Wednesday, November 20, 2013

MRE Review: Menu 13, Tortellini Vegetarian

Corn: The Food of the Nation
You’ll recall that we've been exploring the problem of under-consumption in early MRE’s. According to a scientific report, the top three reasons for troops not cleaning their plates were:
  1. The food was shit
  2. Field conditions are not conducive to eating
  3. People are fucking stupid
We've already tackled the first two, so let’s finish this sucker off, Thanksgiving style, with an essay I like to call…

Dude? People Are Fucking Stupid

Expectation plays a large role in the perception of food quality. The Pentagon researchers quantified this by giving two groups of soldiers the exact same meal under controlled conditions, then asking them to rate it.

Unbeknownst to the test subjects, their non-commissioned officers were in on the experiment. In one group, the NCOs were told to praise the food as they ate. In the other, the NCOs did nothing but complain about it. And remember, it was the exact same meal. The only difference was whether Sarge raved or railed.

Lo and behold, soldiers were heavily influenced by the opinions of their NCOs.

The researchers also discovered that, even among civilians, the perceived quality of military rations rated only slightly above airplane food. They'd never eaten an MRE, they'd never seen an MRE, they didn't even know what was in an MRE, but they knew it was crap.

This effect went further than rations, too. It extended to food in the mess hall—even commercial, prepackaged items that aren't prepared by the military. On average, survey participants even thought that a can of soda would taste worse if it was served by the military. Because, sure, I guess this mess hall can of Pepsi is okay, but it's not nearly as good as the cans of Pepsi that mom used to make.

Put these two findings together, and you’re got a problem. They mean that our troops are letting girly little feelings affect their attitude toward military food. But does that translate into lower MRE consumption? After all, when you're hungry, you're hungry, right?

To answer that question, three groups of randomly selected front-line soldiers were given pudding.

Yeah. I had to read that section of the report three times before I believed it. Even now, I can’t shake the feeling that it was all just a wonderful dream I had. I envision a gristled Army Ranger coming in from the Kuwaiti desert, his face specked with blood:

     "It wasn't easy out there, Sir. They just didn't want to give up those 88's."
     "It was a tough assignment. That's why you got it."
     "Yes, it was."
     "I got another one for you."
     "Yes, Sir."
     "This one's straight from the top."
     [nerving himself] "Yes, Sir."
     "Son, I'm sorry. You have to eat this bowl of delicious pudding."
     [sweating, shaking] "But, but, Sir... I have a wife and kids at home."
     "I know, but we're all in the shit now. Welcome to Operation Dessert Storm."

So anyway, pudding. Each group of professional combat soldiers was given the exact same pudding in either plain bowls, military-khaki colored bowls, or MRE-style foil pouches. The results were astounding. While the group with the plain bowls ate an average of 250 grams of pudding, the other two groups ate only 175 grams. That’s 75 grams of pudding that our hardened defenders of freedom can never get back.

Think about that, America. Think about it.

The researchers didn't report on whether the fussy, low-pudding soldiers were also more likely to act up at naptime, but it seems probable.

Apart from a tragic waste of 75 grams of perfectly good pudding per soldier, this experiment was a fantastic success. It revealed that you could get soldiers to eat more just by switching the container to something less military-looking.

And so, the following changes were made:
  • The color of MRE inner pouches was changed from khaki green to... light green
  • The outer sleeve was changed from dark brown to... uh, tan
  • They put fancy printed graphics on it.
Laugh if you will, but it totally worked. Consumption went up.

Because, dude? People are fucking stupid.

Today’s MRE is Menu 13: Cheese Tortellini Vegetarian.

MRE Review: Menu 13, Tortellini Vegetarian Overwrap

Let’s see what we have here…

MRE Review: Menu 13, Tortellini Vegetarian: Contents

I’m a little uneasy about this one. The vegetarian menus are supposed to be the best, but the last one was a fucking disaster. Well, let’s get to it…

Course 1
Cheese Tortellini in Tomato Sauce
Beverage Base Raspberry

MRE Review: Menu 13, Tortellini Vegetarian

Okay, this one’s kind of a mixed bag. The tortellini themselves are quite good. The cheese is flavorful but not overbearing, and the pasta tastes fresh. I would compare the tortellini to refrigerator-section pastas in the supermarket. Not the best pasta you've ever eaten, but not too shabby.

Where the dish falls flat is in the sauce. It’s too sweet, and at the same time incredibly bland. It’s not unpalatable, it just has nothing going for it.

After a few bites, I dumped in the packet of salt-free seasoning. It helped a little, but the forces of blandness just had more gumption, and the seasoning ultimately succumbed.  So, for the first time ever, I opened up the salt packet and sprinkled some on.

The result? It tasted like bland sauce with salt in it.

I have no idea why I thought that would work.

Anyway, the vegetarian entrees are now zero for two. I'm beginning to suspect that people who complain about "vegetarians getting the best MREs" are just full of shit.

Course 2
Chunky Peanut Butter

MRE Review: Menu 13, crackers

The earlier vegetarian MRE also had crackers and peanut butter in it. I can see why. It’s a good way to include a lot of protein without having to kill anything with a face. Well, I guess Mr. Peanut has a face, but I think they use a different strain of nut for making peanut butter.

At least this time it’s crunchy peanut butter. Last time it was fucking smooth.

Still, even crunchy peanut butter isn’t the most exciting thing in the world. It’s boring to eat peanut butter and crackers in all these MREs, when that’s what I have for dinner most nights.

Course 3
Chocolate Flavor First Strike Nutritious Energy Bar

MRE Review: Menu 13, First Strike Bar

So, ummm… yeah.

This energy bar looks like… Uhh.

It sort of resembles a, err….

Let’s just say that you shouldn’t eat one of these on the latrine, or people are gonna think you’re one sick motherfucker.

It tastes no worse than any other energy bar I’ve ever eaten, which isn’t saying a lot. It’s not bad, though, and I had no trouble finishing it. Together, the taste and texture remind me of a Krackle bar, but a Krackle bar that's been sent through a machine designed to suck the fun out of things. Like, whatever machine Wil Smith fell into around 1998.

Course 4
Apple Pieces in Spiced Sauce
Carbohydrate Electrolyte Beverage Powder – Lemon-Lime

MRE Review: Menu 13, apple pieces

Huh. I was expecting the spice in the apples to be cinnamon, but it’s not. It’s something else that I can’t quite place. The ingredient list is no fucking help. It just says, “Spices”. Really helpful, assholes. Really fucking helpful.

I mean, not that it wasn’t good. It’s pretty damn tasty. Just unnerving.

The drink is another Gatorade clone.

Course 5
Peanut M&M’s

MRE Review: Menu 13, M&M's

What can I say?

They’re M&M’s. M&M’s are still great. They’re the original pan-coated chocolate discs.

The gum you've seen, but I don't think I've ever described it. It's a couple of Chicklet-shaped pieces of gum, the kind with a crispy, sweet layer on the outside. They're flavored with xylitol, which is indigestible by oral bacteria, so they don't contribute to plaque buildup.

So that's nice.

Overall, not such a bad meal


If you enjoyed this, 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 8, Marinara Sauce with Meatballs
Menu 20, Spaghetti with Beef and Sauce 
Menu 19, Beef Roast
Menu 18, Chicken with Noodles
First Strike Ration Menu 2 (Part 1)
First Strike Ration Menu 2 (Part 2)

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