It has long been said that an army travels on its stomach. Field rations may not be as sexy as laser-guided sniper rifles or other gear used by the modern military – but for successful combat operations, they are no less important, and today just about as “High Tech.”
“Food engineering is the idea of applying traditional engineering principles to industrial food processing,” explains Professor Juming Tang of Washington State University. “So it means we are taking electrical engineering principles and mechanical engineering principles, and we adapt them, and apply them to food processing operations to achieve the desired specifications for nutrition, shelf-life, and safety as required by the Department of Defense.”
If any of our readers have been around long enough like me, to remember C-rations, the science that Dr. Tang has described has created a full spectrum of rations that are about as far removed from those tin cans filled with unrecognizable gelatinous slop as you can get – and the great news is that most if not all, of these are available to the general public, and can be an integral part of your portable, or “shelter-in-place” survival rations.
The military’s first foray into more palatable field rations was the MRE – “Meals Ready to Eat.” No SPAM here! Combat troops opening the sleek brown packages that replaced those horrid old green tin cans were treated to crisp crackers, name brand candy bars, and a meal that could be warmed up in a heat pouch that gave off no smoke or light signature.
Each MRE has about 1200 calories, with highly regulated percentages of fats, carbohydrates, and all the micro and macro nutrients. Each menu must be approved by the Office of the Surgeon General. So MREs have been desigedn specifically to provide a very high quality ration that meets or exceeds the nutritional needs of the modern warfighter.
Tactical food however, needs to do much more than taste good. Each meal must be designed not only to maximize the caloric and nutritional sustenance needed to fuel combat operations, but must also be able to withstand the rigors of the battlefield. For example, each MRE must be able to stay fresh for up to three years when stored below 80° F, or for six months at temperatures from 81 to 100o F.
And that’s not all – a case of MREs has to be able to withstand rough handling conditions and airdrops from altitudes of 100 feet by helicopter without a parachute, or 1,500 feet by plane with a parachute. You know that’s a specific requirement that the guys at Kraft and Hormel, and all these other companies don’t have to worry about when figuring out how to package and deliver their products. You’re not getting your groceries air-dropped into your backyard!
MRE’s and Other Survival Foods
With their amazing combination of good taste, nutrition, shelf life, and their “built to take attitude,” MREs are a great idea to include in your in home emergency food supplies, and they are also very easy to grab and go. Similar to MREs, there are a variety of “backpacking meals” available for camping, hunting. etc.
There are hundreds of different dishes available, from main entrees, vegetable and starch sides to deserts and breakfasts. Unlike MREs that contain several types of food in each package, these backpacking meals have only one dish per pouch, and they need to be prepared with hot water.
Less well known than MREs, are survival food bars. These are specially formulated short-bread blocks with the highest concentrations of nutritional ingredients — carbs, protein and fat – that can be found in any survival food. Since they are produced under U.S. Coast Guard guidelines — specifically for use as emergency life-raft and ship rations — they are non-thirst provoking and highly stable in extreme temperatures. They come in 2400 or 3600 calorie sealed packages, but each unit is sub-packaged for easier rationing. Most brands have a standard shelf life of five years!
For short-term emergencies you can keep a stock of other simple, common backpacking foods. Foods like snack bars don’t have long shelf-lives, but if you switch them out on a regular basis (and seal them in zip-loc bags or airtight containers) they can serve as handy portable food sources. They’re most useful when you’re feeling hungry, but don’t want to bother with preparing MRE’s or food pouches.
There are lots to choose from, such as the Navy Seal’s HOOAH! Bar, which has been engineered to provide a steady energy boost during sustained field operations.