Tasty! An MRE Review

Because I’ve collected a few MREs (Meals Ready to Eat) and recommend them as a good preparedness item, I thought I should actually try one. For this review I flipped through my MREs and selected one which I thought would be missed the least in the event of an emergency. I chose “Veggie Burger in BBQ Sauce.” Given my co-reviewer’s response to the entrée, I chose correctly. She’s a toddler with very discriminating tastes.

The MRE pouch is water and airtight. It weighs about 1½ lbs. and measures roughly 12x7x2.5 inches. Inside is a whole host of treasure. Here’s what I found:

1. Bag of Sliced Cranberries—A generous portion and tasty. My daughter and I both enjoyed these. Very similar to Craisins with enough to take with you for later.

2. Packet of Iced Tea Drink Mix-Lemon—This drink mix makes 6oz. of very drinkable tea. Good lemon flavor and not overly sweet. Toddler-approved, though I couldn’t tell if it had much caffeine. Coffee would have been preferable on that count.

3. Brownie with Chocolate Chips—The most caloric item in the MRE, the brownie was delicious. No icing, no nuts, just a good-size chocolate patty. Enjoyed by both of us, particularly in light of its pre-entrée spot in the lineup.

4. Vegetable Patty in Barbecue Sauce—I heated this using the included Flameless Ration Heater in about 10 minutes. I am an omnivore and enjoy both veggie burgers and BBQ. This hybrid was passable. My daughter wouldn’t even try it. The burger itself tasted like some of the poorer frozen veggie burgers available out there. The sauce was inoffensive—neither too sweet nor too spicy—but nothing special. The combination would be delicious in an emergency but not something I’d ever crave.

5. Two slices of Wheat Snack Bread—Though I used these to make a sandwich with the veggie burger, my daughter tried it on its own and liked it. If you’re expected soft, fluffy whole wheat bread, you’ll be disappointed, but it’s actually pretty good for what it is. These slices have a similar texture to Pop Tarts but are a little softer, thicker and with more wheat taste. They make for an oddly rigid sandwich but serve their purpose.

6. Flameless Ration Heater (FRH)—These are water activated and simple to use, once you’ve read the directions. Though the warning about flammable hydrogen gas being produced was disconcerting, I had no such problems. They take very little water and only about 10-15 minutes to heat your meal.

7. Spoon—This is your only implement but is sturdy and long-handled. Adequate to get to the bottom of any of the food pouches should you choose to eat them this way.

8. Moist Towelette—Makes sense with the BBQ but I think these are standard in all the MREs.

9. Toilet Paper—What I initially thought was a short stack of small napkins is actually several squares of TP. Anyway, it’s paper, slightly absorbent and has no idea what it’s being used to wipe. Very considerate addition.

10. Packet of Salt—Also works as a shaker type instrument, as my daughter discovered.

11. Bottle of Tabasco—Tiniest bottle I’ve ever seen. I didn’t use it, but I imagine it would be good on a few things and might be a good barter item for real “hot saucers”—you know who you are.

12. Gum—Two Chiclet-type pieces, mint.

13. Book of Matches—For an after-meal smoke, I suppose. Or maybe it goes with the TP. Either way, it was a nice surprise.

Overall, I found this meal to be surprisingly tasty and filling, as did my daughter. The only exception was the entrée, and I suspect most entrée options will be more palatable. This meal had 1200-1300 calories with a good balance of protein, fat, fiber and nutrients. In an emergency, one of these per day would be sufficient to live on for quite awhile. Two a day would be almost luxurious. Though I allowed my daughter to help me with this review, it is good to know that kids would eat an MRE, too, if they needed to.

Military MREs are generally not available to the public but two of the three contracted MRE makers produce civilian versions that are very similar to military issue. They can generally be purchased in cases of 12 and cost anywhere from about $60-90. Shipping can be a bit steep due to weight.

Wherever you buy from, be sure to check the dates. They will generally have a Packed Date and an Inspection Date. The Inspection Date is three years after the Packed Date, but MREs stored in a cool spot should last 5 years. Some stored as long as 10 years and beyond have been found to be perfectly edible but may start to lose some of their nutritional value. Don’t eat them if the pouches are swollen or otherwise suspect.

MREs may not be the most cost-effective way to create “tangible margin” in your life, but they do offer many benefits: 1) Long shelf-life. 2) May be eaten without any prep. 3) Lighter than cans. 4) Good nutritional and caloric value. 5) Variety in each meal. 6) More similar to one’s usual diet than other options, which can be comforting both psychologically and gastrointestinally in times of crisis.

If you can do it, I recommend picking up sufficient MREs for 4-7 days with 1-2 meals per person per day. Just be sure to store them in a cool dry spot, inspect them seasonally and rotate them out as needed (Feast Days!).

For a lower-cost but less flavorful option, you might also try Mainstay Food Ration bars. They are lemon-flavored squares with 400 calories and lots of nutrients each. They come in packs of 3, 6 and 9 and also have a 5-year shelf-life. Though not as appealing as MREs, their compact size makes them great for stowing in a survival kit, glove box, etc.


Building Tangible Margin: Thinking Ahead

As illustrated in “It Can Happen to Me,” disasters and emergencies are becoming commonplace and most people are unprepared. In the event of an emergency, what you think and do beforehand determines, to a large part, whether you are a blessing or a burden to those around you, especially those in your care. Having money in the bank and good insurance are nice, but tangible margin – that which feeds you, quenches your thirst and protects you – can be invaluable.

