Sometimes a man desires to move this old bones and go to the forest. And there you can get really hungry from the lack of benzopyrene in the air. And then what?
During short trips you can basically do without food - some water, maybe a chocolate bar and that would be all in the meals department. If the trip extends in time, and neither wife nor mum is waiting at home with dinner, then you can probably be persuaded to eat a burger or a pizza on the way back. Anyway, a win-win situation. However, it gets more complicated during longer and more strenuous trips. (Almost) no one will run from the middle of a forest to buy a hot dog and a coffee at a gas station.
Theoretically you can go to a supermarket to chocolate bars, some biscuits, cans, nuts, etc., or make yourself some sandwiches. I know this, because have done it myself, but first of all, it is completely unnecessary, secondly, it is not always profitable, and thirdly, the majority of canned food is ground meat of a fairly inferior origin. I know that I will deny what I previously said a bit, but when visiting supermarkets, buying chocolate bars is an excellent idea. Always.
Fortunately, the army has been struggling with nutritional dilemmas since the dawn of time, so today we can pick from products that the result of several thousand years of field cooking evolution. And this is what the essence of this text is all about, that is, the comparison of probably the two most popular food rations with flameless heaters. More specifically, I will be writing about the Polish SR food ration and its American counterpart, the famous MRE food ration.
Each of these rations tells a lot about the army from which it comes.
This conclusion came to me during the tests. It may seem ridiculous to you, but taking such an MRE (Meal-Ready-To-Eat), you can immediately see that it was designed on the basis of experience gained from numerous battlefields. Instead of a set of plastic cutlery you get one robust spoon. Instead of hard cans you get soft plastic bags. Nothing will feel uncomfortable in your pockets. Just a paradise for the liner gear fanatics.
You do not need a knife to open and consume it. There is also nothing metal in the ration, so you can give them not only your soldiers, but also prisoners and stray civilians. It does not matter much to us, but you can see that someone in the Pentagon has thought about the subject matter. The slogans written all over the place such as "Food gives you energy. The more energy you burn, the more you have to eat." are a bit funny, but it enough to recall any document about recruits and suddenly slogans like those found on packs of cereals cease to amuse.
Well, certainly a presentation of the subject matter is better suited for the target group than the one found on the Polish daily ration which contains detailed instructions on what to each and in what order.
Interesting things are added to the MRE. Apart from, roughly speaking, things considered a general standard (a moist handkerchief, toilet paper, matches, chewing gum, but there are no water treatment tablets), the set also includes coffee whitener and spices, and these depend on the main course. Sometimes it will be just boring old salt, but you can come across ketchup and mustard or the Mexican mix.
As for the food as such, once more someone sat down and really give it a thought. Only the menu number and the name of the main course are displayed on the bag. Starters and sweets are surprises. Sometimes it happens that you will find otherwise well known M&Ms, Skittles, peanuts or a candy bar. Some the rations include a cinnamon cake, in other cases, apple or cheese chips. In addition, crackers/tortillas and processed cheese with various spices. Such things seem nothing special, but psychologically they are probably important when you sit somewhere in an FOB at the end of the world and you depressed by a daily repetition the same boring activities, over and over again, in ever nasty weather.
As for the taste values - I am not some outstanding foodie or a connoisseur. It can be eaten without being disappointed. This food tastes better for me than many fast-food. This is partly because most of these dishes are not found in Poland. Nevertheless, I would certainly avoid them as everyday food. I have a lot of doubts as to what is more processed - the packaging or its contents. You could learn chemistry from the labels. If American food chains would serve meals of this type, then they would most likely resemble MREs in every respect. Besides, I know that there are people who consider this food distasteful.
Some indication of the impact on ones health is the fact that, unlike other rations known to me, the US ones do not have a shelf-life date, and the carton indicates that the date of packaging is not a key factor in the case of inspections. It's basically the only thing that deters me from these reasons. Don't get me wrong, they taste quite well and I keep a stock of them to take on various trips. If you eat one every now and then, nothing bad will happen to you. However, for trips I prefer to pack one MRE (official guidelines recommend eating 2-3 a day) and complemented the rest of the daily caloric needs with other, more natural sources.
You get the basic idea.
Here it is immediately apparent that someone tried hard to take a seed of a modern idea and plant it on a foundation made of solid hard concrete. In contrast to the MRE, our SR (pol. Sucha Racja - dry ration) is a fairly recent invention.
Inside the SR you will find a spoon but it's just a plain plastic one, like from a cheap bar. Packed together with a napkin to wipe your mouth and beard after a meal. There are also two cans. The small with an appetizer and the bigger one, which is semi-soft, with a main course. Most things are unlikely to be carried in a uniform. It seems to be small, but with the "zero line" in mind, taking the SR ration into account is out of the question.
