Wednesday, 1 May 2019

MRE Menu 11: Vegetable Crumbles with Pasta in Taco Style Sauce

Let's have a look at another MRE. This one is Menu 11: Vegetable Crumbles with Pasta in Taco Style Sauce. It was released in 2017. It's not rare, or infamous, or unusually popular, and Steve1989 hasn't reviewed it (yet). I just wanted to see what it was like.

Note that it's meal eleven, not two in Roman numerals (meal twelve is vegetarian as well). There's something familiar about the font. It's apparently Handel Gothic, which was used on the poster for Close Encounters of the Third Kind and looks similar to the 1980s Star Trek font although simpler. The curvy E is really distinctive. It reminds me of Eurostile and Westminster, in that it was futuristic a long time ago but now looks old-fashioned.

It also reminds me of the old NASA worm logo, remember that? But enough of typography, let's spread the contents of the MRE onto a table:

As before, MREs are US military meals introduced in the early 1980s. They replaced canned C-rations. Some MREs have a reputation for badness but on the whole soldiers seem to like them; the biggest criticism is that they quickly get monotonous. Each MRE is a single meal. On the civilian market they don't make a lot of rational sense. They're novelties, but what's wrong with that?

MREs are designed to provide sustenance, but they're also morale-boosters, and that's why I like them. They're like Christmas, for men. Manly Christmas. Menu 11 is a vegetarian meal; I have no idea if it's full-on hardcore vegan. The idea of a vegetarian military meal seems odd but, and I'm getting ahead of myself here, the main meal is really good and I could have eaten more.

Before I look at the rest of the MRE, let's get the main meal cooking. I've had mixed luck with flameless ration heaters - the last one just made the food lukewarm - but this one worked perfectly and was hot enough to cook the main meal and heat up the mixed fruit as well.

Menu 11 is top-heavy with snacks. Mine came with a main meal, plus some peanuts, some peanut butter, two crackers, a pouch of mixed fruit, a First Strike energy bar, a cappuccino drink, and a raspberry juice powder. No coffee! Not proper coffee, anyway. The cappuccino has instant coffee in it so presumably there's some caffeine.

Most modern MREs come with a plastic beverage bag for hot drinks. The cappuccino - that's two ps, two cs, two-two, two-two - and remember that accommodate is two-two, and Mississippi is two-two-two, and Philippines is one-two, and cappuccino is two-two, millennium is two-two, cappuccino is two-two, the cappuccino bag is better than the beverage bag. It's curiously elaborate for what amounts to a standard powdered cappuccino two-two drink.

The accessory packet has the standard very large brown plastic spoon, plus salt, useless toilet paper that might work as a tampon or makeshift nosebleed-stauncher, plus a moist towelette and some chilli and lime sauce. But no coffee! Or tea. Let's try the cappuccino two-two.

I used my long-defunct Schwa mug. Remember Schwa? Probably not. It was a "meme" made by a chap called Bill Barker in the 1990s. The timing was excellent, coinciding with The X-Files and the peak of interest in the Church of the Subgenius, and I remember that there was a fascinating website with lots of gen one HTML tricks. I lost touch with it. Bill Barker vanished, then came back, then vanished again. The mug survives.

It's essentially a generic cappuccino drink. I added a tiny bit of sugar; there's nothing wrong with it, but it's not coffee, instant, type II.

Let's try the raspberry drink. Raspberry type III. At first I was disappointed because there wasn't much of it:

But add water and it turns an alarming blood-red colour:

It's surprisingly good. As with the lemon drink from Menu 3 that I tried back in January, I was expecting it to be a chalky sugary mess, but it's surprisingly subtle. Diluted to about three-quarters of a pint it was tasteful enough to be pleasant but not so tasteful than it made me sick. I suppose it exists to make purified water drinkable but if it was available in sachets I would buy it.

