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Meal, Ready-to-Eat

The Meal, Ready-to-Eat (MRE) is a self-contained, individual field ration in lightweight packaging bought by the United States military for its service-members for use in combat or other field conditions where organized food facilities are not available. The MRE replaced the canned MCI or Meal, Combat, Individual rations in 1981 and is the intended successor to the lighter LRP ration developed by the U.S. Army for Special Forces and U.S. Army Ranger patrol units in Vietnam.

History

The first soldier ration established by a Congressional Resolution during the Revolutionary War consisted of enough food to feed a man for one day, mostly beef, peas, and rice. During the Civil War, the military tended toward canned goods. Later, self-contained kits were issued as a whole ration, and contained canned meat, salt pork, bread, coffee, sugar and salt. During the First World War, canned meats were replaced with lightweight preserved meats (salted or dried), in order to save weight and allow more rations to be carried by soldiers carrying their supplies on foot. At the beginning of World War II, a number of new field rations were introduced, including the Mountain ration and the Jungle ration. However, cost-cutting measures by Quartermaster Command officials during the latter part of World War II and the Korean War again saw the predominance of heavy canned C rations issued to troops, regardless of operating environment or mission. The use of canned wet rations continued through the Vietnam War, with the improved MCI field ration.

Development

After repeated experiences dating from before World War II, Pentagon officials ultimately realized that simply providing a nutritionally balanced meal in the field was not adequate. Service members in various geographic regions and combat situations often required different sub-sets of ingredients for food to be considered palatable over long periods. Moreover, catering to individual tastes and preferences would encourage service-members to actually consume the whole ration and its nutrition. Most importantly, the use of specialized forces in extreme environments and the necessity of carrying increasingly heavy field loads while on foot during extended missions required significantly lighter alternatives to standard canned wet rations.

In 1963, the Department of Defense began developing the "Meal, Ready to Eat", a ration that would rely on modern food preparation and packaging technology to create a lighter replacement for the canned Meal, Combat, Individual ration. This led in 1966 to the Long Range Patrol or LRP ration, a dehydrated meal stored in a waterproof canvas pouch. However, just as in prior wars, its expense compared to canned wet rations as well as the costs of stocking and storage a specialized field ration led to its limited usage and repeated attempts at discontinuance by Quartermaster Command officials. In 1975, work began on a dehydrated meal stored in a plastic retort pouch. It went into special issue starting in 1981 and standard issue in 1986, using a limited menu of 12 entrees.

The MRE has been in continual development since 1993. In an array of field tests and surveys, service members requested more entree options and larger serving sizes. By 1994, commercial-like graphics were added to make the packets more user-friendly, while biodegradable materials were introduced for non-edible components such as spoons and napkins.

The number of entrees expanded to 16 by 1996 (including vegetarian options), 20 entrees by 1997 and 24 entrees by 1998. Today, servicemembers can choose from up to 24 entrees, and more than 150 additional items. The variety allowed servicemembers from various cultures and geographical regions to find something palatable. In 1992, a Flameless Ration Heater (FRH), a water-activated exothermic reaction product that emits heat, allowed a servicemember in the field to enjoy a hot meal.

In 2006, "Beverage Bags" were introduced to the MRE, as servicemembers have begun to depend more on hydration packs than on canteens, thus denying them the use of the metal canteen cups (shaped to fit in a canteen pouch with the canteen) for mixing powdered beverages. In addition to having measuring marks to indicate levels of liquid for precise measurement, they can be sealed and placed inside the flameless heater.

Most recently, MREs have been developed using the Dietary Reference Intake, created by the Institute of Medicine (IOM). The IOM indicated that servicemembers (who were classified as highly active men between the ages of 18 and 30) typically burn about 4,200 Calories a day, but tended to only consume about 2,400 Calories a day during combat, entering a negative energy balance. This imbalance occurred when servicemembers don't consume full portions of their rations, because they discard some of the contents, and therefore don't receive the intended nutritional value. Although manipulations to the food items and distribution of macronutrients in order to help boost the amount of kilocalories per MRE have been made, more studies are showing that many servicemembers still don't meet today's standards of daily consumption. Researchers continue to study the habits and eating preferences of servicemembers.

In addition, the military is conducting research and experimenting with new assault ration prototypes, designed with elite or specialized forces in mind. Lighter than the typical MRE, they require no preparation and allow servicemembers to eat them on the go. These rations include items such as fruit bars, dried fruit, meat pockets, a dairy bar, and beef jerky.

Requirements

Each meal provides about 1,200 calories (1,200 kcal or 5,000 kJ). They are intended to be eaten for a maximum of 21 days (the assumption is that logistics units can provide superior rations by then), and have a shelf life of three years (depending on storage conditions).

Packaging requirements are strict. MREs must be able to withstand parachute drops from 380 m (1,250 ft), and non-parachute drops of 30 m (100 ft). The packaging is required to maintain a minimum shelf life of three and a half years at 27 °C (80 °F), nine months at 38 °C (100 °F), and short durations from -51 °C (-60 °F) to 49 °C (120 °F) must be sustainable. New forms of packaging are being considered to better meet these requirements including the use of zein to replace the foil, which can be easily punctured, conducts heat, and reflectivity (which may give away a servicemember's position).

Each MRE weighs 380 to 510 g (13 to 18 oz) depending on the menu. Since MREs contain water, they weigh more than freeze-dried meals providing equivalent calories.

