Today at the Institute of Military Food Concepts we present the results of our taste test of a new sandwich developed by U.S. Army food engineers for internal use by troops.
This sandwich was brought to our attention by retired Army Sgt. Maj. Willard Clark, who sent in a newspaper article reporting that the Army is developing a new sandwich representing "a breakthrough in the state-of-the-art technology for intermediate moisture foods." The article quotes the Army as stating that this sandwich features "shelf-stable fermented meats" mixed into "a synergistic anti-oxidant system" offering "greatly enhanced lipid stability."
These, of course, are precisely the food qualities that knowledgeable connoisseurs look for when they dine in the finest French restaurants.
Connoisseur: Garcon, is the lipid stability of your fermented meats enhanced by a synergistic anti-oxidant system?
Waiter: Vous etes darned touting! ("But of course!")
So we called the Army Food Engineering Directorate and asked if we could have one of the new sandwiches for testing purposes. We were told this would require higher-level approval. The military cannot afford to have a state-of-the-art assault sandwich falling into the wrong hands.
We don't know how far up the chain of command our request went ("It could be a trick, Mr. President!"). But evidently we checked out OK, because several months later the Army sent us a dark-olive-green sealed foil package labeled: Shelf Stable Sandwich Flavor: Peppercorn.
Accompanying the package was an information paper from the Army's Advanced Food Branch.
(The following sentence reveals details from the information paper concerning the design of the shelf stable sandwich. We are asking foreign espionage agents to skip over it. Thank you.)
The information paper states that, in the construction of the sandwich, meats are "formed into cylinders and are encapsulated in the bread to give the appearance of a 'Torpedo' roll with a meat center."
(Foreign espionage agents may resume reading here.)
Our Official Taste Test Panel consisted of ourself; our wife, Beth; our son, Robert; and our primary and auxiliary dogs, Earnestand Zippy. We unwrapped the shelf stable sandwich, which looks sort of like a flattened hot dog, with the meat totally enclosed in the bread. We each took a bite.
"Hey!" said Robert. "It's a Slim Jim!"
Of course, this is not true. It is a high-tech, intermediate-moisture, eat-out-of-hand food component with enhanced lipid stability and an edible protein film barrier to prevent oil migration. It only tastes like a Slim Jim. But this is a major improvement over the Army's current standard for combat food, which is the "Meal Ready to Eat," or MRE. For purposes of comparison, our panel also taste-tested an MRE, which was mailed to us a year ago by alert readers Gregg and Chris Schauermann, who undoubtedly obtained it in a totally legitimate manner.
The MRE is a triumph of food technology, meeting or exceeding every significant nutritional, logistical, hygienic and longevity standard. Its only drawback is that nobody wants to eat it. Military analysts believe that a major reason why the allies won the Gulf War so quickly is that U.S. troops wanted to stop being fed what appeared to be mislabeled construction materials.
Our MRE came in a mud-brown plastic bag. Inside were a number of equally attractive packets, including one labeled "Beef Stew." We opened this packet, and out oozed our entree. If the federal government wants to eliminate the budget deficit, all it has to do is relabel these MREs and market them to pre-adolescent children under the name "Big Brown Bag o' Barf."
"How come it's so orange?" asked Beth. She poked around in it a bit with a fork. "Look!" she said, at last, holding up what appeared to be a rodent organ. "I have something here that might be related to meat!"
The humans on our panel thought the stew tasted every bit as good as it looked. The dogs loved it, but they have been known to eat pizza-delivery boxes.
Another MRE packet was labeled "Crackers." It's difficult for us to imagine how, without the use of rare titanium alloys, the Army was able to manufacture a cracker this hard. Other MRE packets included a "Cherry Nut Cake" that was as dense as linoleum, but not as tasty; and a "Fruit Mix" that you could "eat dry or reconstitute in water." We tried it both ways. Dry, it was like chewing an Odor Eater, so we recommend reconstituting it in water, which causes it to completely dissolve, thus enabling you pour it down a drain.
For the record: The dogs loved all of these items, as well as the foil packets.
Anyway, our conclusion is that the new Army sandwich definitely tastes better than the MRE. Of course, so does ceiling tile. But still, it's a stride forward, and we wish the Army well with it, and many other military food concepts in the future. All we ask -- and we say this as patriots as well as human beings -- is that these concepts not include beer.