Today (May 21, 2011) is supposedly Judgment Day and the date of The Rapture (according to some). I'm going to assume that if you're reading this that the date came and went without incident. I seem to have heard/read somewhere that the actual Rapture is supposed to happen at 6:00 PM. That's a pretty precise pinpointing, but I don't know if that's 6:00 PM EST (my time) or if it's 6:00 on the west coast, or 6:00 PM Greenwich Mean Time, or 6:00 PM in Australia...
Anyway, I figured that the impending Judgment Day was a perfect time for me to take stock of my Zombie Apocalypse supplies. I have a number of MREs (Meals, Ready to Eat) and it's always a good idea to rotate your stock if you have them in storage--getting rid of older ones and replacing them with newer ones. I had two-each of Menu No. 6 (Chicken With Noodles) and decided to eat the older one (which was from 2007) to commemorate this (non) momentous occasion!
Here's my two Chicken With Noodles MREs
The one on the left is the one from 2007 (today's lunch)
MREs are a shelf-stable ration designed for the U.S. Armed Forces. They make an excellent choice for camping, hunting, hiking and stocking up for disasters (both natural and man-made). A lot of people don't appreciate MREs (they're not exactly five-star-restaurant-cuisine or anything). But if you find yourself looking for something to eat after a hurricane (Katrina for example) or an earthquake (like the recent one in Japan) they suddenly seem VERY appetizing, to say the least.
MRE's have changed a lot since the late-1980s, when I was in the Army. Not only has the flavor quality improved, the menus themselves have gotten a lot more appetizing-sounding too. The people who design, develop and produce MREs are constantly working to improve not only their shelf life, but also the quality, flavor and variety of them. They know that the main consumer of MREs are the soldiers who are out there doing their duty for our country.
The Chicken With Noodles MRE that I chose for this review had a date code of 7171 (see photo above). For more information about how to read date codes check out this page at MREInfo.com. MREInfo.com is the place to go for pretty much anything you ever wanted to know about MREs and other rations. This particular MRE was sealed up on the 170th day of 2007, which means it is four years old. Believe it or not, that's still pretty young for an MRE that's been stored appropriately. They can easily last ten years or more and still be edible. Since I bought this one on eBay and don't know its history I have no idea if it was stored well or not. Oh well, that's what a taste test is for.
Here's our MRE for today
Here's what the contents look like when pulled out of the bag
And here are all the contents spread out for easy viewing
Here's a list of the contents of my Chicken With Noodles MRE (and their date codes, where applicable):
- Chicken, Noodles, Vegetables in Sauce (7128C)
- Cocoa Beverage Powder (7108)
- Crackers (7163)
- Cheese Spread (7101)
- Chocolate Sports Bar W/Chocolate Coating (7115)
- Peanut M&M's
- Accessory Pack "A"* (A 7169)
- Tabasco Sauce
- Flameless Ration Heater (FRH)
- Hot Beverage Bag
*Accessory Pack "A" contains: instant coffee, creamer, sugar, salt, matches, toilet paper, moist towelette and chewing gum.
Here's the accessory pack
And the other side of the accessory pack (note the "A" before the date code)
Here's a few examples of the date codes stamped on most components
The Flameless Ration Heater is a great addition to MREs that wasn't around when I was in the Army. We usually just ate them cold. There weren't many options for heating them up in the field. You weren't likely to have a chance to build a campfire and boil a pot of water. If you had a vehicle of some sort at your disposal, you could put an entree on the engine block, or in front of the heater. Otherwise you would most likely just have to accept the fact that you were going to be eating your meal at whatever temperature it was at the moment. Nowadays, you can put your entree (plus your side dish, coffee and/or cocoa if you want) into the FRH, add a little water, and it will heat it all up in about ten or fifteen minutes. I decided to eat this MRE as though I was in the field and didn't have anything that wasn't included in it (other than water). This means that I used the FRH for the Chicken With Noodles.
This is our entree for today (Chicken, Noodles, Vegetables In Sauce)
And, here it is out of the cardboard envelope, with the FRH underneath
One of the "funniest" things about MREs is something that is found in the instructions for the FRH. You are supposed to stuff your food to be heated into the FRH, add a small amount of water, fold the top over, stuff it back into the cardboard box the entree came in and then elevate the top of the whole assembly at an angle for maximum heating efficiency. The instructions include little illustrations to make it as easy to understand as possible (including for people who don't read English or don't read at all). The picture that tells you to elevate the FRH shows it resting on a rock, and it says "Rock Or Something".
