Taste test: All in all, it's better than a poke in the eye


I TRIED TO picture myself as a soldier on maneuvers in the desert. Such a setting must numb the taste buds and give one a hankering for just about anything.

I wasn't in the desert but in an office at Aberdeen Proving Ground. I'm not totally unfamiliar with field rations, such as those contained in the sterile-looking brown plastic pouch before me. I once survived on dozens of varieties of elbow macaroni and cheese while on an extended backpacking trip.

Unfortunately, it was 9 a.m. and my job was to sample a "Meal, Ready-to-Eat," the military's state-of-the art field rations. No breakfast food was available. I chose meal No. 9, meatballs and rice in spicy tomato sauce.

First, I struggled to rip open the thick pouch. A bayonet would have helped, but I used scissors. Out popped a number of other plastic pouches filled with dehydrated peaches, drink mix and other items.

The pouch also contained the "entree," which I heated in boiling water.

* The entree was as good as anything you can get from a can. It had scores of meatballs but I had to squint to find the rice. Eight ounces was plenty, especially so early in the day.

* The peanut butter and cracker ensemble was what you would expect. The crackers were exceedingly dry but, as my father-in-law says, better than a sharp stick in the eye.

* The peaches, which had to be soaked in water, didn't do much for me. But I wasn't in battle.

* The chocolate-covered cookie bar was a nice surprise -- and not half bad.

* The instant coffee was instant coffee.

Also inside: toilet paper; gum, a nice touch; cherry drink mix; and a neat little towelette.

All in all, not bad -- even better if you're in the desert, I imagine.

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