Wednesday, August 28, 2013

MRE Review: Menu 8, Marinara Sauce with Meatballs

Uncle Sam Says Garden
Getting soldiers, sailors, and marines to eat their rations is not as easy as you might think. Well, for soldiers and marines, anyway. Getting sailors to eat is as easy as serving food that actually tastes good. Crazy concept, but it works.

For the rest, under-consumption was a major problem in the first decade after MRE introduction, but a problem that went unnoticed by the top brass. Then, in 1990, Iraq invaded Kuwait, hundreds of thousands of American troops were flown off to remote stations guarding the Saudi-Kuwaiti border, and the ration issue came to a head. Stuck in these desert outposts, without regular resupply, troops had to subsist on nothing but MREs for months at a time.

It was now impossible to ignore the MRE problem, because high-ranking officers were eating them alongside the enlisted men and women. I mean, it’s one thing when Lance Corporal Nobody is complaining about the food, but when you've got battalion commanders trying to choke down a rubbery omelet that tastes like warmed over ass? That, my friend, is a problem that gets attention.

Colin Powell
This kind of attention.

Suddenly, after years spent ignoring it, the MRE issue shot up the chain of command faster than a Patriot Missile flying right past a SCUD. No less than Colin Powell himself decided to become personally involved. According to legend, Powell was so pissed that he summoned the guy in charge of MREs (whose name I cannot find, probably because it was erased from historical records when they exiled him to McMurdo Station, Antarctica) directly to Washington. The unfortunate wretch was ushered into a conference room where Powell sat waiting for him. When he tried to take a seat, Powell reportedly stopped him and said, “No, don’t sit. I only have two words for you: FIX IT.”

And then the poor bitch had to think about all the ways he'd failed his country, on the longest return flight of his entire life. I mean, I don't know about you, but if Colin Powell summoned me all the way to Washington, to say only two words to me? I'm pretty sure I would soil myself. Unless, of course, those two words were, “Marry me.”

(BTW, Colin, if you're reading this? The answer is yes, but only if you’ll wear the glasses to bed.)

And so, finally, the problem of troops not eating their MREs was carefully examined. A scientific report (Marriott et al., “Not Eating Enough”, Committee on Military Nutrition Research, Institute of Medicine) identified three primary reasons for under-consumption:
  1. The food is shit
  2. Field conditions are not conducive to eating
  3. People are fucking stupid
I’m paraphrasing, of course. The actual language of the report was more like, “A Wilcoxon signed-rank test of the nonparametric data set (with Gaussian process regression bootstrapping) indicates that people are fucking stupid (p=0.00068).

We’ll dive deeper into the findings of that study in future reviews. For now, let’s take a look at Menu 8, Marinara Sauce with Meatballs.

MRE Review: Menu 8, Marinara Sauce with Meatballs Overwrap

There’s the package, with a quarter and the finest disposable pen ever crafted by humanity, the Uni Jetstream, for size comparison. The latter would work great as a scale comparison, if it wasn't the exact same color as the surface it's on. Oops.

Here’s what you get:

MRE Review: Menu 8, contents

Let’s start with the entree.

Course 1
Marinara Sauce with Meatballs
Beverage Base: Raspberry

MRE Review: Menu 8, Marinara Sauce with Meatballs

Crap, it’s another MRE without coffee. I guess the idea is that, if you get this menu but you like coffee, you can trade with someone else for it. But what about me? What about the plight of the caffeine-less civilian MRE reviewer, sitting safe at home and risking nothing, while condescending to pass judgement on others? They never think of my needs.

Aaaanyway. I’m going to classify the mayo as a condiment, and not hold myself to finishing all of it, as is my rule for other menu items. My logic here is threefold: 1) It’s fat-free, so the calorie contribution to the menu is almost zero. 2) I have no idea what it's supposed to go with. 3) If you think I'm eating a tube of mayo by itself, you're fucking crazy.

After heating the meatballs and sauce, I ate a spoonful straight from the pouch. Mmmm! These are delicious. Do you remember when you were little, eating Franco-American meatballs straight from the can, in the grimy kitchen of the heroine den where your mom lived, on the one weekend per month that she was permitted custody of you? Well, this tastes exactly like that. It’s fantastic. The meatballs are tender and crumbly, and they've really soaked in that wonderful, tangy, slightly-sweet marinara sauce. It takes me back to the halcyon days of my childhood.

Spaghetti and meatballs in a crack den
Franco-American canned meatballs.
The brand that drug-addled moms trust!TM

As much as I love eating this straight from the pouch, I tried dumping some on a tortilla and adding seasoning and mayo. Why? Because it’s my job to suffer for the pleasure of you ingrates.

The combination (pictured below) didn't taste as bad as I was expecting. It was pretty good, actually, but I still prefer it the way mom used to make: by heating the can on an open range until it bulges, then opening the lid with repeated stabs from a pocket knife, while cursing.

