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MRE: Meals, Really Exciting! Survival-Food Showdown

The day is coming, soon or maybe not so soon, when catastrophe or apocalypse of some kind or another will visit and force us to feed ourselves somehow. No more TGIFriday’s or Starbucks or fancy bistros. No more Taco Bells. Or maybe we will just be camping and need an easy-to-prepare meal.

I don’t want to live in a world without Taco Bell, so if tornadoes or flooding or zombies or pandemic destroy the planet, I plan on just calling it a day. But if you just need some food for an overnight fishing trip, consider the MRE.

The MRE Menu 2, the chicken fajita. A solid brick of nutrition.

Being an Army Brat, you get used to acronyms and the strange syntax of military life: You shop at the PX. Your winter coat is a Coat, Man’s Winter. You don’t take tests, you engage in a skills battery. After boot camp, you need an MOS, or Military Occupational Specialty (known in real life as a “job”).

So it’s no surprise that when it comes to feeding our troops, the military offers up its signature style in the MRE, or Meal, Ready-to-Eat. Despite living on military bases most of my childhood, I never had an MRE – mostly because we were fortunate to have actual food.

The MRE gets a bad rap. If they’re something you have to eat because you’re an actual soldier in war, I can see how they might get a little tedious. But if you’re just some civilian doofus camping with your kids or an office drone looking for a conversation-starter lunch to bring, I’d urge you to give the MRE a chance.

Compared with the many other “survival foods” available, the MRE, in my opinion, wins because of its completeness: Main course, dessert, cocoa or cappuccino, snack, chewing gum. Its name doesn’t lie. This is a meal.

  • Preparation: The MRE needs just a little water, and it comes with its own heating supply. The flameless ration heater is a miracle of science. All in all, easy and fast.
  • Variety: The MRE has 24 menu options, including brisket, lasagna, ratatouille, maple sausage, and lemon pepper tuna. I especially enjoyed the Asian Beef Strips.
  • Flavor: I’m not fussy. I’ll eat just about anything, and of the very many things I’ve managed to consume, the MRE is honestly, fairly tasty. No lie, I was impressed by its quality. Some of it was a little dry, but you know what? If you’re eating an MRE and your worst complaint is that the brownie is a little dry, then things are going OK for you.
  • Manliness of Packaging: The MRE is the clear winner here. You don’t get any more masculine than olive drab.
  • Final Grade: A. The MRE was in B-plus/A-minus territory, but one of my packages had moist towelettes, Chiclets gum, and Twizzlers dessert. This is high-quality, name-brand fare here, people, and the moist towelette sealed the deal. Solid A performance. Go, USA!
This is a dense and powerful block of deliciousness right here.
Behold. This thing even comes with its own tortillas and a masculine brown-green plastic spoon.
The MRE’s flameless ration heater needs just a little bit of water. While it’s heating, you lean it up against a “rock or something.”
A “rock or something” can also be a television remote control if you’re roughing it in your living room.
Doesn’t look like much, I know. But it was tasty. I would not lie about things you eat in a tortilla.
The brownie was a little dry. That was a little disappointing, but the fact that there was a brownie at all was a huge bonus. Who’s going to cry about a dry brownie? Someone who doesn’t deserve a brownie, that’s who.

Maybe the militaristic MRE is off-putting. Maybe you’re interested in something a little more gentle. Compare the MRE with the Mountain House brand of survival / camping foods. I was not impressed. The Mountain House foods were OK. Not great, but not terrible.

  • Preparation: The Mountain House foods need more water than the MRE, and you’ll need to heat it up on your own. Lame.
  • Variety: There are 23 entrees, four breakfasts, three sides, and three desserts, all sold separately.  No Chiclets or moist towelettes.
  • Flavor: I found the Mountain House foods to be a little watery and bland.
  • Manliness of Packaging: A mountain stream, some meadows, a blue, blue sky. Manly like ’70s-era David Bowie.
  • Final Grade: C. Average. Nothing to get excited about. But I’m not angry.
Mountain House chicken fajita filling to put in “your own tortillas!” Don’t strain yourself, Mountain House.
I found my own tortillas and put some Mountain House filling in them. Tasty enough. No complaints. Not bad.
The beef stroganoff. Heat the water, let it soak in the container, eat in your own bowl. Again, only OK. A little watery, actually. Nobody in my office was impressed.
The Mountain House beef stroganoff was a little watery. Usually, you can let a thing like this sit, and it’ll thicken up. Not Mountain House. Not this meal, anyway.
The Mountain House chicken alfredo and scrambled eggs. Both a little watery. I thought that maybe I had just used too much water on the previous beef stroganoff dish, but it was the same with these. Just a little soupy for my taste. Again, none of my colleagues in the office were interested at all in what was happening with Mountain House.
The scrambled eggs were strange. Spongy little cubes with an odd texture and an odd flavor that even bacon can’t save.

Maybe you’re not going camping or looking to dazzle your office buddies. If you’re looking for something more long-term, you’ll probably want something from Survival Cave: “A reasonable shelf life is about 12 -15 years but many people believe it may last 30 – 35 years or longer.

Personally, my will to live just isn’t that strong, so if you’re eating canned meat that’s decades old, I salute you.

  • Preparation: Can you open a can? Good. Chow down, buddy.
  • Variety: Chicken, beef, pork, ground beef. And some dried-food varieties that you might find appealing.
  • Flavor: For a hunk of weird meat in a can, this was surprisingly tasty. On the one hand, the flavor might degrade over its shelf life of several years, but at that point, you’re probably happy to be eating anything. Hard to say.
  • Manliness of Packaging: This is pretty manly stuff. First of all, it’s in a can. Second, it’s just meat. Meat in a can. And the brand has a cave in it.
  • Final Grade: B. I’m oddly pleased with this offering. It’s a no-frills product that is exactly what it says it is. It’s meat in a can. And it will last probably longer than you will. Only reason it’s not an A is because of the variety. But if you’re eating meat in a can decades from now, things have probably gone downhill and Taco Bell is just a distant memory. Good luck to you, sir.
Just what it says it is. It’s beef. In a can. And it will last forever.
Hard to imagine this lasting for 35 years or that you’d want to eat this in 35 years, but I guess it’s possible.
Oh god what is this?! I don’t know what those white things are, and it scares me a little, but you know what? Doesn’t matter. I’ve gone this far. Hmm. Oddly tasty. By itself, it wasn’t anything amazing, but I can see how it would keep you from dying. I preferred to mix it with a Mountain House beef stroganoff to flavor it up a little.

If things go to hell and you’re forced to live on survival food, I’d vote for the MRE. More variety, more flavor, easy to prepare. You’re going to be a happier refugee / escapee / survivor with a moist towelette and a serviceable, if dry, brownie.

And Chiclets. Go, America!