There are lots of jokes about MRE (Meals Ready to Eat) on the internet (of course, to be fair, there are lots of jokes about EVERYTHING on the internet). These particular jokes are mostly poop related so I’ll spare you the vast majority of them. But apparently if you’ve been deployed, you’ll understand why Al Franken made a joke that he was on his 5th MRE and “None of them has developed an exit strategy”.
MRE (Meals Ready to Eat) are self-contained military combat rations provided to soldiers to use when in combat or other field conditions where organized food facilities are not available. And they are notoriously bad. They’ve been described with such non affection as “Meals, Rejected by Everyone” and “Three Lies for the Price of One” because it’s not a Meal, it’s not Ready, and you can’t Eat it. You get the idea: Universally hated.
NYC chef Chuck George grew up in a military family, so he often had MREs as a child. His dad would bring them home from the base. And the terrible food served to our military made a huge impression on him. He works with a very different level of cuisine now, creating and plating meals at great restaurants, but the huge disparity between the food that soldiers eat and the food he serves to his customers still surprises him.
Recently, it made the chef want return to this food from his childhood and present it in a unique way. So he pulled creative food photographer Henry Hargreaves and videographer Jimmy Pham into the project. The trio decided to reimagine the awful food and plate it in the manner of a Michelin-starred meal.
“There are a lot of metaphors in food and how you feed someone,” Hargreaves told Uproxx. “Some of the worst food is served to the bravest people. We wanted to try to elevate it to really illustrate the gap, and hopefully bring something regular people hardly see into the light.”
They tracked down MRE from various countries and found that there was a significant difference to the quality between them. Is that a sign of the priorities of each nation and the way we treat our troops? Or is it simply indicative of the size of different countries’ military populations? It may be that the more MREs are needed, the worse they are.
George, Pham, and Hargreaves tasted all the MRE because they hate to waste food, and while they had fun photographing the series, eating the food was not quite so fun. As Hargreaves said, “Some really tested us…” But they agreed that France had the tastiest rations while the worst were definitely a tie between the United States and China.
At first glance, the series is simple fun. It’s enjoyable to see terrible food presented as if it’s being served for hundreds of dollars a plate. But in a larger sense, the comparison between the opulence some are able to get and the meals we serve our soldiers (who are literally laying their lives down for our safety) cannot be ignored. Maybe there isn’t a lot to be done to improve dehydrated field meals. But if there is, it would be cool if we could invest in that. Because no one deserves a tasty meal more than our troops.