Since Hurricane Sandy hit, there have been an abundance of MREs in low-lying towns like Milford hit hardest by the storm.
MREs, or Meals Ready to Eat, have been available at Milford’s firehouses and at the Disaster Recovery Center, which is now located at Simon Lake School. In the days following the storm, police and other emergency officials carried them in their cars as they drove around town. They have been giving the meals away free to anyone in need.
At first, the roughly five-inch plastic-wrapped meal packets look anything like a meal, and hardly appetizing. Even after the pack is opened, individual sleeves of food items look less than appealing.
“I used to like them,” said Dan Wassmer, Milford fire battalion chief, who said he ate the meals in the service.
Matt LaVecchia, another Milford firefighter, said he didn’t mind them either. “The best is the ribs,” he said one day as he helped man a disaster recovery center with other emergency personnel.
A Meal Ready to Eat is a self-contained, individual field ration in lightweight packaging bought by the United States military for use in combat or other field conditions where organized food facilities are not available, according to one online encyclopedia.
“The MRE replaced the canned MCI or Meal, Combat, Individual rations in 1981 and is the intended successor to the lighter LRP ration developed by the United States Army for Special Forces and Ranger patrol units in Vietnam,” the site states.
The meals that local officials received from the Federal Emergency Management Agency after Storm Sandy are called “APack Ready Meals,” and they work basically the same as the government-issued Meals Ready to Eat distributed in military circles.
Each case of APack Ready Meals sells for $69.95 and contains 12 meals; that’s roughly $6 per meal that the government has been giving away since the storm. On some websites, such as those that cater to backpackers, the meals are more expensive.
A variety of meals is available. APack offers a vegetable stew with beef, spaghetti with Italian-style meat sauce, home-style chicken noodles with vegetables, macaroni and beef in sauce, pasta with garden vegetables in tomato sauce, and Southwestern-style chicken with black beans.
“Wow, that’s actually not bad,” an area businessman said after sampling the Southwestern chicken meal.
In the military, there’s a trick to getting the most out of an MRE, said Wassmer. “You have to mix and match different kits.”
LaVecchia recalled a “cracker challenge,” where military personnel had to see how many MRE crackers they could eat in five minutes with no water.
A typical meal pack comes with a main course, plus crackers, maybe cookies and a sleeve of peanut butter.
There is a heater included with each meal — a combination of powdered food grade iron and magnesium, salt, and water used to heat the main course. When water is poured onto the included heater pad, the heater releases enough heat to warm up the precooked meal to 100 degrees Fahrenheit in approximately 12 minutes.
Milford recovery coordinator Bill Richards estimated that more than 1,000 of the meals have been distributed in the area since Sandy.
Before eating, however, diet-minded individuals might want to read the nutrition facts on the label.
One meal package contains 1,200 calories; 490 calories from fat. Sodium is 53%.
Of course, the meal packet provides 110% of vitamin C, 50% of iron, and 80% of vitamin A needed for the day.
Richards said the meals, which come from the FEMA distribution center, are available at the Disaster Recovery Center at the old Simon Lake School in Milford. There also are tarps, water, Red Cross cleanup kits, and hygiene kits for people still displaced by the storm.
The center is open Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. and 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturdays.