I’m gonna take a second and step out of the artfully lit and the carefully curated. Fold up the pleasantries, pocket the logic and the discerning, to talk to you about something that, if recruiters can be believed, only about 1% of the nation really gets up to their waist in. I want to talk you about a bag of What-in-the-righteous-fuck-is-that. Little something called an MRE.
I want to start this with a few disclaimers. I’m not trashing the military. I’m a proud member of the National Guard and in my short service I’ve found myself in the company of truly good men and women who are out there doing a shit job and putting their whole back into it for some terrible pay and mediocre benefits.
A good deal of the statements made here, are gleaned from personal experiences and interviews conducted with battle hardened badasses as we all sat in a circle on a dirt floor eating our lunches out of bags like we were on a third grade field trip and our parents didn’t love us. Alright, let’s get up in there.
When I’m out and about in the City of Seattle, I eat a lot of really, really weird shit. Bugs and reptiles, and ugly ugly fish from dark parts of the ocean. To quote Tom Segura (though he wasn’t talking about food) “If it stinks, put it in my face.” The creation of this blog has done nothing to hinder that predisposition in me. In fact, it’s had the opposite effect. Krishan said, “we should start a food blog.” And I started eating things like a hick whose cousin bet him he wouldn’t. Slippery, chewy, drowned in spices or slicked with the blood they spilled from it, didn’t matter. Every terrible experience was just another thing to write about. So I wandered the streets of Seattle and the surrounding areas on the prowl for oddities, an unflappable trash compactor.
Then drill weekend rolled around and reminded me of where I really stood.
The unit I’m in busses out to a training facility along the Oregon coast about once every 4 months to tighten the bolts on the whole operation and (probably) just to break up the tedium of our usual routine. Everyone gears up and loads their shit into a convoy of Humvees and Transport vehicles and kids point at our line of armored trucks filled with tired looking sons of bitches in hand-me-down army gear and dirty jokes are told and flatulence is released at close quarters, in a 5,000 pound steel can with poor ventilation and everyone is sad.
The facility is an old Army Camp that has a long and illustrious history and also happens to sit directly in the path of a real motherfucker of a tidal wave, should the cascadian subduction zone ever let go. We’re reminded of both of these things EVERY. SINGLE. TIME. that we come here.
A member of Range Control, some surly looking NCO who probably spent the morning in a heavy duty wetsuit trying to catch frothy gray waves in 45 degree water amidst a school of great white sharks, stands up in front of the unit and says, “ This camp has been here since 1927. It was federalized as a serious fighting position against the Japanese in 1940 should they ever decide to make the trek. Lot of serious soldiers came through here, and we trained them all… Oh, and if the ground starts shaking, run guys. Seriously, fucking run. You’re still gonna die, but you’ll die running at least.”
The coast is beautiful in a fitful kind of way, like Courtney Love on a mechanical bull. Heavy wind and slashing rain and the steely grey water slamming into the sand against the backdrop of evergreens. You expect the Goonies to ride a pirate ship up onto the beachhead at any moment.
Anyway, when we’re out there, there isn’t much in the way of dining facilities. There’s a bar that we’re usually not allowed to go to because it’s bad press for the unit when someone passes out on the jukebox or gets choked out in the bathroom. There’s also Post Exchange which has the same accoutrements as an AmPm, which is to say, sweaty meats beneath a heat lamp. But when you’re in the midst of actual training, you aren’t afforded that opportunity. Which leaves you to the old Military standby and, at long last, the subject of this post: The MRE.
An MRE, or Meal Ready to Eat, is essentially a grown-up lunchable. It’s got meals of different varieties, packed into individually sealed bags. Each meal usually has a heating source, a protein source, some kind of carb, a beverage packet full of powder that you’re supposed to add water to, some condiments, and a dessert. I’ve heard it said that each MRE contains somewhere in the area of 1300 calories, which is good for when you’re running around in the middle of nowhere, unsure of when you’re going to eat next and someone is shooting at you.
The meals available are as numerous as they are unusually assembled. A good example of this was the one pictured below. The Beef Taco:
It contained beef filling (obviously), tortillas (cant have a taco without those), a spice packet (love my spices), Peanut Butter (what’s that now?) and blackberry jelly (oh, so fuck me huh?). Why? Why peanut butter and jelly? Who is filling that bag up at the factory, going, well you can’t have a taco without peanut butter and jelly. What kind of methed-out Willy Wonka bullshit is that? Assuming that there was no fucking way that they just gave me peanut butter and jelly packets and nothing to put them on, I dug frantically in the bag, looking for crackers or bread or something and found nothing but these little moist sons of bitches.
Yeah, that says Turkey Nuggets. Whatever the fuck that means. Technically I guess they’re jerky, only moist. I’m talking glistening. Apparently, they’ve been reading my suggestion cards about wanting more diarrhea.
And while we’re on the subject, according to the Sergeants at the unit, a few of whom had been deployed for 15 months to Afghanistan to help tear down a forward operating base and had subsisted on nothing BUT MRE’s for the better part of 4 months, there was no way to get around the inevitable intestinal distress. The trick was, to pick meal variety that would even it out. The Chili Mac, I’m told is a good one. The beef chili inside is a sure fire way to get the runs, however, the bag also contains a mondo sized squeeze packet of velveeta cheese, which, if eaten alone in its entirety is enough to turn your colon into the I-5 on a friday afternoon. Eaten together though, you get harmony. A water slide with fat kid on it.
To the uninitiated, the entire contents of this bag is staggeringly weird. Meat that inexplicably doesn’t need to be refrigerated go bad (god help us), in a bag filled with mostly sugar and sadness. They’re crazy, right down to the instructions. Take this marking on the side of the heating source:
you’re supposed to fill this with water, and then submerge the protein source in it. The water mixes with the chemicals in the bag and they heat up. You’re supposed to keep the whole deal upright so the water doesn’t spill out and scald someone. Pretty straightforward. But what’s this?
“ A rock or something”!? Or something? How many people did they think were starving to death because they couldnt find a rock to lean their food against? Who was proofreading the instructions and decided we were too stupid to puzzle that one out?
“Johnson, we need to be more inclusive about what they can lean these against.”
“ Should we say, ‘lean against a hard surface?”
“No. Make sure to phrase it the same way a seventh grader might describe something he was seeing from a distance.”
“Rock or something?”
Despite the staggering ridiculousness of the food that the most effective armed force on the planet is shoving into its face. It is not without redeeming qualities. Everyone I’ve ever spoken to about them has their favorite. Everyone has a specific bag of nightmares that they’ll fight you for. I, personally, am a sucker for the Vegetaria Lasagna. Complete with a bread like substance and some peanut butter. And when I shovel it down, choking on soggy red beans and half-assed marinara, for a moment, I’m back in basic training. Packed sweaty, bald and always a little scared into some room full of equally shiny, hairless, frightened kids who are putting their whole back into a shit job for terrible pay and mediocre benefits.
Also, here’s another little something-something to enjoy. It’s related in only the vaguest of sense and ridiculous in all the other ones.