Wednesday, May 29, 2013

MRE Review: Menu 23, Pasta in Pesto

Use Leftovers

But seriously Robyn, I hear you asking, why the hell are you writing comical-in-quotation-marks reviews of MREs?

I’ll tell you why. I write them because, as a child, it was my dream to become the funniest person ever to review video games.

That dream was shattered when Gael Greene's hilarious review of GTA: Vice City set the bar impossibly high. But I'm plucky in defeat, and consoled myself by resolving to become the funniest person to ever review combat rations. It has the same number of syllables, but it's a much less competitive category. I have a chance to pull it off, assuming I can keep The Spoony Experiment's Noah Antwiler off my turf.

Spoony Crown
This man is too dangerous.
He cannot be allowed to learn of MREs.
And now to address the second most common question I receive (by exactly a 1 to 2 ratio): How did I manage to get my hands on these combat rations?

Well that, my friend, is a tale of flash and daring, of harrowing escapes from the closing jaws of.. Okay, it was eBay. I got them on eBay.

But where did the lighter fluid come from did the MREs come from, before they landed on eBay? To answer that, let's go back to the place where MREs are born.

There are three food packaging companies currently authorized to produce military MREs: Ameriqual, Sopakco, and Wornick. As far as I can tell, none of these suppliers produce any actual food. (Insert joke here.) Instead, they receive already-prepared food from other manufactures, package it using a shelf-stable process, then take the credit by stamping their name all over the overwrap. It’s all very American, if you ask me. If you have a problem with that, you can go the hell to Russia, where they make you stand in line for eight hours just to get a loaf of wheat snack.

The big three packagers are not allowed to sell military MREs to civilians, but they all manufacture deceptively-labeled look-alikes, which they sell to hikers and survivalist lunatics.


How do you tell a real MRE from a fake? Real military MRE cases are stamped with a packaging and inspection date, a scary warning about government property, and the crescent stamp that denotes military food supplies. Mind you, survivalist lunatics have, uhhh, alternative theories about what that crescent means. No points for guessing them.

Military and Civilian MREs

On the inside, the civilian MRE look-alikes feature many of the same items as their military counterparts. However, they’re typically missing a side dish or a dessert, and consequently supply fewer calories. But the sure-fire way to tell whether you've got a military or civilian MRE is to look at the ration heater. Military heaters are activated by fresh water and feature the infamous instruction to prop the heater on a "rock or something". Civilian ration heaters, in the interest of safety, either require salt water or they’re left out entirely. And I'm pretty sure they have less glorious instructions.

MRE Flameless Ration Heater Rock or Something
The Rock or Something mark of excellence.
So what about that government property warning? It states, "U.S. Government Property, Commercial Resale is Unlawful". Well, it’s not as scary as it looks, because there isn’t actually a law against reselling MREs.

There is, no doubt, a law against reselling stolen government property, which is what the warning seems to be getting at. And yes, many of the MREs offered for sale were surely pilfered in the finest tradition of the service. But there are perfectly legal ways for MREs to enter the marketplace.

Select Defense and State Department contractors, for example, may purchase MREs in bulk, and later sell off whatever they don't use. MREs can also be obtained via dumpster diving. A government report found an MRE seller who was "removing unopened MREs from the dumpsters [at Fort Benning] and cleaning, packaging, and mailing them to her eBay customers." BECAUSE AMERICA.

MREs are also handed out by the truckload in disaster areas and, due to global warming Al Gore’s conspiracy to control the weather, half the country has been a disaster area at some point in the past few years. Storm and fire survivors, with a bounty of shelf-stable food products but no house, can do the math for themselves: “Well, I have plenty of food, but I don’t have a house, thanks to stupid fat Al Gore. I think I’ll sell these extra MREs on eBay and buy a yurt.”

Personally, I don’t blame them. The government yurt allowance for disaster victims is notoriously stingy these days. They have to make up the difference any way they can.

Speaking of which, today’s yurt-subsidy is Menu 23: Chicken with Pasta in Pesto Sauce.

