.

To me, the chicken fajita pack seemed a bit less appealing. Once heated, the chicken meat came out of the pouch pre-seasoned and ready to be assembled onto three mini-tortillas. The tortillas were soft to the touch and seemed to hold up well in the MRE packaging. A separate pouch labeled “Mexican rice” was also heated, using the flameless heater.
One of my “chefs,” Zenzi Moore, a United States Navy Reserve since 2009, warned me
not to expect authentic Mexican cuisine.

“I would just skip the rice because it’s always hard,” Moore says. “I’ve tried making it, and it always comes out undercooked.”

I took her advice and left the rice off the tortilla but snuck a spoonful just to try it. As Moore had warned, the rice was hard. The flavor wasn’t unpleasant but it definitely was undercooked. A melted cheese spread was included as a topping, so I slathered a good amount onto the tortilla. The cheese spread, which reminded me of the cheese from packaged macaroni and cheese, wasn’t bad either.

Senn chases his MRE taste test experience with a powdered coffee drink. JD Villanueva | [email protected]

After liberally using some of the Tabasco sauce from the veggie burger pack, I tried my improvised fajita. At first bite I wanted to spit it out. The flavors weren’t necessarily bad, but they just didn’t seem to go together. It was like a surprise meal prepared by a 5 year old on Mother’s Day; the thought was there but you’ve got to choke the food down. Luckily this pack also came with some MRE packaged Cheez-its and a powdered coffee drink, both of which were tasty.

In the end, I realized civilians often take for granted the things our soldiers go through in their fight to protect us.

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