Similarly to the MRE, here too you can gently smile when unpacking the ration. Apart from the aforementioned napkin, the set also includes a genuine drinking straw. The white one which can be bent and has those colorful stripes. The level of "littering" the ration with curiosities is not as gigantic as in the case of its "bigger sister", the SRG, which contains 3 complete sets of disposable cutlery with napkins, as well as 4 paper cups and the "consumption regulations" mentioned above.
Additives are also a Polish standard - salt, pepper, toilet paper, candy with vitamin C, candy with coffee extract, wet wipes, chewing gum and a large string bag. There is no excess. Also, there are no water treatment tablets, but it's cool. The whole ration is packed, you guessed it, in a string bag. Thanks to this, after opening it, you do not have to worry that you are going to loose something or get it wet. Much better than a regular plastic bag of the MRE.
The sets are largely identical. There is always a nice fruit and cereal bar in a wafer, a can with pâté/minced meat/fish, the SU-1 crackers, commonly called "panzerwafer" in Poland, and a main course. The taste of the fruit bar tends to be different at times and freeze-dried fruits are interchangeable with jam. One may wonders a little that regardless of whether the jam or fruit are thrown in the bag, we will find there two packets of "panzerwafers", so one has to save up or choose what will be eaten without anything to go with it.
In contrast to the very intensely tasting powder drinks found in the MRE , in the SR we get granulated fruit tea. It is made into exactly the same sugar flavoured drink that most Polish children were eating dry with a spoon straight from the box when the parents weren't looking. Dissolved in a regular amount of water it has only coloring properties. However, like a quarter of a century ago, I prefer to dry.
When it comes to the culinary values of the whole, the meals resemble home cooking, more decent dairy bars or a better day at the summer camp canteen. Quite simple and quite tasty. It is true that it is not absorbed as well as American meals and it feels more difficult to digest, but when eating the SR, I have much less concern about the future health of my liver and colon. In addition, our Polish invention pleasantly fills the stomach. Its so homely.
At the end, a technical note - I have waited for finish this test for the winter, to see how do the heaters work. The MRE worked without any problems and prepared a hot meal. Unfortunately, the heat the SR can using Esbit smokeless stove (yes, I know - a little girl has a problem eating cold bigos), because the heater was only barely warm. It started to work properly after 15-20 minutes, when I was halfway through dinner.
Apparently, this is a well-known problem for the army. In autumn and winter conditions it is necessary to pour warm into them because they like not to work properly. Well, an advantage this is not.
By the way, it is worth mentioning that, unfortunately, the choice of a semi-soft can as packaging for food is moderately good. While the MRE bags can be bent freely so that the content warms evenly, dishes from the SR are usually hot on one side and cold on the other. Of course, the can can be flipped, but it means that you can not start the heater at one stop and eat a hot meat at the next. And it easily gets dented, and then the food pours out of it. On the other hand, with such an faulty heater, a can is easier to heat up on a classic field cooker, but treating this as an advantage is a bit like bragging about a heroic fight with the problem that has been created by yourself.
In addition, the font on the main meal packs is very folksy, but this is just a side remark.
After eating a few SR and MRE retions, I find that the MRE wins in terms of overall usability and convenience. He also earns additional points for creativity in composing sets and the number of available menus. A gigantic minus for the artificiality of meals and the possible health issues of excessive consumption, because their regular eating can be detrimental to ones health after a few years. Moreover, they tend to be quite expensive.
As for the SR, I'm pleasantly surprised by the number of menus. Not so long ago there were just a few of them, and in 2016 this number reached 21. The MRE has 24 types, but 21 is also very good number. On the plus side, the SR rations have high quality food with a short list of ingredients. It is difficult to find ready-made dishes almost without fillers in stores. Especially at a "normal" price. Maybe in terms of additions it is worse then the MRE, but it looks really decent and with occasional usem one will not get bored with them quickly.
As for the price/quality ratio, the SR ration is unrivaled as it can be bought for 8-10 PLN ("normal" price is around 15-20 PLN). In case of the MRE, I have not seen cheaper ones than 25 PLN a piece anywhere, and I am talking about rations calculated for 8-12 hours of field operations. On top of that, that in the SR we relatively get a lot of string bags in different sizes, and these are always useful, whether in the field or at home.
By the ways, both types of rations have a similar caloric value of around 1200 kcal, with individual menus may have +/- 100 kcal.
Which one is better? It depends on do you need them for. I will say this - if I had to spend a month on a checkpoint in the middle of nowhere or go on a scouting mission in a vehicle, I would definitely choose the SR because of the delicious flavors so close to my heart. On the other hand, for a week-long walking patrol, I would take the MRE, because it is easier to disseminate it and to pack it here and there. The MRE is also more suitable as eating on a rainy day home or a car. For casual "tactical trips" it is better to stock up on the SR.
In general, if I had to choose the one an only, I would have a problem. However, I feel that it would be the SR. Even despite its disadvantages.
For me an ideal food ration would be the contents of the SR packaged exactly like the MRE. Well, maybe someday I will see such miracles.