Peacekeeping: France Wins One


November9, 2006: The French version of the MRE is defeating the United States original. The proof is to be found in the peacekeeping operations where French and American troops both operate. The many peacekeeping and humanitarian missions going on around the world are seeing increasing distribution of military field rations, like the MRE, to needy populations. This has become popular because many nations noted that these MRE-like field rations eventually get too old to use, and must be dumped. But it's good PR to help the starving by giving them these rations just before the rations are too old to eat. Since the U.S. is at war, it has no "about to expire" rations to give out, and lots of starving refugees to look after. So a special Humanitarian Daily Ration was developed.

But some other interesting stuff is going on out there, where U.S. and French troops are in the same area. The locals get their hands on both MREs, and the French version RCIR (Ration de Combat Individuelle Rechauffable), and most quickly decide they much prefer the RCIR. In the local marketplaces (where much humanitarian aid ends up), RCIRs sell for several times what an MRE goes for. Note that one RCIR contains a day's worth of food (3200 calories), while each MRE is good for one meal (1200 calories). Even so, RCIRs sell for twice what three MREs will cost you.

Take a look inside an RCIR and you'll see why. Each meal box contains two precooked entrees, one appetizer, a packet of instant soup, cheese spread, salted and unsalted crackers, breakfast items, sugar, an energy bar, a chocolate bar, chewing gum, caramels, hard candies, paper towels, water purifying pills, and a reheating kit (matches, fuel tablets, and a disposable folding stove). Back in the 1990s, there used to be a small bottle of wine as well, but now the wine ration arrives separately. The food is high quality and well prepared. There are 14 menus, which, like MREs, change from year to year. Half of them do not have pork products, making them acceptable to Moslems (about 15 percent of the French armed forces).

Typical appetizer/ Main dish combinations are;

Chicken in Jelly/Beef Salad/Tunny Potatoes

Salmon Paté/Salmon Rice Vegetables/Shepherd's Pie

Mackerel Paté/Stewed Beef /While Veal Stew

Canned Beef /Sauté of Rabbit/Chile con Carne

The RCIRs are mainly a matter of style and culture, but after a quarter century, the MRE (Meal, Ready to Eat) is finally getting some respect. Often the only food available for troops in the field, early MREs were criticized for awful taste and sometimes literally rotten ingredients. Since the 1990s, the Department of Defense has used an ongoing survey of the troops to discover which MREs were popular, and which were detested. There are 24 different MREs available, and the least popular ones are regularly dropped while new ones are introduced. Proposed new MREs undergo a lot of field testing with the troops, and those that do not make a good impression, never enter the regular lineup. Each MRE still weighs about 24 ounces and has about 1200 calories. Troops going into combat onfoot often strip away a lot of the stuff in an MRE they don't need, reducing the weight to about a pound.

Another problem with MREs, was troops giving them to hungry local civilians. These people were often malnourished and not accustomed to American food. So the HDR (Humanitarian Daily Ration) was developed and is currently available for the troops to distribute whenever they operate in an area likely to have a lot of hungry civilians. The HDR is similar to an MRE, but with some important differences. The HDR is designed to provide a full day's calories for a moderately malnourished person. In order to be acceptable to the widest possible variety religious and dietary restrictions, HDRs contain no animal products or animal by-products, except for minimal amounts of dairy products. There are also no alcohol and alcohol-based ingredients. The original HDR meal bag was bright yellow, for easy visibility. Unfortunately, that color is similar to the ones used for cluster bombs bomblets, so a different color was used after that. The HDR meal bag uses graphic descriptions of how to open the bag eat the contents. Unlike the MRE, which is one meal, the HDR contains two meals, to provide a day's worth of food (2,200 calories total.) A spoon and a non-alcohol-based, moist towelette are the only non-food components in the HDR meal bag. Troops are often given a lot of HDRs if they are expected to encounter civilians, and handing them out often wins friends very quickly. The troops often tend to hand out the candy, and other treats, from their MRES, to local children.

But the adults, if given a choice, will try and get RCIRs. These are especially popular for celebrations. The RCIR food is exotic, and by any standard, well prepared and tasty. If you want to feed someone, MREs or HDRs, will do, but if you want to impress them, haul out the RCIRs.




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