[Readings] Hell's Kitchen, By Steve Thomas | Harper's Magazine

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[Readings]

Hell’s Kitchen

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From video reviews posted to Steve1989MREInfo, a YouTube channel on which Steve Thomas evaluates military rations and MREs (meals ready to eat).

concentrated beef for beef tea, second boer war british emergency ration, 1899–1902

It smells like fish food. A smell that says, whatever this is, it’s not appetizing. It wafts foul beef. Lacking in flavor. It’s so abnormal. It’s probably not safe. Like a meat-grain porridge. A lot of fat and cartilage. Whatever this was, it was never great.

charms candies and wrigleys p.k. gum, u.s. aaf life raft ration, 1945

The candy has a nice, mild cherry flavor and tastes more natural than candy nowadays. A welcome addition for guys who are starving and dehydrated on a life raft. This is the best gum I’ve ever had.

cookie, apple bar, and coconut bar, korean war arctic 3 u.s. emergency aircraft landing survival packet, 1952

The cookie sucks all the moisture out of my mouth, like chewing on a sponge. The apple bar tastes like garden soil. If you were starving to death, I guess the coconut bar beats wood chips.

cheese spread and marlboro cigarettes, u.s. vietnam war meal combat c ration spaghetti with meat sauce, 1969

Cheese from the Sixties just doesn’t hold up. This has the nastiest smell, and I’ve smelled some things. It definitely has black mold. That’s the last time I open up a cheese spread. My room stinks. I’ve got to smoke a cigarette to get the smell out. I don’t smoke cigarettes, but when I do, they’re at least forty-five years old.

pineapple nut cake, u.s. mre ham and chicken loaf, 1984

The cake smells awesome. There’s no rancidity to those nuts. The outer surface is glistening and velvety soft and doesn’t feel like food. A truly decadent, rare treat. The pineapple is perfect. I wish I had a hundred of these cakes.

omelet, u.s. mre menu #4, 2008

It smells awful and looks like something that would insulate a wall. There is absolutely nothing redeeming about the texture or flavor or smell. But add a little bit of salt and salsa verde and it becomes edible. It starts to taste like a real omelet. Good for two bites, then it gets weird again. You would have to be starving.

soup, united arab emirates ration pack type c, 2015

Tastes like vegetable baby food. It’s pretty good.

reindeer stew, norwegian arctic field ration game casserole, 2016

Look at this piece of reindeer. Creamy potato and carrot. It’s like a light gravy, but also like a stuffing with a gravy base. The reindeer is gamy, such a distinct flavor. It is wholesome and filling. I can’t stop eating it. The Norwegians hit it out of the park again.

pepperoni pizza slice, u.s. mre menu #23, 2018

The holy grail of all MREs, pepperoni pizza. With thirty years of development, Natick Labs has corrected the issues with shelf stability. Early versions had moisture, oxygen, and pH issues that would produce mold before the three-year inspection. This, however, is better than some frozen pizza out there. This is a special mozzarella. Little pieces of pepperoni. Great texture—can’t tell if it’s pork or beef. A little savory, not overly dry. In 2017, there were issues with this pizza and they shelved the project. The government didn’t want to give soldiers brown pizza. The pizza is supposed to boost morale, not decrease it. Soldiers have been asking for it since the birth of the MRE, back in 1981. It was folklore. They couldn’t pull it off. Now it’s no longer a rumor.


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