MRE is an acronym for Meals Ready to Eat, which are rations eaten by soldiers deployed in combat theaters. In the earliest days of the Afghanistan conflict, there were troops from many nations who would trade their MREs. At Bagram Air Base, just one lone French ration might fetch as many as five American equivalents. This was mainly due to the tastes involved, as French rations were known for cassoulet, deer pate, and even nougat.

The Exchange Values Are Not What They Used To Be

A journalist who was recently embedded with French troops actually reported that now the French want the American rations instead of the other way around. Current American rations are said to be “fun,” because they include candy, chili, peanut butter, and hamburgers.

Foil Packets And Powder Provide Tastes From Home

Every passing year, throughout all the member nations of the Afghanistan allied forces (currently 47 countries), tens of millions of dollars get budgeted to research for MREs. How can they be made more efficient to give soldiers on the field the most nutrition and calories while still providing some fun or just comforting taste into a package that is tiny and doesn’t weigh much? The foods within aren’t just there to keep the soldiers physically healthy, but also to give them warm memories of home. Some MREs even include comfort foods, branded by the nation. Australian troops sometimes get Vegemite. Germans enjoy liverwurst, and British soldiers sometimes get to dine on lamb curry.

Some MRE contents have a more practical nature. Italian soldiers receive a disposable toothbrush with each meal. American soldiers get to enjoy poundcake, which military legend claims makes soldiers need fewer toilet breaks.

Other included items are a little more esoteric or random. Embedded reporters in both Afghanistan and Iraq report that MREs randomly come with Assorted Charms or even hard candies from time to time.

Troops will tell you to eat the Assorted Charms never ever. It’s considered bad luck. It’s likely just superstition, as reporters often are unable to find any soldier who can state clearly why it’s bad luck. However, they do take it very seriously. Some embedded reporters joke that if they were ever to be separated from their assigned unit, they’d just follow the likely trail of abandoned and unopened Assorted Charms to find base camp.

Among many soldiers, the favorite hard candy was Skittles for a while but is now more likely peanut M&Ms. In fact, these candies are sometimes used as currency, where the rightly timed packet can get a shift swap that pulls you from guard duty.

Soldiers love to mix up the ingredients and whip up their own individual meals. Army Ranger training includes making Ranger Pudding, a recipe of water, coffee creamer, sugar, Tootsie Roll, instant coffee, cocoa powder and melted chocolate dating back to the Vietnam War.

However, a recipe known as “Combat espresso” is brutal. A soldier pours sugar, instant coffee, and creamer into his mouth directly, and then washes it down with some water. Marines were known for this in Iraq, especially during 2004’s battle for Falluja.

When in a combat theater, eating is sometimes the only high point of the day. Armed forces service members that get to sit down and heat up an MRE are enjoying a break from violence. The meals become rituals, and even just opening a package can bring feelings of comfort and safety, even if fleeting.

Many American soldiers report that the only things they look forward to are the meals.