Let's try the First Strike bar. Mine is cranberry-raspberry (or "cran-raspberry"), but Menu 11 can also come with chocolate or apple-cinnamon. App-Cinnamon? No, it's "apple-cinnamon".

I assumed it was going to be an oat bar, but it's not. It reminded me of something but I can't put my finger on it. Surprisingly it only has 260 calories despite looking like a mass of sugar; the ingredients list is huge and includes zinc oxide, propylene glycol, and alcohol, which makes me wonder if you could use it as an explosive. Or a component of an explosive.

I remember a few years ago the doctor made me attend some meetings where a volunteer talked about the damage that alcohol does to your liver. The Lucky Strike bar reminded me of some of the slides. Despite resembling an organ / tumour it's actually not bad. Chewy, moist, less sugary than I expected, but still utterly artificial, with only a vague cranberry taste. First Strike bars are available in a range of flavours. A short while after writing this I had an Apple-Cinnamon bar:

It tasted a bit like the cran-raspberry, so I assume they all taste the same.

On to the next treat, the peanuts:

They're peanuts. Menu 11 can also come with almonds or cashews, but I got peanuts. There was a distinct hiss when I opened the packet. Here in the UK dry roasted peanuts tend to be covered in a kind of savoury powdery stuff, but these were just normal peanuts. They're peanuts. They tasted like peanuts. I'm not a huge fan of peanuts.

EDIT: Many years later, but still before you were born, he bought a second Menu 11. Judging by the photographs this one came with Jalapeno cashews:

Judging by his handwritten notes the cashews were much better than the peanuts. Texture-wise they were much closer to the British version of dry roasted peanuts, and they had a hot but not overpowering aftertaste. Alas there were only a few of them.

The meal came with peanut butter and a pair of crackers. I've written about them before so I'll save them for later. The crackers are biscuity, unsalted; the peanut butter is peanut butter, there's nothing special about it.

Let's look at the main meal. Mine was packaged in October 2017 (the mixed fruit was packaged a month later). I ate it in April 2019. I have no idea how it was stored. MRE meals are supposed to last for five years so the food was well in date:

What are vegetable crumbles? I have no idea. The food is essentially a kind of vegetarian chilli with little pasta bits:

Shown here with some of the lime and chilli sauce, which I stirred into the food. Professional food photographers spend a lot of time presenting the meals, but that would involve hard work. I hate that.

It was really good! I wolfed it down and could have eaten more. I think the chef was going for a mock-beef chilli, and he succeeded; it tasted and felt a bit like beef. It's a shame the MRE didn't have a couple of taco shells. The lime and chilli sauce is superfluous (it adds a bit of edge to the meal, but not a great deal of taste) and the salt is pointless unless perhaps you're working hard in the sun, which makes sense if you're an infantryperson, less so if you aren't.

As with the other MREs I have tried the main meal is relatively small and the bulk of the calories come from snacks. I suppose it makes sense if you're in a hurry, but if I was redesigning this MRE for the civilian camping market I would remove the accessory packet and the nuts - on the assumption that a camper would carry those separately - then make the main meal half larger, make the crackers slightly thicker and more substantial, and perhaps squeeze it down so it fits into a mess tin.

Let's wash it all down with the mixed fruit:

This was the weak link. The fruit was fine, although there's not enough fruit to justify the space it takes up. The big problem was the sauce - it had a curious nail varnish / petrol / plastic flavour. Just a hint, and only for the first split-second after I put it in my mouth, but it wasn't pleasant. Perhaps it was starting to go off, I don't know. I didn't fall ill afterwards and so far I haven't noticed any change in the consistency of my stools.

In summary therefore Menu 11 is surprisingly good. The vegetable crumbles were much better than I expected and the rest of the meal, with the exception of the fruit, was at least okay, although the inclusion of peanuts seems unimaginative - can't soldiers just buy packets of peanuts? I mean, the point of MREs is that they're clever, but there's nothing clever about peanuts.