Before preparing, it is important to consider specific dangers that you could encounter where you live. These may be manmade or natural disasters. Here in Chicago, we face the prospect of blizzards, tornadoes, riots, attacks ranging from targeted bombings to NBC (nuclear, biological or chemical) attacks, nuclear and chemical plant accidents, floods, earthquakes, flu epidemics, etc. Mudslides, hurricanes, tsunamis and volcanoes are not big concerns. You needn’t be pessimistic, but realistically assess what threats you might face.

Now, if you have inherited wealth and have time to spend pursuing whatever you please, you might choose to prepare for each eventuality. First, you’ll need a lead-lined concrete safe room underground to protect you from nukes and tornadoes. Make sure you install bilge pumps to keep it from flooding and air filters to keep out the bird flu, anthrax and sarin gas. You’ll want a large arsenal to defend your years’ worth of food and your own well so you don’t have to drink the cholera-infested city water. You may need to evacuate at some point, too, so you should consider an armored Range Rover to take you to your fortified cabin in rural Wisconsin where you’ll live out your days on your private lake as the rest of the world comes down around you.

For the rest of us, I’m going to make suggestions based on modest means. Getting the essentials in place should not break the bank. It can be done in stages, and you can always upgrade down the line if you choose. If the choice is between a custom-made knife for $300 or a $30 knife and a week’s worth of MREs and water for your family, it’s no contest in my mind.

The recommendation has been that you should have three days’ worth of necessities to be ready for an emergency. The theory was that government services would not be out of commission any longer than that. If you could take care of yourself for three days, FEMA/National Guard/Red Cross/etc. would be there on day four with the aid you need. After the tragedy of Hurricane Katrina, I suggest that preparing for four days (96 hours) is the minimum and a week or more is a good idea.

Take the time to contemplate some possible scenarios you could encounter and the likelihood of each. In upcoming entries, we will look at steps you can take for sheltering in place and for evacuating.


Abortion & the Loophole Exception

Yesterday, the Governor of South Dakota signed legislation that would ban abortions except those to save the life of the mother. Planned Parenthood, the sole abortion provider in South Dakota (and the largest in the U.S.), has promised a court battle and lesser abortion proponents have decried the lack of exceptions in this law. The exceptions we typically hear about are for cases of rape and incest and for the life and/or health of the mother. Did you know, though, that the first three exceptions—rape, incest, life of the mother—comprise less than 5% (possibly much less) of the nearly 1.3 million abortions performed each year in the U.S.?

The most staunch abortion proponents know that most Americans oppose most abortions. Even many who identify themselves as “pro-choice” support abortion only in the small percentage of exceptional cases but feel that any infringement on this supposed right will endanger women. Though some states have minor restrictions on abortion (the S.D. bill doesn’t go into effect until July, if at all), the fact of the matter is that we have abortion on demand through all nine months of pregnancy in the U.S. Read that last sentence again.

Let’s look at that fourth exception—the “health of the mother” exception. What does it really mean? Anything you want it to. The meaning of rape, incest and life of the mother are obvious. To many these exceptions sound reasonable (though I’d argue only for the last for reasons I won’t get into here), but this “health of the mother” exception sounds pretty reasonable, too. It’s not. It allows restrictions on abortions to be circumvented A legislature may pass a law banning all abortions except those in these rare instances and if a “health of the mother” exception is forced upon them, any reason from not wanting to look fat in a swimsuit (mental distress) to genuine concerns about one’s health can be used to invoke the “health of the mother” exception and legally get an abortion. Something to keep in mind in the next couple years as the Supreme and other courts continue to take on the issue of abortion. Stay tuned…


Building Tangible Margin: "It Can Happen to Me"

In the spring of 1992, riots broke out in Los Angeles following the release of video showing L.A. cops beating Rodney King. Millions of dollars in damage from fires and looting was done to homes and businesses. Numerous people were injured. Dozens were murdered.

In January 1998, eastern Canada was hit by an ice storm that coated everything in 3-4 inches of ice. Four million people were without power, some for as long as a month in more remote areas. Travel was nearly impossible. Twenty eight people died and almost 1,000 were injured. Over $5 billion in damages were done.

On September 11th, 2001, we all know what happened. Aside from the immediate destruction at the World Trade Center and Pentagon, several square miles were made uninhabitable for the short-term and a massive evacuation was undertaken of a portion of NYC. All air traffic in the U.S. was grounded. Over 3,000 died.

In August 2005, Hurricane Katrina pummeled the Gulf Coast causing widespread destruction and displacing tens of thousands of people. Lawlessness ran rampant for a time immediately following the storm as unprepared local, state and federal officials struggled to cope with the disaster. Over 1,800 died and many remain missing.

In November 2005, several thousand Chinese were evacuated when a chemical plant explosion poured benzene into the river that was their primary source of drinking water.

I could go on and on, but I hope you will agree that “It can happen to me.” Natural and manmade disasters are commonplace, and the world is a dangerous place and becoming more so. This is not exclusively a preparedness blog, but I will harp on it a bit. Few are prepared and, in the event of an emergency/disaster, you’re either going to be a blessing or a burden to those around you and in your care.

There are several excellent survival/preparedness sites out there, and I will point you to some in the future. For now, please think about your current state of affairs and consider likely threats in your area. This is not a call to fear or paranoia. Building financial margin into one’s life is just plain wise, but $10,000 in savings will not quench your thirst in the midst of an evacuation or feed your children during an extended power outage. Over the next few weeks, I’ll be touching base on this topic and looking at practical things you can do to build tangible margin into your life.



Spray paint is illegal in Chicago, so I'm going to post my mental graffiti here for the world to see. If you're a transfer from the now-defunct Flow site, thank you for your continued interest. If you're new, welcome! My goal here is to entertain you and to challenge both my thinking and yours. Feedback is always welcome. Come, let us sharpen one another. - Another Inkling