Wednesday, September 25, 2013

MRE Review: Menu 20, Spaghetti with Beef and Sauce

Navy chow is the best

Last time, we told the story of how the Pentagon took a hard look at their field rations and identified, in a scientific report, three critical flaws that were leading to underconsumption:
  1. The food is shit
  2. Field conditions are not conducive to eating
  3. People are fucking stupid
Today, we’ll look at the first item on the list, in an essay that I like to call…

Your Food is Shit, G-Man

Finding that troops were rating their rations on a scale that ran from "bland" to "atrocities of cuisine," the researchers looked to the food industry for inspiration. In consultation with those experts, they devised a scheme for continuous product improvement that we talked about in a previous MRE review.

They also recommended adding more variety to the menu, and concocted a plan to slowly expand the choices up to the 24 menus we have today.

They found that the existing strategies for increasing ration consumption (the tried and true tactic of dumping fat and sugar into the dish) were actually counterproductive to long-term MRE palatability.  A sweet, fatty entrĂ©e may taste better on the first bite, may even taste better throughout the meal, but people tire of it quickly. Sooner or later, it starts to taste gross, and consumption on long deployments suffers.

This is all just a fancy way of saying that you can’t make a dish by throwing in whatever ingredients meet your nutritional requirements, goose the taste with sugar and fat, and expect troops to like it. Good food has to be crafted, not assembled.

The researchers consulted food industry and scientific studies to explore how factors like fat, carbohydrate, fiber, and moisture content affect consumption. They looked at how much soldiers eat when they’re dehydrated, found that it was considerably less, and so recommended that more beverage mixes be included to encourage hydration.

Most wonderful of all, they discovered a strange new substance from the far East: spices. Yeah, did you know that spices can improve the taste of a meal? Because the Pentagon didn’t know that until 1995. Here’s a real, honest-to-Zod quote from the study, where the researchers marvel at the diversity of this magical stuff call “spice”:

Wilford Brimley Mexican Hat
Tabasco sauce. Brought to you by the
fucking oatmeal people, for some reason.
There are different ethnic-based types of seasonings, for example Cajun, Mexican, and Thai, and there appears to be consumer interest in all of these variations. Researchers at Quaker Oats have found that having personal seasoning control is optimal. The inclusion of hot sauce in military MREs is something that Quaker Oats data would support.

And that’s why there are packets of pepper sauce and ground red pepper in many of today’s menus. We have Quaker Oats to thank.

Finally, they realized that cold food usually sucks, even in the desert. Thus the flameless ration heater was born.

Which brings us to today's menu...

MRE Review: Menu 20, Spaghetti with Beef and Sauce Overwrap

Today’s MRE is menu 20: Spaghetti with Beef and Sauce. I know I said in the last review that I’d remember to add an item for scale in these pictures, but I forgot, so screw you. Here's everything that comes in the bag:

MRE Review: Menu 20, contents

Let’s dive right into the main course.

Course 1
Spaghetti with Beef and Sauce
Chipotle Snack Bread
Cheese Spread
Diario Instant Coffee with non-dairy creamer

MRE Review: Menu 20, Spaghetti with Beef and Sauce

I sampled this spaghetti, hoping for a repeat of the last MRE’s glorious performance in the “fondly remembered Italian food from my disturbing childhood” category.

Alas, it was not to be. The spaghetti is inoffensive, but pretty bland. The taste is somewhere in the neighborhood of a store-brand knock-off of Franco-American spaghetti and meatballs. It's definitely not like the real stuff.

It reminds me of the grimmer weekends with my mother, when the street price of heroine had gone up and mom had to save money any way she could. Those days were filled with sightseeing trips to the junkyard, games of guess-what-killed-that-gutter-dog, and homemade band-aids constructed from Scotch tape and my own hair.

You know, it just struck me how she always knew exactly what killed the gutter dogs.


Anyway, the spaghetti is palatable enough, I guess. I dumped the pepper sauce all over it, since there's nothing else to put it on, and because the haunting gaze of Wilford Brimley compelled me. (Wilford Brimley controls the spice. Wilford Brimley controls the universe.)

