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Speaking of food - MREs...

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Old 04-09-2003, 02:42 PM   #1
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Default Speaking of food - MREs...

That's "Meals Ready to Eat" for those of you who might not know

The San Francisco Chronicle had some very interesting articles on what our troops are dining upon in the Gulf right now...including a history on how advances in MRE's have influenced civilian diets. Anyone who has studied the Civil War knows what the Union Army subsisted on: hard tack (flour and water baked to a rock hardness), 'dessicated vegetables' (or as the soldiers called them: 'baled hay'), dried or picked beef ('salt horse') and lots and lots of coffee. We've come a LONG way from those days...

Quote:
Right at home in the market
How M&Ms, Spam and Velveeta made it to the table
Kim Severson, Chronicle Staff Writer
Monday, April 7, 2003
2003 San Francisco Chronicle
URL: http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/articl...7/MN302446.DTL

Natick, Mass. -- Despite military chow's lousy reputation, many products that Northern California grocery shoppers buy every day have come from innovations created for the battlefield.

M&Ms were invented so World War II fighters could enjoy chocolate that didn't melt in the heat of the Pacific. Similarly, tins of processed Velveeta cheese and Spam became prominent parts of the American diet after thousands of World War II soldiers survived on the processed food.

Freeze-dried coffee and soup mixes, chopped and formed meat and lightweight backpacker entrees all have come from military needs. So did something called "retort packaging," a heat and water process much like canning that keeps plastic pouches of food shelf-stable for years. Even McDonald's boneless McRib sandwich came from technology developed by the Department of Defense's Combat Feeding Directorate.

"Thirty percent of the products you and I would find at the grocery store are a direct result of military innovation," said Gerald Darsch, a food scientist in the DOD test kitchens at the U.S. Army Soldier Center in Natick, Mass.

Among today's projects that might translate to civilian food chain:

-- A shelf-stable pocket sandwich that can survive for three years without refrigeration. The challenge was to find fat and oxygen "scavengers" and bacteria inhibitors that keep the filling from seeping into the bread, and the bread soft and unspoiled. The product has huge potential for vending machine sales.

-- The military's advanced food processing methods might put an end to conventional canning, meaning that food will taste fresher and still last for years on the shelf. Surplus howitzer tubes can become pressurized containers, where 120,000 pounds per square inch -- or as much pressure as three elephants standing on top of each other could apply -- is used to rupture the membranes of bacteria that cause food poisoning. Another food preservation method uses pulses of electricity to kill the bacteria.

-- A food patch being developed that lets vitamins and nutrients be absorbed when soldiers in serious battle can't stop to eat could also work as sources of nutrition for hospital patients or other health-compromised individuals.

-- Water filters using a process called "forward osmosis" to turn muddy swamp water into an energy-boosting sports drink.

-- A technology that can so compress meals that a chicken, rice and bean stew big enough to feed three people can be turned into a package the size of a half-pint milk carton, weighing the same as a couple of candy bars.

-- The latest prototype battlefield kitchen that packs down to an 8-by-10- foot trailer would be perfect for camping. The kitchen uses a process called thermal fluid heat transfer, which means no open flames.

-- Meal packs that self-heat at the same time they cool desserts and drinks could mean that picnics will never be the same.
And the main article...
Quote:
A lot of cooks in the MRE kitchen
Men in lab coats and hair nets whet GIs' frontline appetite
Kim Severson, Chronicle Staff Writer
Monday, April 7, 2003
2003 San Francisco Chronicle

URL: http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/articl...7/MN255717.DTL


Natick, Mass. -- There is a seriousness of purpose here in the Department of Defense test kitchen these days.

In a sprawling, 1960s-style building set alongside a lake in this Boston suburb, two men in lab coats and hair nets bend over a stainless steel table covered in pale orange food bars each the size of a pack of cards.

They're figuring out how to cram 2,100 calories into each bar, at the same time making sure the slightly sweet, grain-based rations will survive a drop from an airplane. The bars will be distributed as humanitarian aid, and might keep fleeing war refugees alive.

Over in the department where field rations are developed, there is a similar gravitas. Like anxious mothers, nutritionists wonder how the new Meals Ready to Eat (MREs) created for the troops in Iraq are going over. Are the soldiers eating?

