I’ve never served in the Armed Forces but I’ve always respected those who have.
Both my grandfathers fought in World War II. Pop-pop was a Seabee. Grandpa was a medic in the China Burma India Theater. As a child I’d hear the stories: How Gramps worked alongside the Naga headhunters. How Pops was captured and had wooden picks jammed beneath his fingernails.
Having consumed an MRE (Meal, Ready to Eat), I now have even more respect for our military men and women. MREs are the pre-cooked, air-locked foodstuffs consumed by U.S. troops in the battlefield. They’re also the cuisine that Long Island residents will be given, one a day, if, God forbid, a horrific disaster engulfs the region, such as a hurricane or a biological attack. Stockpiled in reserves across LI, MREs have a shelf life of seven years, and overall, aren’t too damn bad, given you’d only be eating one if your home was swept out to sea or the sky turned to fire. MREs have enough calories, apparently, to sustain a human for one day.
There are various MREs available. A former infantryman from the Army told me of hotdogs and spaghetti. He spoke of cheese and peanut butter trades among the troops, and a field concoction known as Ranger’s Puddin’, which involves Cocoa and M&M’s. Alas, mine had none of those goodies. I feasted on a Chicken Breast Fillet, Seasoned, Grilled, Chunked and Formed (Smoke Flavor Added).
Before masticating the pre-packaged bird, however, I had to fully prepare her for the feast. MREs come wrapped in a plastic bag that doubles as an incubator. The eater must have sufficient ventilation, though, in order to fully experience it. Warnings such as, “Vapors released by activated heater contain hydrogen, a flammable gas,” and, “Vapors released by activated heater can displace oxygen,” increased my appetite.
“Maybe you should do this outside,” commented an editor. “I don’t want you displacing all the oxygen out of this place.”
After putting the chicken in the bag alongside its heater pads, the instructions say to fill it with water, then to fold over its top and prop it up against a “rock or something.” It stressed not to add too much water. Forgoing the parking lot, I grabbed an empty bottle of water and set up the contraption in the middle of the Press’ kitchen floor.
With the addition of the water, hydrogen vapors immediately began to swirl from the bag, displacing much of the oxygen in the room. It got very, very hot, fast. A harsh odor quickly filled the room and leaked into the sales pit. Editors and writers began to shuffle in, to observe the military-style feast in progress. My throat began to burn. I coughed.
“I hope you didn’t put too much water in it,” the former soldier said. “It can explode.”
After about 10 minutes I picked up the bag and pulled out the cooked bird. Using my bare hands, just as we would have to do during a time of crises, I tore open the protective covering and peeled it back, like a tinfoil banana. Holding her like a poultry popsicle, I bit and bit and bit the roughly inch-thick, pink-orange bird. She was smooth and mistaken for a hunk of salmon by some—soon emulsified in my large mouth and slowly meandering down the vast passageway-battlefield of my gut.
“It has no taste,” I gasped.
Onlookers lunged backwards in response—I did not realize till several large swaths passed my tongue that the hot yellow ooze of the bird’s juices dribbled down my sweatshirt and formed a small puddle on the floor.
Next I ripped open the Molasses Cookie, the Crackers and Strawberry Jam and a hefty pouch of Spiced Apple Pieces. I squeezed a mound of jiggly red spread atop the cracks and chomped down again and again, pausing only a few seconds to slather some atop the cookie. Again, a mouth of bird. Again, more jam-smeared cracks.
Not too bad. The cookie, however, did not live up to its name. “Yes, I would eat this in a time of war,” my stomach murmured.
I dug a spoon into apple goulash and plummeted it into my mouth. An unnatural sensation of tart with a tint of stale milk spiked my taste buds and I began to gag, emptying the contents of my mouth into the garbage pail near the sink.
Soon, all was gone but for the small toothpicks of sugar, salt, a fruit-punch flavor Squwincher Electrolyte Replacement Mix Quik Stik and Taster’s Choice Freeze-Dried Coffee.
I sought refuge in a Chicken Parmigiana from Village Heros ($5). Her soothing white blanket of cheese and welcoming sauce brought me back home. I washed her down with a reheat of Dunkin’, just as I had the non-Molasses, and knew it was a civilian’s life for me.