Wednesday, July 31, 2013

MRE Review: Menu 15, Southwest Beef and Beans

Kitchen Waste Pig Food

In a previous review, we sat down and had an awkward talk about where MRE's come from. (Remember, kids: the only surefire way to avoid buying a civilian MRE is to wait until you're married to someone who works in the packaging plant.) Now let's dive into the contentious issue of whether an MRE's nutritional value begins at conception.

Combat Feeding Initiative Dept of DefenseMeal Ready to Eat (MRE) R&D takes place at the Department of Defense (DoD) Combat Feeding Directorate (CFD) at the Army Soldier Research, Development, and Engineering Center (NSRDEC) in Natick, MA.

In other news, Pentagon bureaucrats now being paid by the acronym.

Candidate menu items are developed by food science chefs and designed to meet nutritional guidelines provided by the Surgeon General. Whatever dishes the chefs come up are first evaluated in the food lab by “sensory panelists" who, I'd like to think, are moderated by Dana Carvey playing John McLaughlin. Anything that makes it past the panelists is then submitted to a full field test and sampled by actual soldiers, sailors, and marines.

Field testers eat and rate new menu items on a scale of 1 to 9, but the evaluation doesn't end with the survey. After the taste-testers leave, researchers pick through the trash to see what they threw out, uneaten. Anything that's been tossed too much gets washed from the program.

Then taste-test results are analyzed. To be considered for adoption into an MRE menu, an item must rate an average taste-test score of 6 or above. A high-rated item doesn't automatically get in, however. Ratings for candidate dishes are compared to ratings for existing items. The CFD writes a report recommending that the lowest rated items on the existing menus be replaced by the highest-rated items from the new stuff.

Other factors come into play, of course. You can’t, for example, replace a high-fat entrée with a high-carb entrée, without reshuffling the other items in the menu. Nutritional balance has to be maintained. There are also efforts to get rid of items with trans fats, and add more items with whole grain. Unfortunately, perishability and palatability requirements are making that into a slow process.

Once a recommendation report has been made, it gets kicked over to the Joint Services Operational Rations Forum (JSORF,) which meets annually to make the final decision on changes to the MRE lineup. However, that "final" decision is not necessarily final. The Office of the Surgeon General (OTSG) must review and approve all changes, and has the power to reject new items out of hand.

Defense Logistics Agency
It doesn't even end there. Once the deciders have decided and the approvers have approved, the recipes and menus are given to the Operational Rations Division of Defense Logistics Agency – Troop Support (DLA-TS). They handle the logistics of funneling diverse food supplies to the three big MRE suppliers (Ameriqual, Sopakco, and Wornick) for integration, packaging, and assembly.

And then, finally, the big day comes. A perfect little MRE, taste-tested and nutritionally sound, comes into the world. Then it's torn open and eaten by people with guns.



Today’s MRE is Menu 15: Southwest Style Beef and Black Beans with Sauce (MRE M15 SWSB&BBwS).

MRE Review: Menu 15, Southwest Beef and Beans Overwrap

Okay, enough with the acronym shit. Here’s everything you get:

MRE Review: Menu 15, contents

Check it out, this is the third MRE in a row that comes with matches. Clearly, the universe is trying to tell me something: that I should light myself on fire.

Course 1
Diario Coffee with non-dairy creamer
Southwest Style Beef and Black Beans with Sauce
Uhh, Cheese Spread, I guess?

MRE Review: Menu 15, Southwest Beef and Beans

Once again, I don’t know what the fuck the Cheese Spread is supposed to go with. Seriously, there’s spread but nothing to spread it on. So let's see if we can fit cheese spread into this course, somehow. If we can't make it work, we'll carry the cheese into the next course.

I first sampled the beef and beans on their own. They’re nice and hearty, with big chunks of beef, corn, tomatoes, etc. The blend of spices in the sauce is good, but the beef is pretty bland. I don’t think it was ever properly marinated, and it’s too thick to really soak up the sauce. That said, I'm not unhappy with the combination. Despite its flaws, it's still pretty good.