Instructions on the FRH
And a closeup of the infamous "Rock Or Something"!
I also love this warning for people who might be tempted to eat the chemical heating unit in the FRH!
The FRH with the entree inside, already activated with water
The heating assembly put back into the entree's box and propped up on a "Rock Or Something"
Because of the amount of food (and calories, sodium, fat, sugar, carbs...) that an MRE contains (roughly the amount an active soldier in the field would need for a day), I didn't eat everything in this one in one sitting. I didn't drink the coffee (as I am not a coffee drinker) and saved the M&M's, Crackers and Cheese Spread for later. An entire MRE can certainly be eaten in one sitting (depending on the needs of the individual), but it can also be spread out to last for two--or even three--meals if necessary.
Cheese and crackers will make a nice snack later (as will the Peanut M&M's)
While waiting for the Chicken and Noodles to heat up I went ahead and added water to the Cocoa Beverage Powder and shook it up. The newer pouches for most of the beverage powders have a little zip-lock top so you can pour water in and shake it up right in the pouch with no mess. In the old days you's have to mix it in your canteen cup or try to stir it up in the smaller pouches they used to come it. Either way, you usually ended up with a bit of a mess.
Here's the Cocoa Powder pouch (note the contoured shape which makes it easier to grip for shaking)
Once the cocoa was made and the Chicken With Noodles was heated up it was time to eat. I don't exactly have an "educated palate" or anything, but I think that I would know something that tasted terrible if I ate it. I certainly give MREs a lot of leeway when it comes to flavor because of the fact that it's designed to sit in a plastic bag and be stored for months or years before being eaten--and still remain safe to eat. I would never directly compare what's found in an MRE to something that I might expect to be served in a fine restaurant. That being said, I thought the Chicken With Noodles tasted very good. I certainly wouldn't complain if I were out in the field and this was the only thing available for me to eat. In fact, I can think of a few things that might be available that I would choose this over. The chicken may be processed, but it does taste like chicken. The noodles are fine. There aren't a lot of the promised vegetables (but I'm not a big veggie guy anyway). And the whole thing is held together by a rather thick gravy sauce that tastes salty, but good. I really saw nothing to complain about with this entree (and keep in mind that it was four years old too!). Most MREs today contain a little bottle of Tabasco sauce (ostensibly to counter the bad taste of an entree and cover it up with a little kick of spice). I've never used the Tabasco on my MREs. While I'm not a big fan of spicy food in general, I've also never felt that the flavor of (the vast majority of ) the meals I've had really needed to be covered up.
This meal is now "Ready to Eat"
Trust me, it tastes better than it looks
Come on, you know you want to try it!
The cocoa was sweet and chocolatey, and I thought it was fine drinking it cold rather than hot. The Chocolate Sports Bar was basically your standard energy bar. Pretty much a chewy candy bar. I like sweets, so I had no problem with this either. As far as the stuff I didn't eat, I already know what to expect from Peanut M&M's (though it would be interesting to see how a four year old pack of them would hold up compared to the components that were actually designed to keep food fresh for up to ten years). And I already know that I like the Crackers and the Cheese Spread. This particular one was a plain spread, but they also come in different varieties (Cheese Spread With Jalapenos, Cheese Spread With Bacon), and there are also quite a few different types of peanut butter and jelly too.
Cocoa...shaken, not stirred (and cold, not hot)
The Chocolate Sports Bar, W/Chocolate Covering (shows some signs of aging, but tasted fine)
Do you think you'd like to try an MRE? Let's hope that you never find yourself in a situation where you have to eat one. But if you do, I think you'll find that they're nothing to be too worried about. It's all real food. Maybe not exactly what you'd want to eat on a daily basis, but it will keep you alive if it's a choice between an MRE and starvation. Oh yeah, there are a number of vegetarian entrees among the 24 different meals too.
I also made a video of this particular MRE opening/eating, and posted it on YouTube. If you just can't get enough of this stuff, check it out!