Wednesday, June 26, 2013

MRE Review: Menu 14, Ratatouille (Vegetarian)

Originally, there were no vegetarian MRE options. Because who gives a crap if people who are different than me starve to death in the field, amiright? The U.S. Military: Okay but Not Great at Keeping Our Troops Alive, Since 1775.

Finally, in 1996, the Pentagon expanded the selection with not one but two vegetarian menus: Cheese Tortellini and Pasta with Vegetables. Half-starved vegetarians rejoiced, but they were in for a nasty surprise: when they went into the field, the veggie MREs were already gone.

Where did they go?
Into the bellies of carnivores. Reportedly, those two menus were actually palatable, something which set them apart from other MREs of the day. Clever meat-eaters realized they could pretend to have religious dietary restrictions and be guaranteed an edible meal. Better to lie about your religion than to roll the dice and risk getting a rancid "Tuna with Noodles" or the dreaded "Smokey Franks" (a.k.a. The Four Fingers of Death.)

With an average of 6 self-reported Buddhists, 2 Hindus, and 1 Taoist Monk in every 9-man rifle squad, the limited supply of veggie menus didn’t hold out very long. Legitimately vegetarian troops promptly let out a wheezing groan and passed out from malnutrition.

The Pentagon has since introduced Halal and Kosher menus for exclusive distribution to troops with documented dietary restrictions, but I’m told that, as recently as 2010, the false vegetarian problem hadn’t gone away. Non-coms have had to come up with creative solutions, such as… err… punishing the whole company whenever anyone requests a vegetarian MRE, whether they’re faking their dietary restrictions or not.

Yeah, because the one Wiccan guy in the company isn't getting hazed enough already.

Which brings us to today’s review: The Ham Slice.

MRE  Menu 14, Ratatouille (Vegetarian) Overwrap

Just kidding. Just kidding. Today we’re reviewing Menu 14, Vegetarian Ratatouille. From everything I’ve heard about the quality of veggie MREs, I have high hopes for this menu. Let’s dig in!

MRE  Menu 14, Ratatouille (Vegetarian) Contents

Hey look, matches! I’m a little surprised that they put matches in this one. I mean, let’s face it, this is kind of a hippy menu. If it were me, I’d only put matches in the Red Meat and Football MRE, so you could be sure the secret of fire stayed in trustworthy hands.

Course 1
Diario Instant Coffee with Creamer

MRE  Menu 14, Ratatouille (Vegetarian)

Oh boy, here we go! One of the fabled vegetarian MREs! A nice, hearty ratatouille stew. This is gonna be good!

I can't wait!

I’m taking my first bite…

Holy shit, this is fucking awful!

It's absolute garbage. Rancid, warmed over garbage. This is, without a doubt, the worst entrĂ©e I’ve ever had in an MRE. WHAT. THE. FUCK. MAN. This is not the rare delicacy I was promised.

The vegetables are limp, soggy, and tasteless—boiled until the last hint of flavor has either leached out or been cooked to death. The texture is downright disgusting. It's like thickened snot with squishy threads running through it. Have you ever had canned asparagus or spinach? It’s like that but much, much worse.

The dominant taste is dull bitterness. It resembles the bland undertaste of a bell pepper, if you surgically removed all the sharp, peppery taste. The other flavors are just a medley of boiled and strained vegetables. Seriously, why would someone do that? Boiling and straining is the neutron bomb of vegetable cookery. It kills flavors and leaves buildings standing.

Although, now that I think of it, a neutron bomb doesn't actually work like that. It's a myth. So boiling and straining is WORSE than a neutron bomb. In, you know, the category of cooking.

I dumped the seasoning packet in there and it produced a slight improvement. Now it tastes like snot and grass clippings, with seasoning added. This is a huge disappointment.

I don't think they couldn’t have made this menu worse if they set out to sabotage the flavor on purpose.

Sabotage… the flavor.


Holy crap! Are you thinking what I'm thinking?

You don't think they actually set out to sabotage this menu, do you? I mean, no one's going to ask for a vegetarian meal if they intentionally make it taste like shit.

This may be a conspiracy that reaches to the highest levels of military food preparation.

Course 2
Peanut Butter
MRE  Menu 14, crackers

Well, this is better. It’s crackers and peanut butter, a dish that will never go out of style. I have only one complaint: it’s smooth peanut butter, not chunky.

Why do people continue to consume smooth, decades after the invention of chunky?

I don’t understand the world.

Course 3
Baked Snack Crackers (Hot & Spicy Cheddar Flavor)
Lemon-Lime Flavored No-Fruit Juice

MRE  Menu 14, Cheese-Its

"Baked Snack Crackers" are Cheese-Its.

They came out mostly crushed, but that’s only to be expected in an MRE. They really pack the components in tight.

The drink mix is another Kool-Aid clone, this time in "no-fruit lemon-lime" flavor, which is my favorite flavor of no-fruit.

All considered, a pretty nice snack. It certainly helped me to recover from my earlier trauma.

Course 4
Pangea Almond Poppy Seed Pound Cake
MRE  Menu 14, Almond Poppy Seed Pound Cake

Seriously, menu 14? Poppy seeds? As if this menu wasn’t hippy enough already, now they’re adding drug ingredients. I’m surprised this menu doesn’t come with a protest sign. I bet the noncoms have to keep an eye on whoever gets this one, so they don't form a commune right there in the bivouac.

Security concerns aside, though, this is a pretty fantastic dessert.

The cake is surprisingly fluffy and moist, adjectives that you don’t often hear in reference to an MRE. It’s damn tasty, too—a very light and very flavorful cake. Not too sweet, either. I'd be happy to get it at a coffee shop or a diner. It's that tasty.

And so ends the vegetarian MRE debacle. If I had it to do over again, I'd eat the snacks and use the ratatouille to grow edible mushrooms.


Like this review? Check out the others!

Fresh Hardtack
3-Month-Old Hardtack
Menu 16, Pork Rib
Menu 22, Sloppy Joe
Menu 23, Pasta in Pesto
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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