A culinary review of Australian military rations

One of my slightly more eccentric writing exercises…

For a while now, I’ve been fascinated by ‘Meal, Ready-to-Eat’ (MRE) and other self-contained meal products. For example, I’ve tried the infamous ‘meal replacement’ powder Soylent (or more accurately—its Australia knock-offs Aussilent and Oz Soylent), and those ‘One-Square-Meal’ snack bars (which are effectively human chow biscuits, if you think about it).

In eating these, uh, ‘foods’, I am wondering whether they’d make a decent camping or backpacking meal. As I taste testing them, I am wondering whether on the day I inevitably become a crazed doomsday prepper, they’ll come in handy for the bio-nuclear-robot-reptilian apocalypse.

I’d like to stress that I’m by no means a dietary Philistine; I enjoy a diverse range of cuisines and I’m a decent cook if I dare say so myself. I do live in Melbourne, after all. MREs look cool to me. I like their brown, durable, ‘This-Is-Sustenance’ packaging. As someone who struggles with which brand of baking flour to buy at Woolworths (hint: they’re all the same), the philosophy behind them appeals to me in a spartan, utilitarian way (see this xkcd comic for an adjacent sentiment). In fact, there’s a cottage industry of YouTubers reviewing MREs, so I’m clearly not the only one curious eater out there.

A quick aside: I sympathise with the theory that the more divorced a civilian society is from its military-industrial complex, the more likely it is to do dumb shit like support foolhardy wars or revere institutions it doesn’t understand. Does my attempt at eating an MRE come close to closing this gap? Fuck no. Maybe a centimetre on a ten-thousand-kilometre journey. But given my short-sightedness and sedentary laziness, I think my stomach is the only avenue for primary field research available to me.

Okay. Now let’s go check the mailbox…

Ill-advised online shopping

24-hours’ worth of meaningless calories.

Disclaimer: These aren’t actual Australian CR1M rations (they’re quite expensive to buy online). Rather, these are civilian ‘survival packs’ sourced from the same food companies. According to the store page, this product is “identical to the product used by the Australian Army except without the toilet paper and sports bar”. Good enough for me!

Unfortunately, the package I received didn’t come with recommendations on what breakfast, lunch, and dinner should look like. So I’ve just made vaguely educated guesses based on what was in the pack.

Breakfast of Champions

or Goodbye Blue Monday…

Breakfast consists of:

  • 50g cereal bar (800kJ) – made in New Zealand
  • Freeze dried coffee (~44kJ) – made in New Zealand
  • Cane sugar (~188kJ) – made in New Zealand
  • 100g natural muesli with milk powder (1621 kJ) – made in New Zealand

Hang on, you might be thinking to yourself, why the hell is everything coming from New Zealand? As it turns out, since 2009, ADF contracts for combat rations have been awarded to an NZ food company that sources its products locally. In my opinion, this is a fantastic strategic position for Aotearoa to be in. Should New Zealand ever want to sabotage Australian infantry operations, all they need to do is spike the military rations they ship over. Personally, I’d slip a bit of antifreeze into everything, although I’m also open to any number of delayed action poisons.

Depicted: Too much water in my muesli.

My first thought is that this is way too sweet a breakfast. The muesli and the cereal bar are too sugary (which makes sense for survival scenarios), although that being said, they are probably healthier than the diabetic soup most kids eat these days for breakfast (I’m looking at you Toucan Sam, you drug peddling bastard).

Fun fact time! Did you know that Bircher Muesli is named after Swiss physician Maximilian Oskar Bircher-Benner? He was essentially the father of all unscientific raw food fads, and claimed that he cured his jaundice by eating raw apples.

Coffee wasn’t too bad. Better than McCafé. About on-par with 7-Eleven.

Smoko o’clock

Elevenses, as hobbits call it.

Morning tea is a rudimentary ordeal:

  • Black tea bag (negligible kJ) – made in NZ
  • 26g strawberry jam tube (252 kJ) – made in NZ
  • 15g yeast extract tube (120kJ) – made in NZ
  • 35g poorly packaged Huntley & Palmers cream crackers (648 kJ) – made in NZ

The jam and yeast extract had to be awkwardly squeezed out of their toothpaste containers, which explains my godawful cracker spread:

Proto-Pollock

The tea bag has a nice quote from the 16th-century Chinese poet Ti’en Yiheng: “Tea is drunk to forget the din of the world”. How droll and warrior poet-esque. The tea is quite passable, though it could do with a spot of milk. The strawberry jam is 40% actual fruit, which is a better percentage than what I have in my pantry currently. Also, the yeast extract (which is clearly trying to imitate Vegemite), tastes exactly like Marmite. Ha! Sucks to be you, Aussie diggers! Enjoy munching on New Zealand’s superior (and maltier) yeast spread.

