Having spent the Vietnam years making love not war in a smoky college dorm room filled with the sounds of Major Hendrix (Vet., Army, 101st Airborne), I've since felt more than a little guilt that Ive never raised an arm to defend my country. This guilt was rekindled at Onion Roll today, when the waitron asked VI and me if we were vets; we sheepishly declined the honorific. I now see my college draft deferment as a very politically-motivated sop, enabling some to go to college, and others, with less options, to risk their lives (Im referring to people like Jessica Lynch, who probably had few alternatives, and Shoshonna Johnson, the African-American fellow detainee who nobody talks about and who probably had even fewer alternatives).
So on the way home, I stopped at Military & Police Supply in Forest Park to pick up dinner: an MRE (Meal-Ready-to-Eat). Having had corned beef and pastrami for lunch, I went with the pasta and vegetable MRE. ($6.95). The owner told me the big sellers were Beef Teriyaki and Beef Stew, but they were all sold out.
Back home, in an effort to simulate battlefield preparation, I sat on the MRE all afternoon, warming my dinner with body heat. As dinner time rolled around (and as my leg started cramping from sitting on dinner all day), I ripped open my meal. War is hell and this meal would make it no less. Granted, if youre starving, it would be manna of three courses and a beverage:
Crackers: actually not bad. Kind of bland, but with much more texture than your average Saltine and no lard-y aftertaste. I squirted on some Apple Jelly, which was kind of like regular Smuckers, only a lot more watery (first three ingredients: Corn Syrup, Water, High Fructose Corn Syrup). It was so loose you could almost see a guy squeezing the pack into his mouth before ducking for cover.
Pasta with vegetables in tomato sauce. Warming dinner with body heat is kind of yucky. Its better than eating the food cold, I suppose, but its uncomfortable eating food that matches your body temperature. The pasta was pretty much what youd expect: in the democratic military spirit, the flavor profile was homogenized enough to be edible by most while offending few: rotini with bits of mushroom, celery, carrots, peas, and red bell pepper in a thin, neutral sauce. Not great by any means, but a stiff competitor for similar offerings at Macaroni Ranch or Spaghetti Factory
Pound cake: after carbo-pounding at Melissas yesterday, and eating the crackers and pasta course, this was really too much of a bready thing. It felt a lot like the those vacuum-sealed cotton candy wads. This was a seriously shelf-stable baked item: remarkably dense. My guess is that if it remained packaged, it could easily last a century. Maybe more. And I could easily wait that long before eating it again.
Lemon-line drink: enough beverage for one-quarter of a canteen. Hey, it probably tastes pretty good if youre fighting in a Muslim country and have limited access to beer.
The MRE package also contained a spoon (appropriately warmed to body temperature), napkin, salt/pepper, a moist towelette, and creamer (Is it usual to always have a pot of joe going on the battlefield?).
On the pasta container was a motivational warning that if you dont eat (and you might not, faced with this fare), you risk loss of strength, endurance, and mental alertness. The individual MRE was worth about 1250 calories, or about one-third what a person needs to spend a day being shot at.
We owe our fighting people our sympathy, if not our unqualified support. Whatever you think of the war or the people behind it, those who actually fight it are risking a lot for what I hope they believe is right. My dilettantish, touristy meal was a way of connecting with them, in the only way I know how, on Veterans Day.
Military & Police Supply, Inc.
7351 Madison Street
Forest Park, IL 60130-1543