In the U.S. Army Soldier Systems Center in Natick, where every recipe required to feed the 1.4 million people in the nation's armed services is developed, it's more than the standard worry a home cook has about a new dish. Military food scientists know that making sure a soldier is well-nourished is as important to winning a war as the right ammunition and a working gas mask. Food that doesn't taste good goes uneaten, compromising a soldier's health and performance. And the nutritionists know they also have to prevent battlefield anorexia, a condition where the stress of war dulls appetites to dangerous levels.


BIG CHANGE IN APPROACH
That's why the military's approach to feeding soldiers is radically different than it was a decade ago, with meals now tailored to the tastes of an ethnically diverse fast-food generation raised on tacos, teriyaki and Starbucks.

In 1991, when troops fighting the Gulf War tasted the first generation of the military's new field rations, the reaction was a fractured version of the don't ask, don't tell policy.

When the food scientists originally developed MREs, they didn't ask what the modern soldier might find appealing. But the soldiers told them -- and in no uncertain terms -- calling the field rations "Meals Rejected by Everyone." They tossed unopened brown plastic bags filled with casseroles and ham loaf into the desert, and had nicknames for the worst entrees, like the "four fingers of death." Translation: smoked frankfurters.

"We had kind of a father-knows-best mentality about the menus," said Gerald Darsch, joint project director for the Department of Defense's combat feeding program based here.


GIS' TASTES DRIVE THE MENU
Today, he says, everything is driven by soldiers' tastes. "Everything we create is war fighter-recommended, war fighter-tested and war fighter-approved, " he said.

Although soldiers are supposed to eat three MREs a day, they often don't. Soldiers on the move who find the MREs too difficult to prepare in the field or too bulky "field strip" their packs of food to make room for gear. And some units have reported having to cut back their rations to one meal a day as they wait for supplies to reach them. That makes what nutritionists put in each ration pack extremely important.

"We know food matters, especially on the front lines. What they eat has a very positive impact on mood, which has a positive impact on morale, which has a scientifically proven impact on performance," Darsch said.

Ever since the war in Iraq began, the MRE part of the program has been front and center. Each year, the military orders about 3 million of the 1 1/2- pound food packages from three commercial food manufacturers contracted to produce them. Since October, however, the order has doubled and the factories are on overtime. More than 48 million MREs are stockpiled in the warehouses of Kuwait.


VEGETARIAN OPTIONS
The new breed of MREs offers 24 entrees, including four vegetarian options like cheese tortellini and pasta Alfredo. The choices are geared to a more diverse fighting force that has a strong preference for spicier ethnic food. Some MREs feature Thai chicken, Jamaican pork chops or a gloppy cheese dish called Mexican macaroni. Little bottles of Tabasco or packets of cayenne or Mrs. Dash seasoning are included to pep up entrees.

Dried cappuccino and chai are replacing freeze-dried coffee. Powdered Gatorade-type drinks are being tucked into food packs for quick energy. The military has even developed its own power bar, called the HooAH! bar. And some rations contain dried versions of milk shakes in chocolate, strawberry or vanilla.

"You know when you shake this thing up and drink it down, it tastes like you're not here for 15 minutes," one Marine a few miles outside Baghdad told Chronicle reporter John Koopman.


YOUNG SOLDIERS GO FOR IT
Koopman, who ate the old C-rations as a Marine in the 1970s, reports that the new MREs are generally a hit with the young soldiers he's talked to. But, he said, they don't like the fancy stuff.

"What they like most of all is basically beef or meat. Being from San Francisco, I'm the only one who eats the vegetarian meals," he said. "The Marines love me because I'll take the pasta and vegetables."

However, any MRE that has a pack of Skittles or M&Ms is considered a good one, he said. Field studies have shown that young soldiers take comfort in name brands and commercial packaging, so some MREs feature morale-boosting snacks like M&Ms, Lorna Doone cookies, Skittles and Jolly Ranchers, which have become popular currency in poker games.


THE MILITARY'S REQUIREMENTS
The trick, of course, is making all of it work within the military's tight physical and nutritional requirements. The whole package can't weight more than a pound and a half, although the military brass would like them lighter --

and it can't be much larger than a hardback novel.

