Space-age foodfeeding soldiers

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, April 16, 2003

It's one of several technologies smoothing the way to victory in Iraq, though it is far less greasy and infinitely tastier than earlier prototypes.

Meals Ready-to-Eat — or MREs as American military rations are more commonly known n are a vast improvement over the food rations of earlier American armies.

During the Revolutionary War, for example, soldiers of the fledgling Continental Army were supposed to receive 16 ounces of beef, 18 ounces of flour, 6.8 ounces of peas, 1.4 ounces of rice and, surprisingly enough, a quart of beer.

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Granted, it was not exactly gracious dining

but, the soldiers at least could count on obtaining an adequate number of calories and a sufficient quantity of protein and minerals, though vitamins A and C were lacking.

Nowadays, soldiers who consume the recommended three MREs a day receive 3,600 calories and all of the recommended daily allowances of protein, vitamins and minerals.

MREs also taste good and come in 24 different recipes n everything from cheese tortellini to nacho cheese pretzels.

It's a far cry from the sometimes agonizing monotony associated with earlier military rations, such as World War II C-rations, which provided only one meat and vegetable, along with sugars, crackers and coffee.

Like the C-rations, MREs are designed to sustain a soldier on the battlefield when regular chow lines aren't available.

But unlike the bulky, heavy C-rations, MREs are extremely lightweight n packaged in materials that can maintain their integrity even after being airdropped 100 feet without a parachute.

Likewise, they can fit easily into a backpack or pocket n a huge improvement over unwieldy tin cans.

The MRE is based on technology developed for the U.S. Space Program.

Like soldiers on the move, astronauts require lightweight foods that fit easily in very confined quarters.