Emergency Food for Those Desperate Moments
MRE’s (Meals Ready to Eat) are one of the first kinds of stored food that come to mind after you’ve got your canned goods and other regular stuff stashed away. They are appealing for multiple reasons: the included heater that reduces the amount of water needed, the durable packaging that makes them convenient for storage and carrying, and the high calorie content per meal are just a few. However, despite the improvements made over the decades they are still well known to have their…unique quirks that could make them less than desirable as a civilian survival diet. Let’s take a look and see if these military meals should be part of your stockpile.
Strengths of Ready to Eat
First, let’s look at the conveniences offered by your average MRE:
- Reasonably durable packaging. Military-style MRE’s have to be able to withstand a little wear and tear in the field, so the brown plastic bags tend to be pretty strong. Aside from a weakness to punctures, you will not come across many normal wear issues in the average MRE.
- A filling and complete meal. A single MRE is a single meal, and it is designed to fill your stomach with 1200+ calories. Assuming you eat everything provided (yes, including the condiments!) you will receive food that has been at least “fortified” with all the nutrients you need as well.
- Minimal water requirements. The flameless heaters use very little water, as do the “milkshakes” or sports drinks provided. Most entrees and side dishes are not dehydrated, so they don’t need water to be eaten. Heck, if you were truly pressed and had no water at all you could eat most MRE’s cold!
- Provided utensils and additions. Most MRE’s include helpful items for eating and cleaning up, including spoons, chewing gum, napkins, TP, and other useful stuff.
- Comfort foods. These meals often include dessert items and candy of some kind, giving you a nice sugary jolt and a bit of the “taste of home” regardless of where you are.
- Decent shelf life. At 40 degrees, modern MRE’s can survive up to 5 years of continuous storage before going bad, and if in a pinch some of the more durable parts could potentially last beyond that.
- Reasonably good taste. Let’s be honest, no 3 year old MRE is going to compare to freshly cooked meals in any way. That said, modern MRE’s have been designed to be at least mildly tasty, particularly compared to the old “Meals Refused by Ethiopians” or C-Rations used during Vietnam. Having tasted a beef meal myself, it certainly tasted like it was supposed to, and the jelly/cracker combo was certainly decent if a bit dry.
These strengths were designed for soldiers in the field when the logistical support wasn’t able to truck in more “normal” meals in. As such, many preppers have seen these foods as being the perfect solution for bugging out or at any other time when cooking and preparing food at home just isn’t possible.
However, the MRE’s are not 100% perfect, and definitely suffer from a few problems when used in a survival situation:
- Low fiber content. Dietary fiber is what keep you regular, preventing you from becoming constipated. MRE’s have low amounts of this fiber, which has the potential to cause constipation in some people. Oddly, the constipation is not a constant factor at all times (and certainly drinking plenty of water helps to mitigate the effects) but the low fiber certainly is.
- High fat, calorie and sodium content. These probably sound like great things, and they are…assuming you’re a soldier running about all day and burning 4,800 calories a day and sweating buckets of salt out of your body. If your retreat lifestyle is more sedentary, constant MRE meals will likely cause you to swell up like a balloon or potentially cause other health issues.
- Proper nutrition requires eating the entire meal, including condiments. You might say, “I’m an adult, I think I can manage to eat all my dinner, particularly when the alternative is starving!” and that may well be, but the fact that the military spends millions of dollars trying to stop soldiers from tossing vital parts of their meals suggests a different outcome. In every instance where large numbers of people have been using MRE’s, swapping and even total abandonment of parts of the meals has been a constant problem since the meals are specifically designed to be eaten completely as one unit.
- The food and packaging is bulky and heavy compared to comparable freeze-dried or dehydrated foods. Although it did a lot to improve taste and texture when the military decided to stop dehydrating everything, the moisture content did add to the overall weight of the MRE. If every ounce counts, you may need to go with a less weighty meal source.
- They are not designed to be eaten indefinitely. If you ate the same well rounded home cooked meal (say fried chicken, beans, mashed potatoes and corn with a glass or two of water for example) you would eventually get bored with it, but it wouldn’t cause too many health problems so long as you got all the essential nutrients. MRE’s are not designed that way, and are really only made for eating for a couple of weeks at a time. In practice soldiers have eaten them for several months with few known ill effects, but others have reported gastric distress and the like as the weeks dragged on. Much like the constipation issue it probably varies by person.
- Heating elements are dangerous in tight confines. Do not set off your heating element in any enclosed space! They release hydrogen as a byproduct, which has the unfortunate side effect of being highly combustible unless it is allowed to rapidly dissipate.
MRE’s are potentially a potent addition to the survival pantry but only if used properly and with a correct understanding of the limitations they have. They’re not a substitute for proper raw ingredients like beans and rice, but when you’re on the move they can be great for limited use or very hard work in the hot sun.
Have you had experience with MRE’s? Let us know what you think in the comments below!