Resale status

Each MRE is labeled:
U.S. Government Property
Commercial Resale is Unlawful
However, there are no specific laws that forbid the resale of MREs , and although the government has attempted to discourage sellers from selling MREs, auction sites such as eBay have continued to allow auctions of the MREs because the Department of Defense has been unable to show them any regulations or laws specifically outlawing the practice. According to a spokesman for eBay, "until a law is passed saying you can't sell these things, we're not going to stop them from being sold on the site

The recent growth of MREs listed on eBay (2005) has resulted in a government investigation of whether they were intended for Hurricane Katrina victims, and the news media nickname "Meals Ready for eBay." Some cases are being sold from Louisiana, Mississippi, Florida and other Gulf states affected by Katrina. The internal cost of a 12 pack case of MREs is $86.98 (approx. $7.25 a meal) to the government, much higher than what is actually paid to vendors. As a result of earlier unauthorized sales to civilians, the Department of Defense had required that "U.S. Government Property, Commercial Resale is Unlawful" be printed on each case of MREs.

That said, MREs can be purchased by civilians directly from the contractors who supply MREs to the U.S. Government. These MREs are very similar to genuine US Government MREs, differing only in minor details (i.e. design of case and bag or type of spoon).

Flameless Ration Heaters are prohibited on commercial airlines unless sealed in the original MRE menu bag, due to the hydrogen fumes yielded by the chemical process of cooking with them.

MRE contents

General contents may include:

Many items are fortified with nutrients. In addition, DoD policy requires units to augment MREs with fresh food and A-rations whenever feasible, especially in training environments.

MRE menus

In an effort to make MREs more palatable to servicemembers and match ever-changing trends in popular tastes, the military is constantly seeking feedback to adjust MRE menus and ingredients. In the following list, only main entrees are listed.



Criticism

Some of the early MRE main courses were not very palatable, earning them the nicknames "Mr. E" (mystery), "Meals Rejected by Everyone", "Meals, Rarely Edible", "Meals Rejected by the Enemy", "Morsels, Regurgitated, Eviscerated", "Meal, Ready to Excrete", "Materials Resembling Edibles", and even "Meals Rejected by Ethiopians. Some meals got their own nicknames. For example, the frankfurters, which came sealed in pouches of four, were referred to as "the four fingers of death". Although quality has improved over the years, many of the nicknames have stuck. MREs were often called "Three Lies for the Price of One" - it's not a Meal, it's not Ready, and you can't Eat it.

Their low dietary fiber content could cause constipation in some so they were also known as "Meals Refusing to Exit", "Meals Refusing to Excrete",or "Massive Rectal Expulsions". While the myth that the gum found in MREs contains a laxative is false, the crackers in the ration pack do contain a higher than normal vegetable content to facilitate egestion.

A superstition exists among troops about the Charms candies that come with some menus: they are considered bad luck, especially if actually eaten. Some attribute this to a case of a joking dislike becoming a superstition (i.e. not eating them 'just in case' or because it might make one's comrades uneasy).

In December 2006 comedian Al Franken (on his 8th USO tour at the time) joked to troops in Iraq that he'd had his fifth MRE so far and "none of them had an exit strategy".

In March 2007, The Salt Lake Tribune invited three gourmet chefs to taste test 18 MRE meals. None of the meals rated higher than a 5.7 average on a scale of 1-to-10, and the Chicken Fajita meal, in particular, was singled out for disdain, rating an average score of 1.3.

The National Guard has provided MREs to the public during National Disasters such as Hurricane Ivan, Hurricane Frances, Hurricane Jeanne, Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Ike. The large number of civilians exposed to MREs, prompted several jokes during the recent New Orleans Mardi Gras with revellers donning clothing made of MRE packets with phrases such as "MRE Antoinette" and "Man Ready to Eat".

The US Army announced new entrees in a combat feeding demonstration March 6th, 2008. As reported in ArmyTimes; "Among the new MRE items soldiers preferred the buffalo chicken and the corn bread slated for 2009. They also liked the southwest beef and black beans coming out in 2010".

Similar rations

The MRE has led to the creation of several similar field rations.

For servicemembers with strict religious dietary requirements, the military offers the specialized Meal, Religious, Kosher/Halal. These are tailored to provide the same nutritional content, but won't contain offending ingredients. There is also available a special meal certified for Passover requirements.

The Humanitarian daily ration is a self-contained Halal meal designed to be given to refugees and other displaced people. It is designed to feed a single person for a full day, and the menus were intended to be palatable to many religious and cultural tastes around the globe. It is created and packaged much like MREs.

The Meal, Cold Weather provides a ration similar to the MRE designed for lower temperatures than the MRE can withstand. Clad in white packaging, it offers a freeze dried entree designed to be eaten with heated water, the same side ingredients as the standard MRE, and additional drink mixes to encourage additional hydration. The MCW replaced the Ration, Cold Weather.

The Meal, Long Range Patrol is essentially the same as the MCW, but with different accessory packs. The MLRP is designed for troops who may receive limited or no resupply, and weight of the ration is critical. The similar First Strike Ration is along the same lines, but requires no preparation and may be eaten on the go.

The Tailored Operational Training Meal provides a lower calorie count for less intensive training environments, such as classroom instruction. The TOTM allows troops to become familiar with the MRE and its contents without providing an excessive amount of calories to troops who won't necessarily burn them.

The Unitized Group Ration is a ration much like the MRE, but expanded to feed large groups.

The Food Packet, Survival, General Purpose, Improved is given to pilots and other servicemembers that may require a small, extremely portable food ration for emergency situations. It contains food bars and a drink mix. Similarly, the Food Packet, Survival, Abandon Ship and Food Packet, Survival, Aircraft, Life Raft are fitted into the storage areas on lifeboats.

See also

References

External links


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