Combat cuisine has come a long way since hardtack. Meals Ready to Eat (MRE) are polymer pouches filled with cooked food that accompany U.S. soldiers to war, but trying to get them to taste good is a battle of its own. Their common nickname is “Meals Rejected by Everyone.”

According to the CNN article “Grub, Chow, Mystery Meat—Combat Food 2.0,” “food technicians are working hard to improve the quality and the taste of combat food.” Of course, they aren’t really able to give the troops exactly what they want. “‘They really want pizza and beer,’ says Judith Aylward, senior food technologist at the U.S. Army Soldier Systems Center in Natick, Massachusetts.”

So what are they getting in those little packets?

Soldiers now dine on penne pasta with vegetarian sausage in spicy tomato sauce, chicken breast fillet and boneless pork rib. … The beef patty is also a favorite, Aylward says. ‘It comes with two slices of wheat snack bread, and we include a package of cheese and BBQ sauce so they can feel like they are eating at McDonald’s.’

Somehow that menu reminds me of airline food—dishes that sound fine in theory, but in execution don’t always resemble food at all. Though, under the circumstances, no one is likely to be asking whether the chicken is free range, or the tomatoes local and organic.

According to the article, the troops like to get creative with mixing and matching MRE items, coming up with their own culinary inventions. According to one soldier, “Peanut Butter + Crackers + Coffee + Sugar + Creamer + Coco Base Powder (Crush it all up and mix in a little water) = Instant Joy.”

You make do with what you’ve got.

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