The food inside the tan plastic MRE bag must be edible for up to three years stored at 80 degrees. The packages have to be waterproof, vermin-proof and able to survive a 100-foot drop without a parachute.

Soldiers heat the food in the field. In the new version, cooking is done by an ingenious chemical heating sheet in a plastic pouch, which soldiers activate by simply pouring in an ounce of water.

Then there are the nutritional demands, as outlined in the eight-page Nutritional Standards for Operational Ratios (NSOR). That job falls to dietitian Judy Aylward at the Natick center. She has to ensure that each meal contains about 1,250 calories, with enough carbohydrate, fat, protein and vitamins to satisfy the surgeon general. That gives each soldier about 3,750 calories a day -- nearly twice the 2,000 calories most of us should eat to stay fit.

FAT 35% OF THE CALORIES

To cram so many calories in such a small space, Aylward has to be creative. Fat accounts for about 35 percent of the calories in each entree, five percent more than most nutritionists recommend. "There's just no way I can get the calories in the package without that fat content," she said.

Sugary drink mixes, jam and candy help pump up the carbohydrate and calorie count. To meet the micronutrient requirements, many of the grain-based items are fortified with vitamins. And because there are more women eating the meals than ever before, folic acid and iron are added.

In the vegetarian meals, getting enough protein and zinc is a problem, so Aylward makes sure those meals have packets of peanut butter. In fact, she is using so much peanut butter, soldiers are complaining.

"No one can eat that much peanut butter," wrote one soldier in a feedback form that hit Aylward's desk recently. "I suggest replacing it with more jalapeno cheese spread, which is excellent."

TWEAKING THE MENU
The crew at Natick constantly tinkers with the MRE menu. Behavioral scientists go through soldiers' trash during field exercises to see what is being thrown out, and study which items get traded or used in unexpected ways, like the cocoa powder and nondairy creamer that soldiers mix into crumbled crackers or pound cake to create "Ranger pudding."

Panels of soldiers and officers evaluate existing dishes and suggest which ones to eliminate. Next year, the Jamaican pork chop and the beef with mushrooms will be out, but New England clam chowder will be in. By 2005, the dreaded Country Captain chicken and Thai chicken will make way for a cheese omelet and chicken fajitas -- the latter a dish that couldn't be included until the commercial producers who contract with the military could wade through the specifications and find a way to keep flour tortillas fresh for three years.

"But they really want pizza and beer," Aylward said. "We're working on it -- the pizza, at least."
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Old 04-12-2003, 03:35 AM   #2
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They were showing the meals on the news one day last week, and they really sounded good! Although they didn't LOOK very appetizing.
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Old 04-12-2003, 10:15 AM   #3
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Hey Suzanne...that reminds me...once we had a neighbor who was in the Reserves who Jim was buddies with - he brought us a slew of MREs which Jim ate and he said they were 'not bad' for the most part. Mostly lasagna, that sort of thing. This was around 7 years ago. I wouldn't touch 'em myself.

Speaking of the Civil War, the Confederate soldiers weren't issued rations as regularly as the Union army, especially as the war dragged on and the Confederate government ran out of money and resources. Each soldier was issued cornmeal and bacon grease (I don't have my Civil war books here so this is my recollection) and most of them mixed the two together to create a dough, which they wrapped around a stick and cooked over a fire. (yuk!)

One of the great things about living here in the Bay Area is getting the Chronicle every morning - it's what I miss the most when I travel! Anyway, they actually had their food reviewers (ya know we're BIG on food here...) test some MRE's and this article might interest you...
Quote:
Tasters give it faint praise -- not great, but ...
Kim Severson, Chronicle Staff Writer
Monday, April 7, 2003
2003 San Francisco Chronicle

URL: http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/articl...07/MN44836.DTL

So how do those MREs really taste?

To find out, The Chronicle Food staff sampled seven of the 24 entrees available to soldiers in Iraq, in all their chunked, formed and processed glory.

We couldn't re-create the field conditions soldiers might face when heating their MRE entrees, so instead we heated the 8-ounce plastic pouches in boiling water and stood around with plastic spoons.

All of the entrees are processed to stay shelf-stable for three years. That gives them the kind of sweet-salty flavors that are immediately recognizable to anyone who grew up eating Chef Boyardee pasta or Chun King chow mein. In other words, the food's not great.

