Tuesday, April 30, 2013

INFORMATIVE - MREs - the facts

MRE stands for "Meal: Ready to Eat" and they are basically food sources with an incredibly long shelf life, some of which are also very tolerant to temperature and other environmental conditions, making them more or less ideal for storage.

Why would you have them? Well, have you ever had the power go out for an extended period which crossed over a meal time? This happened to me quite recently. Where I live can get some pretty extreme weather sometimes and we had the power go out at about 5pm, just as the sun was starting to go down. We didn't pay much heed to it, really, but come 9pm it still wasn't on. By coincidence, we hadn't done our weekly groceries yet, so the cupboards were pretty bare, and there was a minor cyclone going on outside with trees falling on roads and very dangerous conditions for driving to go and get food. We did, however, have our little portable gas cooker and some MREs, so we were fine for food, and by 2am the next morning our power was back again.

But what if that situation had lasted longer? What if power went out completely and never came back? What if driving was unsafe or impossible due to natural disaster or lack of fuel? This is where MREs come into their own.

There are three main types of MREs: Portable, Packet and Homemade.

Portable MREs are ideal to throw in your 72 hour bag, or to store in bulk, as they are generally quite small. Though there are many varieties, a good example are Mainstay Bars, which I keep about a month's supply of.

They're not pretty, and they're certainly not haute cuisine, but they have everything your body needs and will keep you going when no other food is available. For something that looks like a urinal cake, they don't taste too bad... A bit like a lemon cake, or if a madiera cake was the density of an old fruitcake. Not too bad, but you'd go mad if you had nothing else to live on... Just be sure to drink plenty of water while you eat them, as they'll dry your body out quite quickly.

Aside from their conventient size, they have the added benefits of around a 5 year shelf life and extremely high environmental tolerance. You can leave these things in your hot car and they'll be fine. Other MRE varieties are not quite so tolerant. They also do a fairly decent job of making you feel full, though your forceful chugging of water whilst eating them probably helps with that.

Packet MREs are more designed for long-term storage in a cool cellar or cupboard somewhere. They're less temperature tolerant and take up far more space. The added disadvantage of them is that they are quite fragile when compared to MREs in bar form, as they are often packed with air and don't take well to pressure or heat changes:

They do have one significant benefit, though. They are bloody delicious. I have cooked these up before and served them to people without telling them it was dehydrated food, and they thought it was freshly cooked, and complimented the chef. Another big benefit is variety. Just from the limited range that I've seen, there are at least 30 different meals you can get in this form, as well as meal "parts" like chicken breast, sausages, etc, to be able to mix together your own meals - particularly good if you're foraging for edible bush tucker, which I'll go into in a future post.

Unlike MREs in bar form, these take preparation to be able to eat. It's quite simple, really. Just add boiling water and stir. If you have cookware in your kit, you can just pour them into your billy can with about a cup and a half of boiling water and you're good to go in a few minutes. Just last weekend I had beef teriyaki with rice and diced vegetables. It was amazing. Even if you're not planning a camping trip I recommend grabbing one or two of these just to try them out. You can get them at any camping or disposals store.

Now, these are quite expensive when compared to things like Mainstay Bars. You can get a months supply of Mainstay bars for about 50 or 60 Aussie dollars, but Packet MREs will set you back between 10 to 15 dollars apiece. Don't let the price fool you... They're bloody worth it... But this can make it tricky to properly "stock up" if you're preparing for the long haul. Generally speaking, though, a month's worth of food for your bug out/bug in group should be enough for any realistic scenario. So grab a couple here and there month to month and before you know it, you'll be stocked up.

Homemade MREs vary greatly, as it depends on who made it and what it is, but a very handy skill to learn is how to can foods. Don't let the name fool you, canning often makes use of vacuum-sealed glass jars. Here's a good video that explains the process:

The video pretty much sums it up, but you can use this method to preserve anything from vegetables to meats to entire all-in-one meals that can be easily reconstituted later with the right tools. The detriments are pretty obvious, though... They're not very portable, they're fragile, they're not temperature tolerant, but the benefits include the ability for variety (as morale is very important in an extended survival experience), quality (since you've prepared the food yourself) and nutritional value (as it all gets stored very well during the process).

So that gives you a bit of insight into what you can do for food. MREs are a great way to supplement your own hunting, foraging and cultivation, each of which I'll cover in future articles.

For now, I'll catch you later!

- CumQuaT 

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