MRE Menu 23, Pasta in Pesto Overwrap
Here’s everything you’ll find inside:
MRE Menu 23, contents

Ah, matches. This is the first MRE I’ve reviewed that comes with matches (middle right in the picture above.) If you’re the lucky GI who grabs this menu, YOU CONTROL THE POWER OF FIRE.

Course 1
Chicken Pesto Pasta
Italian Bread Sticks
Diario Coffee with sugar and non-dairy creamer
Cheese spread, I guess?

MRE Menu 23, Pasta in Pesto

It’s not always clear what, if anything, you’re supposed to do with the cheese spread. This one, I guess, goes on the breadsticks because… cheesy bread? I dunno. The logic of the MRE is a mystery to behold.

The "breadsticks" are just a perforated wheat snack with Italian seasoning. Wheat snack tries to disguise its true nature, but wheat snack cannot hide the evil that seethes deep within.

So yeah. The wheatbreadsticks are dry and bland. They taste almost exactly like a regular wheat snack. I went ahead and ate them with the cheese spread. It was filling, but otherwise predictably disappointing.

I washed them down with coffee, which I decided to take with sugar this time. I don’t usually do that, but I decided to mix things up in the spirit of scientific inquiry. It was not an improvement, but that’s okay, because MRE coffee isn't half as bad as people say.

Which brings us to the pasta, which was a big success. The chicken is tender and flavorful. The noodles are nice and soft. You’ll be disappointed if you like your pasta al dente, but I prefer my noodles limber, like a gymnast, and I thought these were fantastic.

The overall blend of spices is good, but it’s the pesto that really makes the dish. I mean, hell, I’d eat dirt if you put pesto sauce on it, but it works especially well with these ingredients. There’s one spice in the mix that came on a little too strong at first. I can't quite place it, and the ingredients list is no help. It just says “spices.” Whatever it is, I think they added a bit too much. But I got used to it quickly.

I was enjoying it so much, in fact, that I ate three quarters of the pasta before I remembered that it comes with ground red pepper. After adding a quarter of the pepper packet and taking another bite, I was glad I'd put it off. The pepper adds heat to the dish, but it’s a bland heat that does nothing for the flavor. In fact, it actually masks the excellent blend of spices. If you drew this MRE, I think you’re better off leaving the pepper out. You can always trade it, or throw it into the eyes of those who would dare steal your fire.

Course 2
Corn Nuggets (what the fuck are corn nuggets?)
Carbohydrate Electrolyte Beverage Powder, Grape

MRE Menu 23, corn nuggets

Seriously, what the fuck is a corn nugget?

Opening the pouch, I see that they’re Corn Nuts. "Corn Nuggets" are corn nuts. Yeah, I like corn nuts. Corn Nuts are pretty tasty.

Uuuuntil you try to eat 57 grams of them. Do you see the size of that pouch up there? There’s a reason corn nuts in the store come in itty bitty packages. It's because it's crazy to eat 57 fucking grams of them. I managed to get through about a third of the package before setting the rest aside for later. By the time I (temporarily) gave up, the once-yummy corn nuts began to taste like wads of old fryer oil.

I will eat them eventually, since I make it a rule to eat everything in the MRE, but I'm going to space them out to avoid any further Corn Nut burnout.

The beverage is a Gatorade clone, and tastes exactly how you'd expect a Gatorade clone to taste.

Course 3
Vanilla Pudding Dessert Powder
I SWEAR THERE'S GUM (still not pictured)

MRE Menu 23, vanilla pudding

Now we’re talking!

With water and some vigorous shaking, the dessert powder thickens up into a nice pudding. It’s damn tasty, with a nice heady vanilla flavor and just the right level of sweetness. It reminds me of the Jell-O pudding I had when I was little. Delicious! It makes for an excellent end to a pretty damn good MRE.

Also, there's gum. I swear I will make a serious effort to take a picture of the gum, next time.

*  *  *

If you found this little romp enjoyable, check out my other MRE reviews:

Fresh Hardtack
3-Month-Old Hardtack
Menu 16, Pork Rib
Menu 22, Sloppy Joe
Menu 14, Ratatouille (Vegetarian)
Menu 15, Southwest Beef and Beans
Menu 8, Marinara Sauce with Meatballs
Menu 20, Spaghetti with Beef and Sauce 
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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