But as Chronicle restaurant critic Michael Bauer said, "They're not as bad as I thought they would be." Most tasters said they were the kind of thing that might taste just fine on a camping trip or after a long day of hiking. Or in the battlefield.

"Given the situation, you could eat it," said Food editor Miriam Morgan.

Beef teriyaki was a favorite, largely because the beef hadn't been chopped and reformed -- the process that accounted for the odd texture of the steak and mushroom entree. The beef enchiladas, which are tamale-like in texture, also made it to the top of the list.

People who grew up on SpaghettiOs preferred the dishes with tomato sauce, including chunked and formed chicken with cavatelli and the mushy vegetarian manicotti. The Cajun rice, with little pieces of sausage and red beans, had a nice balance of spices.

The only real dog in the bunch was the shrimp jambalaya with rice.

Of course, we were in a newsroom, not a battlefield. But food is a great equalizer. Tasting what U.S. soldiers in Iraq eat day in and day out somehow made their situation more real to the panel, more personal.

Said Chronicle wine writer Carol Emert: "In my world, food is a source of comfort because there's always something tasty around, even if it's just an orange or cheese on a cracker. These men and women are under infinitely more difficult conditions and they don't even get that small comfort."
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Highest weight: 265 pounds, size 24/26 (May 1990)
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Old 04-12-2003, 10:34 AM   #4
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Ewwww! Cornmeal and bacon grease?

And I thought they lived on chicken and potatoes. But then my only "knowledge" of Civil War dinners is from the Dixie Stampede in Gatlinburg, lol! That is a restaurant owned by Dolly Parton. They feed you the way they supposedly did in the Civil War, and they give you a whole chicken, boiled potatoes and corn. You eat everything with your hands, there's no flatware. I've never been, but my sister Amy and her family go frequently, and they love it.

So much for historical accuracy!
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Old 04-12-2003, 11:11 AM   #5
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The Confederates got chicken when they could buy or steal one (no offense to you Southerners out there as my parents are both from the South...when you're a hungry soldier on the march anything can happen!).

The cornmeal and bacon grease mixture was known as "coosh". Here's a little blub I found on the 'Net along with a photo:



Quote:
CONFEDERATE RATIONS

The Confederate soldier needed a stable diet to maintain his health and ability to fight just like the Union soldier. While the Southern diet was usually adequate, it was different from the Northern diet in several areas.

The soldier's haversack was a simple cotton canvas bag that had no waterproofing and often absorbed the grease of the soldier's meat ration. His water was carried in a tin "drum" canteen that had a cotton sling. This canteen had no lining and often the water became a light orange color from the rust that formed on the inside. The Confederate, just like his Northern counterpart, relied on his tin cup "boiler" for meal and "coffee" preparation.

Southern troops had difficulty obtaining real coffee due to the Union Naval blockade of the Southern coast. Consequently, substitute "coffees" were introduced. The most common was made from chickory and is being carried by this soldier in the stained poke bag to the left of the picture. The bottle of brown liquid is molasses, which would be used as a sweetner for the chickory coffee or cornbread.

The meat ration shown is a piece of salt pork or "fat back" which would be fried in the canteen half in which it rests. Canteens would be broken open and the halves used as combination frying pan and plate. This was preferred due to the scarcity of frying pans and the fact that these were light and easily carried on the march. Also shown is a bag of cornmeal which was the Confederate soldier's bread ration; and a potato that would be fried in the hot grease left behind by the salt pork. Like the Yankee, the Southern soldier craved fresh fruit and vegetables and would supplement his diet with these items whenever he could pick, buy or steal them.
The Civil War is an endlessly fascinating subject IMO!
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Highest weight: 265 pounds, size 24/26 (May 1990)
May 1991: 174 pounds (-91 lbs)
September 1996: 155 pounds (-110 lbs)
*LIVING at: 145-149 pounds, size 4/6 (-116/120 lbs)

*Maintenance = LIVING.
Posts by members, moderators and admins are not considered medical advice and no guarantee is made against accuracy. Please see your physician before taking advice found on the internet.

Wanna know how I lost the weight and have kept it off for over 16 years? Click here!
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