Do I Detect a Hint of Preservatives?

What does one do on a sleepy Friday night in Conakry right after the competent authorities have rotated 30 boxes of just-expired MREs out of the embassy stores? MRE tasting party, obviously.

For the uninitiated, MREs are “meals ready-to-eat,” the DOD’s finest cuisine, specially designed to sit on a shelf for up to 10 years and/or be carried through blazing heat and pouring rain to serve as calorie-rich emergency rations anywhere, anytime. Embassies all keep a stash, Just In Case. While optimized for durability, portability, and nutritional support for the military’s finest calorie-burning machines, MRE design also recognizes the need for the food to be somewhat palatable in order for said calorie-burning machines to actually consume it, so we gathered a crack panel to evaluate their efforts.

I have to say, while none of it was what you’d call a taste sensation, some of it wasn’t nearly as bad as I expected. Some of it was. I’m not a huge fan of the chicken and noodles that smelled like cat food, or the shortbread cookies with noticeable chemical overtones, something between window cleaner and plant food. But the sloppy joe was downright edible, as were the “cheddar snack crackers” and “pan coated chocolate disks”. A lot of the snacks and side dishes bear a striking resemblance to certain popular branded consumer goods, whose expiration dates I now feel I can safely ignore.

While not exactly a rival to the chef’s tasting menu at Komi, it was actually pretty fun and quite educational. I learned all sorts of things: proper use of technical jargon such as longboating* and ratfucking**, and vital MRE prep techniques, like how to use a chemical heating element and the importance of properly kneading the pouches before opening them. I also learned that, when I do find myself trapped in an embassy under siege and we all gather around the box of beige plastic packages that will sustain us through the hurricane or civil war or whatever, I’m making a beeline for the beef stew.

*longboat v. – To cut open a foil pouch of food lengthwise, as opposed to tearing it open crosswise as intended by the packaging design. This technique improves access to many main dishes.

**ratfuck (also rat fuck) v. – To rifle through MREs and take all the good stuff.