Mayo on meatballsI will grant the seasoning packet some credit, however. It went very well with the sauce, so I dumped the remaining seasoning into the meatballs and mixed it in. It was awesome. When I was done with the meatballs, I finished off the remaining one and a half tortillas by scraping them across the bottom of the retort pouch, sopping up the last of the marinara sauce.

Yum! I'm loving this menu so far.

Course 2 (a.k.a. Dessert Course A)
Cherry Blueberry Cobbler

MRE Review: Menu 8, Cherry Blueberry Cobbler

As you'll soon see, the entree and the tortillas are the only non-sugary items in this MRE. It’s weird. I’m going with the Cherry Blueberry Cobbler for the next course, since it’s the most hearty of the remaining items.

You might not believe it, but this cobbler is famous. Before even trying this menu, I'd read articles about how great the cobbler is. It received incredibly high ratings from the test group, and the folks at Natick were very proud of it. Let’s see if it lives up to the hype…


It's delicious. Absolutely delicious. The tartness really pops out, and there's just the right amount of sweetness. The cherries are definitely the dominant flavor, but the blueberries aren't just a side show. They add a mellow under-taste of fruity goodness, meshing well with the other flavors. This is, without a doubt, the best cobbler I've ever eaten out of an aluminum pouch.

Of course, cobbler is just generally fantastic, so this was not unexpected. Cobbler is like pie, but without the boring shit. It's the perfect dessert.

Course 3 (a.k.a. Dessert Course B)
Cookies with Pan Coated Chocolate Discs (ta' fuck?)
Vanilla Dairy Shake
MRE Review: Menu 8, Cookie

Ah. "Pan Coated Chocolate Discs" are a generic version of mini-M&M’s. I guess the name makes sense, since M&M's are chocolate discs coated with a crispy layer of pan.

Now, look at that picture, will you? It's not unusual for snacks to come out of an MRE in pieces, but is there any way to reassemble the pieces pictured above into an a single, whole cookie? I don’t think so. Even if you gathered up all the crumbs to fill in the missing spaces, you only have like 2/3rds of a cookie here. There's a huge section over on the right side that's completely missing, and the crumbs don't have nearly enough volume to fill it. I spent fifteen minutes trying to put Humpty back together again, with no joy. Absolutely no joy to speak of! What the hell happened to the rest of this cookie?

It's a pretty tasty fraction of a cookie, though. A little dry and powdery, but not bad. You’ll be disappointed if you prefer chewy or crispy cookies, but I, gentle reader, am a lover of all cookies. That's why I'm asking you to be on the lookout for the other third of this one. If you find it, please send it to me, so it can be with the other two thirds.

The dairy shake, on the other hand, is pure, concentrated nasty. The taste is gross and the texture is like snot-water. Imagine drinking skim milk thickened with potato starch and butter, and you'll understand what I'm going through.

Ugh. I'm getting it down, gulp by gulp, but it's so disgusting. There's a small but growing chance that I'll throw up in a minute. This is what happens when the second ingredient in your powdered shake mix is “Partially hydrogenated soybean oil”. Seriously, the second fucking ingredient is chemically thickened vegetable oil. How is that even a milkshake? You can't add processed fat to powdered milk and call it a milkshake. It needs a new name, like "fat glob shake" or "garbage sauce."

Speaking of which, this putative dairy shake has 4 FUCKING GRAMS of trans fat. Four grams of trans fat in one damn milkshake. I could have eaten an entire three ounce fish plank at Long John Silver's, for that allowance of trans fat. I know that doesn't sound like a lot of fish, but it's three ounces of heaven, compared to a brimming pouch full of hell.

Course 4 (a.k.a. Dessert Course C)
Tootsie Rolls

MRE Review: Menu 8, Tootsie Rolls

Now they're throwing candy at me. I mean, they're Tootsie Rolls. Under normal conditions, I would never complain about Tootsie Rolls. Tootsie Rolls are awesome.

Under normal conditions.

But between the cobbler, cookie, and shake (which was sugary, albeit awful) this MRE was already as sweet as Josh Hutcherson's ass (see gratuitous photo, at right.) An extra dose of candy, coming on top of that, is just too much.

This menu is like Josh Hutcherson going on a date with you, because he's secretly attracted to women who've read the Star Trek The Next Generation Technical Manual from cover to cover (IT COULD HAPPEN,) but then you get him back to your love-nest/sex-dungeon and you discover that he has three asses. You'd be horrified.

And so, with great sadness, I must declare this MRE menu—which began in such fiery glory—to be merely average. It was three fine asses crammed together onto one Josh Hutcherson, and that's just two asses too many.


If you liked this article, check out my other MRE reviews:

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 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)

And if you didn't like this article, please recommend it to all your friends, as an example of things you dislike.

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