When reading about an MRE now, it is not exactly astounding. For modern people, packing and sealing food that can stay in storage for several years is a common thing. But this convenience wasn’t always around, and the story of MREs is a pretty interesting one. And to really appreciate the purpose MREs serve in the modern world, it’s important to go back all the way.
The Concept For MREs
Soldiers can’t win a war if they are hungry and weak. And getting food to thousands of men on the battlefield, often times in situations where they can’t be reached has always been a big challenge. Thus, the necessity for an MRE has existed long before it became so readily accessible.
It has been recorded that the first official army rations were introduced during the Revolutionary War. Each soldier got enough beef, peas, and rice to last them about a day. Things got a little better during the Civil War when canned foods were introduced. Everything from the meat and bread to the sugar and coffee was canned and given to soldiers.
By the First World War, another change was made to rations. Instead of heavy cans, preserved meats were introduced. This meant less weight to carry around and more food can be taken while on foot. But it was during the Second World War that rations went through significant revolutions. Two of the popular rations were known as Jungle and Mountain rations. Unfortunately, the cost of the war and the rations were too heavy. That meant rations were reverted back to what was referred to as C rations, resulting in more than 100 million cans of spam getting sent to the Pacific.
MREs Are Introduced
The Pentagon realized three distinct things as the Second World War passed and Vietnam started. The first is that simply providing a soldier with a balanced meal isn’t enough. Why? Because their circumstances and surroundings change dramatically during war situations, meaning they require different types of food to adequately survive.
The second realization was about the taste. More specifically, by catering to individual tastes, it can motivate soldiers to actually finish a complete ratio and get the required nutrition.
Thirdly, the weight of these rations makes a big difference, especially when soldiers have to travel on foot over long distances. Of course, extending the shelf life of these rations has always been the fundamental part.
It was in 1963 that the Department of Defense put into motion the research for the first official MREs. And the focus point for the packaging technology of these rations had to be light to carry, durable, but also effective in terms of sealing the food. Three years later, the LRP (Long Range Patrol) ration was created. But just like the rations introduced during the Second World War, the overall cost for LRPs was too much according to the Quartermaster Command officials.
Then, in 1975, Dr. Abdul Rahman came forward with the idea of storing food in what was called a retort pouch, which was made of plastic. By 1986, it became the standard issue ration and it featured a maximum of 12 entrees.
The Continuing Evolution Of MREs
As can be seen today, the evolution of MREs still continues as even tasty desserts form part of the package. And when the Flames Ration Heater was introduced during 1990, it also changed a lot of things. Because now soldiers could actually heat up their rations before consuming them, making them taste a lot better.
In 1994, MREs were being packaged with images that made them more visually appealing. At the same time, the utensils like spoons and forks were created from biodegradable materials. More specifically, all the things packaged within an MRE that can’t be consumed became biodegradable.
And today, MREs are being produced on a commercial market as well. While official army MREs are not available for sale, people can look towards the commercial alternatives. The menus are very extensive and catering to individual tastes have improved quite a bit.
The Challenges With MREs
Even though there were many factors to take into consideration for making MREs nutritional, lightweight, long-lasting, and tasty, there are still challenges involved regarding the taste and long-term use.
This is why the Army still experiments with different menus and ways to make the rations more delicious. Every 4 to 5 years or so the official menu is adjusted, and it most recently happened in 2016/17.
Overall, it is still not recommended to use MREs on a long-term basis if not necessary. Instead, they should be used for survival and emergency situations. Plus, for those who are storing MREs, make sure to rotate the rations according to date. Also, make sure the storage space is stable in terms of temperature and overall conditions. This way they can be stored for longer.