Most conversation about the famous MRE (Meal Ready to Eat) rations leads down a path of nostalgia, recalling one’s favorite meals and what they traded for it. Some service members were able to enhance the field fare with creativity, bringing us delights like Ranger Pudding. Many recipes, along with creative uses of MRE packaging, can be found in The Complete Ranger Digest. At some point, someone usually says that they have a case or two stashed away for emergencies. There’s some misconception about the MRE and how practical they are for emergencies.
|The Famous MRE|
First and foremost, MREs aren’t designed for the long-term storage they’re often subjected to in civilian life. They do have a long shelf life (up to 8 years or so) with proper storage conditions, but they’re often removed from active stores after 5 years. Storing them in hot conditions, like an attic or vehicle, can reduce the life to as little as 18 months. They won’t suddenly spoil or become poisonous, but you won’t be happy about eating it.
MREs are intended to solve the logistical problem of feeding people in remote areas. For the military, much of this is related to packaging. There’s no magic in the food preparation that isn’t used in the civilian market. An MRE needs to be relatively lightweight, able to survive parachute drops and being crammed into a rucksack. They produce lighter packaging waste than cans, and a soldier can cram all the empty packaging together and stuff it in his ruck so as not to leave it behind.
Government rations aren’t available on the civilian market through any authorized channel. If you get ahold of them, they’re probably past prime. It’s likely they’re left over from a disaster relief effort or made it home with a veteran. There was quite a stir over a flood of Ebay sales of Katrina leftovers. It’s wise to check the date codes on government rations. Old pretzels taste like varnish, but 20 year old M&M’s are a delicacy.
Everyone needs a chow stash at home in the event of emergency. We’re talking about real emergencies, like weather and power outages, not the varied forms of apocalypse prophesized by the foil-hatters. It’s wise to be able to feed your household for at least a week or so without utilities, and be able to take your stash should there be an evacuation. Portable food is handy for road trips, camping, hunting, and other places where we might want for convenience. You can buy civilian versions of the MRE from government contractors, but beware that sub-standard knock-offs exist. For the average person, there are more efficient, cheaper, and tastier options at your grocery store.
|Chow section of my gear bag.|
Over the last few years of hunting, hiking, and motorcycle trips, I’ve found quite a few alternatives to the MRE rations. Dinty Moore, Pace, Campbells, and Prego offer decent choices in lightweight packaging (bowls or bags) that are a packable alternative to cans. The only downside is that they can’t be heated on an engine like cans or the MRE. Anything else works, including hot water, microwave, sun, or even an MRE heater. Don’t microwave an MRE!
If you’ve been saving that case of MREs in the attic for zombie apocalypse, you may want to give it a taste. Whatever your choice, don’t just hoard it. Rotate your stock. Take replaced items to work for lunch. Experiment with heating methods. Keep your chow stash filled with fresh selections that you will actually eat. If you're ready to step up to prepper-hoarder behavior and filling a zombie shelter with a 20 year supply of nutrition, you'll need to order specialized dehydrated food. Try to be with people you like when the aliens invade, because you'll be spending the apocalypse with awful food and a level of flatulence that will bring on a nuclear winter.
Prepackaged heat-and-eat food from the grocery store doesn't seem as exciting as a case of MREs, but it's the most economical choice for anyone not needing to shove their food out of a C-130. If you really need your stash because your pipes are frozen, utilities are out and your family is stuck in the same house for a week, the last thing you want is bad food.