I tried to kick it up with a little red pepper powder, but all it added was heat with no flavor. If anything, it masked some of the flavor of the item. Seriously, pepper powder in MRE's is so fucking useless. I wish they’d ditch the powder entirely and just use pepper sauce, which has a nice, flavorful kick.

I spooned the beef and beans onto one tortilla, but the tortillas are kind of crap and it just ruined the good qualities of the entrée. Pepper powder, of course, didn't help. Nor did cheese spread, so I just ate the rest of the beef and beans with the spoon.

It was good, but that leaves me with one shitty tortilla and almost an entire tube of cheese spread, damn it. The tortilla is even drier than the usual wheat snack, and it has a very elastic texture. Seriously, the texture is like eating stale gum. Stale gum with cheese spread on it. Fuck.

Still, the taste isn’t objectionable. It hardly has any taste at all, so it’s not too hard to scarf down.

Course 2
Mexican Style Rice
More cheese spread?

MRE Review: Menu 15, Mexican Rice

This rice is like a Jay Leno monologue: bland but inoffensive.

I suspect they intentionally underspice the "ethnic" dishes, so as not to overwhelm the palates of anethnic persons. I didn't even bother trying to fix it with the red pepper powder. You hear that, red pepper powder? You won't fool me again.

And, while I’m sure the cheese spread isn’t going to do anything to boost the flavor on this item, I just don’t know what else to try it with. So I’m going to put a dollop of cheese on a spoonful of rice and see how it tastes. Who knows, maybe it’ll go together?


Grumpy Cat Nope Nope Nope Nope

That was a bad idea. Holy crap. That was a horrible, horrible idea. The combination of this rice and that cheese spread tastes unnervingly bad.

So why did I just try combining them again? Just to confirm that I didn’t imagine that taste disaster, I guess.

So why did I just try it a third time?

Because, deep down, I thoroughly loathe myself.

Course 3
Nacho Cheese Pretzels
Beverage Base Powder Lemon Lime
More fucking cheese spread?!

jMRE Review: Menu 15, Combos

The beverage base is a Kool-Aid clone and the “nacho cheese pretzels” are…

Aw, fuck me, they’re Combos.

And they’re gross. Combos are shit. They are fucking gross. There, I said it.

Fuck Combos, and fuck you for not hating Combos with the same white-hot passion with which I fucking hate Combos. Seriously, eating Combos is like consuming the week-old feces of a dysenteric orangutan. I’ve never eaten more than one Combo at a sitting before, because just one was always enough to convince me of two things:

1)    I didn’t want any more
2)    There is no God

But maybe, just maybe, this leftover cheese spread will improve the flav… HOLY SHIT THE CHEESE SPREAD ACTUALLY MAKES IT WORSE. I honestly did not think that would be physically possible, but the abomination of nature I just ate tasted like the week-old feces of a dysenteric orangutan that’s been eaten by a gangrenous dog and then vomited up in a bloody, hairy lump of mucus and ape shit.

Fuck Combos, and fuck Combos with Cheese Spread.

And yeah, I finished them. That's my rule when I review MRE's, and I follow it, damn it. I ate every motherfucking Combo in the entire motherfucking package. That’s how much dedication I have to this stupid project. I HOPE YOU'RE FUCKING HAPPY, THE INTERNET.

The only positive thing I have to say about eating an entire package of Combos is that, toward the end, they became slightly less offensive as my taste buds withered and died.

Course 4
Just what the hell is this cheese spread supposed to go on?

MRE Review: Menu 15 cheese

I finished the last of the cheese spread by sucking it straight out of the tube. What the hell else am I supposed to do with it? Use it as sunscreen?

Apparently there’s no acronym for combining food items in a rational manner.

It’s called fusion, Combat Feeding Directorate. Look it up.

P.S. There's your fucking gum picture. I hope you're happy.


Did you like this article? Huh? Did you? Then you can find my other fucking MRE reviews here:

Fresh Hardtack
3-Month-Old Hardtack
Menu 16, Pork Rib
Menu 22, Sloppy Joe
Menu 23, Pasta in Pesto
Menu 14, Ratatouille (Vegetarian)
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)

Read them all and then get out.

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