And you know what? Pepper sauce didn't ruin the spaghetti and meatballs. In fact, it made it a little better. It gave the stuff a little punch, a little character. It made it interesting, at least. I like it. Next time I'm teetering on the edge of homelessness, I'm going to try adding hot sauce to my store-brand canned pastas. Bless you Wilford Brimley. I promise to never lock you in a shed in Antarctica when there's a hostile alien on the loose.

The Chipotle Snack Bread is just a wheat snack with chipotle, but it actually works really well. Yeah, I know, I was as surprised as anyone. The chipotle flavor really jazzes up the wheat snack, making it into a fun little side dish.

Ah, but it gets old pretty fast. After a few bites, I was tired of the combination and would have actually preferred a bland old regular wheat snack. I guess it depends on whether you want a wheat snack that shines bright but fizzles out quickly, like the band Spacehog, or a wheat snack that never really breaks into the bigtime, but plugs along steadily through thick and thin, like some band you've never heard of (because they never really broke into the bigtime, obviously.)

Course 2
Pretzel Sticks
Beverage Base Powder Orange – Formulation C

MRE Review: Menu 20, pretzel sticks

Uhhh, “Beverage Base Powder Orange – Formulation C”?

Why no, of course that doesn't sound like the name of an ominous beverage product from a dystopian future—a sinister, alchemical brew that will cause half of humanity to mutate into squid monsters and turn them against the other half, in a pitched battle to decide the evolutionary destiny of mankind. It doesn't sound like that kind of thing at all. Why do you ask?

The pretzel sticks are… pretzel sticks, pretty much. I don’t know what else to say about them. If you've had one pretzel stick, you've had them all.

So let’s move right along to the not at all ominous-sounding "Beverage Base Powder Orange – Formulation C".

The Beverage Base Powder Orange – Formulation C is…  weird. I mean, it tastes just fine. It’s a sort of orange Tang flavor. But unlike the other beverage powders, this one is fizzy. And not just fizzy, but with an odd undertone that leaves a chemical taste in your mouth after you swallow.

It's odd. It leaves me feeling… strangely powerful, and with an inexplicable sentiment of disdain for you pitiful wretches who have yet to experience its sweet embrace.

Ohh, I see the reason for the weird properties. Beverage Base Powder Orange – Formulation C is fortified with added vitamin D, E, and B2. That explains the taste. And the fizziness is from added calcium carbonate, which helps strengthen your bones—which will be important soon, very soon.

It’s really a very nutritional beverage, fortified as it is with such important vitamins and minerals. Vitamins and minerals are good for you. Very good for you.

So you shouldn't be afraid to drink it. Yes, yes. Drink it all up, little ones.

Good, gooooood. Drink deep of the Beverage Base Powder Orange – Formulation C, and if that wondrous brew finds you worthy, embrace its gifts and dive through the black abysses to join me in many-columned Y’ha-nthlei, where in that lair of the Deep Ones we shall dwell amidst wonder and glory forever!


I mean, it tastes pretty good.

Course 3
Cranberries, osmotic
Twizzlers Nibs

MRE Review: Menu 20, osmotic cranberries

That Which Was Once Robyn enjoyed the dried and sweetened cranberry things very much. We will surely force the land dwellers to cultivate these “osmotic cranberries” in tribute to us, their aquatic Gods, once the surface nations are conquered and subjugated to our will.

On the other hand, these Twizzlers Nibs…  I mean, did you even know that was a thing? That Twizzlers came in “Nib” form? What the fuck is a “Nib”, anyway? What the hell does that even mean?

On balance, I suppose I'm glad there are Twizzlers. It's good to know there’s a place in this world for strips of vulcanized rubber that fail quality control at the tire plant.

Yeah, I don’t like Twizzlers or Combos. Fuck you, surface dwellers.

That Which Was Once Robyn out.


If you enjoyed this article, all the creeping terrors of the deep compel you to read the other articles in the series!

Fresh Hardtack
3-Month-Old Hardtack
Menu 16, Pork Rib
Menu 22, Sloppy Joe
Menu 23, Pasta in Pesto
Menu 14, Ratatouille (Vegetarian)
Menu 15, Southwest Beef and Beans
Menu 8, Marinara Sauce with Meatballs
Menu 19, Beef Roast
Menu 13, Tortellini Vegetarian 
Menu 18, Chicken with Noodles
First Strike Ration Menu 2 (Part 1)
First Strike Ration Menu 2 (Part 2)

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