The concept of a meal in a pouch is not new.
For years, military organizations have contracted to have “Meals Ready to Eat” (or MREs) made for distribution to hungry soldiers in the field when a mess kitchen was unavailable.
The evolution of military grade MREs from the 1960’s era to now has resulted in light weight pouches that contain a complete meal sealed into a tidy packet.
A typical MRE contains a main course, side dish, bread, dessert, and flameless ration heater. There will also be a napkin, eating utensil and condiments such as salt and pepper.
True U.S. military MREs are well marked with the designation “U.S. Government Property, Commercial Resale is Unlawful” although this is a misnomer since there are no laws that forbid the resale of MREs.
The components of one of the MREs used for this article.
That said, the companies that produce military MREs market similar MREs to civilians, often in cases of 12 units but also as individual packets.
In addition, it is not unusual for companies such as Mountain House, Wise, Thrive Life and others to refer to their meal-sized food pouches as MREs. Alas, this confuses the consumer since these pouches of food are not anything like the military MRES.
Instead these pouches represent a standalone entrée, side dish or dessert suitable for one, two, or more people. Examples include chili, beef stroganoff, chicken alfredo and similar dishes that require the addition of very hot or boiling water before they can be consumed.
TESTING THE REAL THING – MILITARY STYLE MEAL READY TO EAT
Last January, I was contacted by the Meal Kit Supply company and was offered a case of their MREs for testing and review purposes. I accepted with the usual caveat that I would post an honest and truthful review.
The box of MREs arrived a few weeks later and thus began the disgusting discovery that these meals were not only expensive, but laden with chemicals and unhealthy ingredients.
Not only that, the flameless heater did not work worth a darn and the so called “meal ready to eat” had to be heated in a pot of boiling water on the stove. The portions were tiny when compared, for example, to the Food Insurance or Mountain House pouches and the company, well, more about that later.
I realized at this point that my opinion was not going to stand up on its own. After all, the reviews I read at the company website and from other bloggers (who, by the way, were offered the same products for review) were all quite favorable. I decided to call in some help by offering a few packets to my friend, Bruce Conway, who is a long time outdoor enthusiast and prepper.
M.R.E.s – MEALS READY TO DEFEAT
When Gaye Levy, noted survival and preparedness writer, asked me to evaluate a couple of MRE meals (meals ready-to-eat) that had been given to her by mealkitsupply.com for evaluation, I eagerly agreed. I had been interested in trying MRE’s for years, but had not gotten around to trying or buying them.
In the past, I had good camping experiences with MountainHouse™ freeze dried meals, and had been assured that modern MREs were now even better.
MRE’s, I was told, had been improving steadily over the years in both quality and variety. So, I could be reasonable assured that these MREs would prove to be preferred forms of preparedness meals to flesh out my personal bug-out cache.
Unfortunately, my first experience with an MRE was not a good one.
Gaye provided me with two of the MRE packets for review. One was Chili with beans, and the other was Chicken Fajitas. Both sounded good.
The MREs, were made/distributed by one of the largest MRE manufacturers in the world; Meal Kit Supply.com, who proclaim their products to be “the gold standard” in the meals ready-to-eat industry. These are identical to the MREs supplied to the military of both Canada and the U.S.
As I pulled open the MRE bag and spilled the contents onto the table, I was at first impressed with the quantity of the sealed meal packs and extras in the bag which included a nonflammable meal pouch heater, beverages, dessert (pound cake), a moist towelette, plastic ware and condiments. It was like Christmas—military style, with an excessive amount of brown packaging.
When I trimmed the top of the flameless ration heater and poured the required two ounces of water into the bag to activate the heater, the reaction was instantaneous. It inflated the bag (which I had successfully wrapped quickly around two sealed entree pouches.) The steam scalded my hand, and caused mild asthma-like symptoms which lasted for about fifteen minutes.
The instructions caution using the ration heater with “adequate” ventilation, advising consumers to make the meal outdoors. The heaters are considered “safe to use, except when aboard aircraft. To quote, “… the release of hydrogen gas from these flameless ration heaters is of a sufficient quantity to pose a potential hazard on board a passenger aircraft.”