All in all, a very acceptable Anglo morning tea.

Ain’t no free lunch

Finally, we see something that doesn’t come from New Zealand:

  • 55g mi goreng (1089kJ) – made in Indonesia
  • Some kind of fruit bar (285kJ) – made in NZ
  • 45g candy chocolates (869kJ) – made in NZ
This is what I used to eat at 2am on the day my uni essays were due.

You’re kidding. Mi Goreng is actually included in ADF military rations? (I looked it up: Yes it is.) Was this is the best Australia’s finest food scientists and military R&D specialists could come up with? And it wasn’t even that great a Mi Goreng packet. It didn’t nearly come with enough sweet soy and chilli sauce seasoning to balance out the oil and fried shallots. The quality of these instant noodles is clearly a nefarious power play by our Indonesian neighbours. The fruit bar is really quite bad—a kind of gummy, pruney mush. The chocolate candy is off-brand M&Ms. Unfortunately, its candy shell is too hard and crunchy (for durability in deadly combat situations, I suppose).

Not a great lunch option. Maybe I didn’t combine the right items. Two thumbs down.

Drinking the off-brand Kool-Aid

Sugar, sugar, everywhere…

Afternoon tea. A dismal affair:

  • “Awesome Orange Flavoured Drink Mix” (~150 kJ) – made in NZ
  • Apricot cereal bar (775 kJ) – made in NZ

The drink mix packet states the following: “Note: No real oranges were squished in the manufacture of this beverage.” Wonderful. The drink tastes like Chernobyl radiation and dissolves poorly. The apricot bar is dry and bland, and probably wishes it tasted like stone fruit when it goes to bed alone at night. Moving on.

Dinner is served (at last!)

Cooking is for chumps.

This is a bit more interesting. We have:

  • 85g sweetened condense milk (1190 kJ) – made in Australia (finally, an Australian product)
  • 250g beef casserole mush (1075 kJ) – made in NZ (alas, no Aussie beef)
  • 310g just-add-water instant mashed potatoes (1040 kJ) – made in NZ
  • Salt & pepper. Also made in NZ
“To eat things that would make a billy goat puke!”

The potatoes were surprisingly edible, with a fluffy texture and pleasant cilantro flavouring. However, the beef casserole was joyless and flavourless (y’know, like an actual beef casserole). I clumsily sat the casserole packet in a pot of boiling water for a few minutes to ‘cook’ it, which did nothing to help. The casserole consisted of glibs of glistening meat which, along with squidgy carrots and potatoes chunks, were suspended in an unidentifiable boggy sauce. Needed more salt.

On the plus side, I enjoyed slurping up the tube of condensed milk off the spoon. I mean, isn’t that the only right way to consume it?

Supper, I suppose

I ate, like, zero vegetation today. Do I still deserve this?
  • 40g dark chocolate bar (882 kJ) – made in NZ
  • 10g drinking chocolate (170 kJ) – made in NZ

The dark choc bar was pleasantly sweet, while the drinking chocolate was bland, bland, bland. I’m tired and full and that, ladies and gentlemen, completes our 24-hour ration pack.

Overall Zomato score

A somewhat tolerable sack of long-life food. When the nuclear bombs inevitably fall and we all end up wearing BDSM leather out in the wastelands, trading bottle caps and fighting giant irradiated cockroaches, this kind of stuff will be a gourmet luxury.

It is unfortunate that the rations had a tonne of sugar and practically no fibre, although that makes sense given these rations are used by service members in combat conditions where Nando’s and Red Rooster are not readily available. It was also 11,200 kJ of food, which definitely exceeds the daily limit of your shlubby pencil pusher. That said, at the time of writing this, I’ve been under my target weight so the boost in calories didn’t hurt.

All in all, I didn’t learn anything terribly useful, and I hope you didn’t either. Okay, I’m bored now. Till next time, goodbye.

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