A soldier’s life is a tough one. The perils and challenges of the field and the risky topography of their work zones mean something as simple as a wholesome meal isn’t that simple. For decades, armies of the world have been innovating on how to feed their troops while on the battlefield or in difficult terrains. Carrying provisions for nutritious full course meals or cooking while on duty has been out of the question. The nature of work and remoteness of combat zones means they can’t always return to food facilities.

Soldiers receive ‘survival food packs’ commonly known as Meals, Ready-to-Eat (MRE) rations. These are self-contained, pre-packaged, light-weight rations that soldiers must nourish themselves on when there are no options of fresh food. Food technologies are constantly innovating to stretch the shelf life of these MREs as long as possible. Most MREs include TTIs (Time and temperature Indicators) that indicate their shelf life. At lower temperatures, MREs can last for up to 3 to 5 years, while at high temperatures they may be good for months.

A 24-hour MRE needs to be compact enough not burden the soldier with too much weight while providing adequate nutritional value. Most MREs pack in around 1250 calories for every meal and a day’s ration consists of 3 MREs. Along with fairly long shelf-lives, they must also be able to withstand difficult ‘combat conditions’ – lasting even when food is airdropped from the sky, taking minimal damage.

It goes without saying that there’s no luxury of time to concoct elaborate meals in the war zone. This means MREs have to be true to their labels and be ‘ready-to-eat’. While some could do with a little heating up or being steeped in hot water, they need to be edible even when not cooked at all. This means a soldier can expect his food to be prepared a tad differently- freeze dried, pre-cooked, canned, vacuum sealed. Beverages may be powdered and a prominent part of MREs all over the world are nutrition packed ‘energy bars.’

It was during the First World War that canned meats were swapped for dried and salted meats to make room for lighter food packs. Ever since the food that soldiers eat has been evolving to become more high-tech. Most are today packed in triple-layer plastic or aluminium and bacteria in the food is neutralised to make them shelf-stable.

Around the World in MREs

What soldiers from each country receive in their ration represents the diverse culinary cultures of the world. In recent times, there has been a lot of online interest in MREs from civilians. This has included MRE food reviews and food tasting online. A widely popular YouTuber Kiwi Dude receives MRE packages from around the globe, tastes and reviews them with his young daughter.

While energy bars and candies of some kind are a common denominator in most MREs, the entrées or main courses vary widely. Nations are continually spicing up their menus to keep them interesting.

This US army’s website gives an idea about what its regular MRE might consist of. The list includes entrée with main course dishes such as spaghetti or beef stew, a side dish such as rice, corn, fruit, or mashed potatoes; Cracker or bread; a spread such as peanut butter, jelly, or cheese spread; desserts such as cookies or pound cakes; candy such as M&Ms, Skittles, or Tootsie Rolls; beverages such as Gatorade-like mixes, cocoa, dairy shakes, coffee, tea; and hot sauces or seasonings. The MRE also includes a flameless ration heater to heat up the entrée and accessories such as spoon, matches, creamer, sugar, salt, chewing gum and toilet paper etc.

A US laboratory in efforts to spice up military rations has been working on a pizza so troops can have a palatable slice while on the field.

The Guardian reviewed food rations of troops around the world and gave a clue into what different MRE menus look like.

The Italian ration included a breakfast shot of 40% alcohol cordial, a powdered cappuccino, lots of biscotti, a pasta and bean soup, canned turkey and a rice salad. While the usual French MRE contained deer pâté, cassoulet with duck confit, creole-style pork and a crème chocolate pudding. The Germans included liver-sausage spread, rye bread, goulash with potatoes in their package. The Canadian MRE had the choice of salmon fillet with Tuscan sauce or vegetarian couscous for the main meal. However, “there's the shocking omission of maple syrup,” the article noted. Online reviews show a spread of sticky rice, beef curry and salted pork as part of the package that Japanese troops receive. While it isn’t clear what a complete Indian MRE includes chapattis or wheat flatbreads, biriyani and dal are options available to soldiers working at high altitudes.

Though developed for armies, MREs due to their resilience in tough environments are apt for disasters and emergency situations. Their light weight and long shelf life means they can be supplied to a large group of people in need, making them invaluable.

Along with our portfolio of security equipment, Arsha Consulting also sells quality MRE packets. For more details, get in touch with us.

Elizabeth Raj | Blogger

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