O.K. I am now less than impressed, Strike one; toxic outgassing—hot steam and hydrogen. Strike two; an unbelievable amount of packaging and plastic trash.
The slim advantage of MRE “pros” versus “cons” was narrowing rapidly.
Then I ate the chicken fajitas. It was, at best, O.K. The Fajita meat and sauce were poured on top of the hot rice packet, with a couple of passable vacuum-packed flour tortillas. The rice heated unevenly, so some was underdone and hard. There are likely tricks to preparing these that I am unaware of.
Within 1/2 hour gastric distress began. My face got hot and flushed, stomach began twisting in knots. I didn’t get sick, exactly. It was some kind of toxic reaction.
Within an hour or so I knew that I had consumed a large dose of MSG. A similar thing had happened a year earlier when a manufacturer began adding MSG to a formerly MSG-free product. I kept eating it for several months, until symptoms similar to what the MRE caused showed up. I eventually re-read the product label and discovered the switch to MSG, and never ate that product again.
It turns out that most MREs are loaded with MSG (which has been linked to numerous diseases and conditions , in addition to being addictive), preservatives, artificial sweeteners, dyes, fillers, etc.
As these MRE’s are from Canada, and contain levels of MSG far beyond EPA suggestions, I suspect that some of these ingredients are actually manufactured in China, and only distributed by Meal Kit Supply. This is ONLY a suspicion on my part, and not backed up by evidence. But they “taste” like they are made in China.
It took a full week for my body to purge the MSG. During that time it ravaged my digestive track, requiring probiotics, hot cereal, yoghurt, and detoxification with lots of fluids. The excessive amount of MSG even anesthetized my urinary track, which was numb for several days.
When Gaye wrote the manufacture about my experience, they responded thus:
“As sorry as I am to hear you were ill, I don’t think our MREs were the cause: we have no preservatives or mystery chemicals in our product, and have never had issues with people getting sick after their consumption (they feed the troops after all — the government would throw a fit if their soldiers were getting sick!). Anyways, as it has already been 4 months and we continue to hit road bumps, it might be best to call off the review all together.”
To think that soldiers in the military are required to eat these day after day is mind-boggling. Most MRE reviews say that although tasty, MREs plug up the average digestive track in a week or two. Most eaters report distress after two to three days of MRE’s.
“Gulf War veterans are twice as likely to develop A.L.S. than those who did not serve. These vets were all exposed to MSG by way of their MREs, or Meals-Ready-To-Eat. The U.S. military has been adding MSG to MREs on purpose to make army rations more palatable. MREs were actually required to contain a minimum amount of MSG up until very recently.
We have gotten new reports that fortunately, they are no longer using MSG in MREs. The intake of MSG by GIs in Iraq in particular, was compounded by the fact that diet drinks containing aspartame were also supplied to the troops – at the same time. MSG and aspartame are more harmful together as research has shown (See Related Research).” – ( MSG, A.L.S., and Gulf War Vets – http://www.msgtruth.org/als.htm).
I would think that those relying on MREs during a disaster, or other large emergency, require food that is safe, nutritious and delicious. MRE meals from Meal Kit Supply may be edible, but they fall short in other regards: They are neither safe nor delicious. They are full of MSG and artificial sweeteners. They even loaded up the plain rice packet with MSG. Why would ordinary rice require MSG?
Get a clue Meal Kit Supply. Loading up your products with MSG and Aspartame may be legal, but it is highly unethical, as these chemicals used together contribute to many diseases and conditions. Get rid of them, and you will once again have a product to be proud of. Your competitors such as Mountain House, and Alpine Aire Foods are MSG free. Your products would be much improved by following their example.
To further investigate the hazards of the long-term consumption of MRE’s, go to:
W. Bruce Conway
THE FINAL WORD
This article will not win any popularity contests with MRE distributors. But it represents the truth as I see it and for that I will not apologize. When I contacted Meal Kit Supply about the results of my testing, they asked me to call off the review but they did not scare me off.
As Bruce said to me, this is a story that needs to be told.
What’s your take on MRE’s as a survival staple?