A Sandwich Saves the Day After FEMA’s Epic Fail

Question: What’s better? Eating an MRE or starving to death?

Answer: Eating an MRE. (But not by much.)

As you probably know, an MRE is a Meal, Ready to Eat. It’s a self-contained field ration in lightweight packaging.

The U.S. Department of Defense purchases MREs and provides them to service members in combat. Or in similar field conditions where other (i.e. edible) food is not available.

MREs have been around since 1981. And most of them taste like it. They replaced the MCI (Meal, Combat, Individual rations). Perhaps the MTCYTSF (Meals to Convince You to Start Fasting) will be next.

From Hardtack to MREs

In the mid-1800s, American soldiers ate salt pork and hard bread known as “hardtack.” Yum.

The military eventually “graduated” to canned food. But due to its weight, we switched to freeze-dried food in the 1970s.

Packed and flavored mush became the standard military fare in the 1990s. So many varieties, so little digestion.

Then came MREs. Technically, the contents of an MRE are food. It took scientists in a laboratory to prove that, but it was proven nonetheless.

More Like a Weapon Than a Meal

Now, to be fair, we must admit that MREs have rigorous requirements. An MRE must be able to survive submersion in water, as well as extreme temperatures.

And there have to be enough preservatives to make it last for three years. At 80 degrees Fahrenheit, no less.

What’s in an MRE? If you have to eat one, it’s better not to know. But since you probably don’t, I’ll tell you.

The MRE entrée is often spaghetti or beef stew in the form of a glutinous sludge. Kind of looks like something you’d find oozing out of a cracked exhaust pipe on a hot day. But not quite that tasty.

So Much for Basic Food Groups

The side dish could be rice, corn, mashed potatoes or fruit. It really doesn’t matter because it doesn’t taste like any of them.

You’ll also find something resembling a cracker or bread, as well as a peanut butter, jelly or cheese spread. At this point in the meal, you’d spread just about anything on it to remove the cardboard taste from your mouth.

A powdered beverage mix is also included. Might be fruit flavored or cocoa or tea or a sports drink.

For those troops who have not yet requested that a military surgeon remove their tongues, there is a desert waiting. Could be candy or perhaps a Soldier Fuel Bar.

FEMA Hands MREs to Puerto Ricans

Well, now that I’ve whetted your appetite with details about MREs (or possibly made you want to give up eating for several months), let’s look at a recent usage.

After Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico, millions of people needed food. Badly. As I mentioned at the beginning, MREs are slightly better than dying of hunger. So, that’s what the Federal Emergency Management Agency provided.

Overall, an MRE is about 51 percent carbohydrates and 36 percent fat. Very little fiber, which translates into constipation with prolonged usage.

Not particularly nutritious, but it can keep someone alive (and out of the bathroom) until better food is available.

A Chef With a Vision

There comes a time, however, when an extreme weather victim wants to do more than merely stay alive. When you’re eating MREs, that day comes pretty quickly.

Fortunately, a chef named José Andrés and a number of his people came to the rescue with something very simple. The ham and cheese sandwich.

Like most projects, it started small. But it grew as more people got involved.

Like first responders in Puerto Rico and charity volunteers from the mainland. And off-duty Coast Guard members, Homeland Security investigators and even homeless hurricane victims. They all pitched in.

Lining up for Sandwiches

They acquired the white sliced bread from local bakeries. They bought mass quantities of ham and cheese from places like Sam’s Club. And they brought in countless gallons of mayonnaise.

The sandwiches were served in arenas and coliseums. Eventually they were making and serving 20,000 sandwiches a day.

More and more people volunteered. Additional “food stations” opened up in different parts of the country. Soon they were serving 60,000 meals a day. Including chicken and rice. Hungry people were suddenly eating healthy food instead of MREs.

“I have created many avant-garde dishes as a chef, but there are few meals I’m prouder of than the hundred of thousands of sandwiches we made in Puerto Rico,” Andrés said.

It’s Up to You to Protect Your Family

Puerto Rico’s power grid was not fully restored until 11 months after Hurricane Maria devastated the island. And there has been a good deal of scrutiny regarding FEMA’s response to this disaster.

It’s becoming more and more obvious that we cannot expect to rely on the government to come to the rescue when disasters happen.

But trying to figure out what all you need to survive a disaster, especially one that lasts as long as Hurricane Maria, can be overwhelming.

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