originally published September 19, 2012
Here I am, tasked once again to write about food. Not necessarily good food – I’ve already covered bacon – and not necessarily food I know. This one has me nervous. This is military food.
I have a close friend who has attained a rather impressive rank in the United States military (I didn’t even know ‘Space-Colonel’ was a thing), and he has supplied me with a number of military food samples from which I’ll be drawing today’s inspiration.
I’ve got to admit, I was a little hesitant in writing today’s article. I used to watch M*A*S*H, and I clearly remember Hawkeye Pierce’s “I’ve eaten a river of liver and an ocean of fish” tirade. Military food is not recognized as technically ‘good’. So to help wash down today’s obligation, I implored the good people over at Rogue Brewery in Oregon to supply me with a variety of beers to wash back whatever Space-Colonel Rosenblatt sends my way. For the low price of retail, they obliged.
Each of my foodstuffs came in a generic wrapper, offering no indication of what horrors await inside. I pulled out something small; it turned out to be an energy bar. Okay, not a bad start. The name “HOOAH!” derives from both an American soldier battle cry as well as a sound occasionally produced by every serviceman’s favorite singer, George Michael.
The HOOAH! (though the bar goes by the moniker “OOH-RAH!” when distributed to Marines because they like to be different) tasted a little chalky. Wait… no, chalk tastes a little chalky. This stuff would need to soak in some kind of hydrating, flavorful brine solution in order to elevate itself to chalky. Luckily I’d selected an appropriately patriotic bottle of American Amber Ale, whose smooth finish would wash the memory of the HOOAH! from my tongue.
I was already worried. One military snack and I was ready to march into battle, not out of any specific brand of national purpose, but simply because I’d been subjected to a dose of gustatory unpleasantness. I downed the rest of my ale and continued.
Next I came upon a trio of rations, known as K-Rations. One was labeled as a ‘Breakfast Unit’, another was a ‘Dinner Unit’ and lastly a ‘Supper Unit’. I was confused, having always alternated ‘dinner’ and ‘supper’ to mean the same non-lunch meal, but I figured they simply have a different lingo in the military. I’m sure the Marines’ K-Rations are known as ‘Brunch Units’, ‘High Tea Units’ and ‘Rather Large Six-PM Snack Units’.
I’d have done better selecting the A-Ration kit. These boxes feature fresh fruit, plus refrigerated or frozen foods. I’ve lived by the teat of frozen Swanson grub; I’d have done well with the A-Rations. B-Rations are canned or preserved foods that can be heated in a kitchen or by immersion in hot water. C-Rations are lower-grade, always canned, intended to be wolfed down as fuel. Enjoyment of a C-Ration is grounds for disciplinary action.
K-Rations are even worse.
There wasn’t much to this kit. The Breakfast Unit included a can of chopped ham and eggs which resembled a yellow paste with pink flecks of horror scattered throughout. It also featured two biscuits which were hard enough to break open the tin can of paste, a dried fruit bar that was tougher to bite through than my leather belt (I checked), four cigarettes, some gum and some instant coffee. It was then, after I’d cracked open a tall bottle of Chatoe Rogue Good Chit Pilsner to wash this stuff down, that I realized K-Rations had been discontinued in 1948. I refrained from finishing the meal.
All three meals came with a four-pack of cigarettes, but only the Dinner Unit included matches. That’s an important lesson in not skipping meals. In fact, K-Rations are chock-full of this lesson, given that they were found to contain about 800-1200 fewer daily calories than would be required for a highly active male soldier in extreme heat or cold. These things led to vitamin deficiency, severe weight loss, and because some soldiers subsisted on these rations for months on end, the very sight of them after the war was said to have induced vomiting.
I was glad to have opened the Pilsner. Whatever came next, I’d be needing something heartier to chase it back. Rogue’s Russian Imperial Stout, with its boastful texture, assertive blend of hops and downright disciplinary flavor, was the only thing that would do the trick. (a sponsorship shall yet be mine)
Up next was the LRP Ration, whose brown plastic wrapping made me glad I’d chosen a strong accompanying drink. The LRP I uncovered featured chicken stew (surprisingly pink and reeking of bedsores and… I want to say motor oil?), something called a fudge disc, gum, toilet paper (which tasted finer than anything else in the packet), and some instant cocoa. The US Military stopped issuing cigarettes with these packets in 1975.
LRP stands for ‘Long Range Patrol’. Soldiers in Vietnam subsisted on this stuff somehow. If nothing else, this little experiment has led to a drastic increase in my already weighty respect for men and women in uniform. Also, for the fine folks at Rogue Brewery. (sponsorship!)
Somehow my basket of goodies included an Individual Meal Pack from the Canadian Military. I have to say, I’m impressed. Alright, it’s the only thing besides that dreadful HOOAH Bar from this century, but still… our guys and gals get some good eats over there.
Some of the entrée options include chili con carne, chicken à la king, veal cutlet, and beef bourguignon. This particular IMP included a Coffee Crisp, which is one of the finest uniquely Canadian (and possibly also British) chocolate bars out there. If it weren’t for the fact that I’m grotesquely out of shape and not particularly apt with any skill even remotely military in nature, this meal might have tempted me to enlist.
Naturally, the Canadian meal soared past my palette smoothly with a tall pink bottle of Rogue’s Voodoo Doughnut and its maple-bacon flavoring. I decided to finish up with a maibock, the classic Double Dead Guy Ale. I hope the name doesn’t appear too inappropriate for today’s subject matter.
My final military feast was a current sampling of American combat fare, the MRE, or Meal, Ready to Eat. Some troops called these “Three Lies for the Price of One”, because they aren’t meals, they aren’t ready, and one would be advised not to eat it. Others say that MRE really stands for “Meals, Rarely Edible” or “Massive Rectal Expulsions.”The package of four frankfurters has been nicknamed the Four Fingers of Death.
I’m more intrigued by MRE #23, which is listed by Wikipedia as featuring ‘chicken breast filled with rib meat.’ Wrap a little bacon around that and you might be on to something. At this point I gave up and finished my beer instead.
Thank you to Space Colonel Rosenblatt, but I guess military food hasn’t really come too far from the 4077th. Yet another reason we should bring the troops home.