Packaging food for the apocalypse has always fascinated me. The techniques involved represent the latest advances in food preservation technologies available to humans at the time.
See, I'm a child of the Cold War, and the spawn of an anxious homemaker and civilian engineer with top secret military clearance. As such, my home was fitted with a make-shift bomb shelter that was ready to be stocked with water, weapons, and what I imagined to be an endless variety of non-perishable "astronaut food" should the threat-level ever require it. It never did, which was a huge disappointment to an adolescent boy who equated war with Atari Missile Command. Stupid Gorbachev ruined everything.
MREs (Meals, Ready-to-Eat) designed for military use are meant to be eaten within a few weeks from packaging, with a maximum shelf life of just a few years. Definitely not after 70 years, like the unopened WWII-era rations issued to members of the British Royal Air Force and available for purchase or trade on the internet, or from your local gun-and-knife show. Thankfully, there's a guy named Steve on this strange blue planet who’s excited to pry open a can — eat it — and narrate the whole experience:
Steve's enthusiasm is polite and infectious as he waffles between fits of yummy and yuck in real time. His words are delivered with a lazy SoCal drawl akin to an extra-Canadian Keanu Reeves crossed with Ed Grimley. Here's a transcript of his biscuit adventure which is well worth examining:
"After unwrapping them they really actually don't smell all that great. Pretty bleach-y. Well you get eight biscuits, that's pretty decent. Well. Hmm, well hey, they're edible though... I think. They smell pretty awful. They're dry. They're not very palatable, but lightly sweet. Hmm, but they're not very good. Well, in small bites. You know, when that was fresh, that probably wasn't all that bad. Right now, it's starting to sneak up with a nice bit of foul. But again, back in the day, those biscuits were decent. But now, makes me really need a drink of water. Sorry for talking with my mouth full. Oh yeah, that's very thirst provoking I must say. I don't know if it's because of the rancid oils or what, but... ah it's no big deal."
And then there's this, as Steve's taste buds are treated to a fruit bar from 1944:
"Oh my gosh, that's unreal. It's still tangy and sweet. No way. That's unbelievable. No joke, this right here is amazing. You know how you get a fruit bar that tastes like that? You put it in a can for 70 years and you let it sit there. That's how you get that flavor."
You'll note that he said "no hiss" at the beginning of the video, apparently surprised that a jet of noxious fumes weren't expelled from the can as he broke the seal. I wondered about that until I found this video of a Vietnam-era ration:
"Oh! That's ch... I can smell cheese!"
Rancid cheese is a recurring theme as demonstrated in this video of a WWII AAF emergency parachute ration. "Oh yeah," he says wide-eyed, "super bitter, it's just overflowing my pallet with a bitter, numbing, and it just tastes like how it smells: that foul gym sock kind of cheese."
The Steve1989 MREinfo YouTube channel provides hours of unboxing drama in its exploration of rations provided to the world’s troops at different points in history. I dare say it's exciting at times, in the same way that fans of Terrace House fist-pump the air when a woman casually asks a man to dinner while eating a salad. Only now it's with the urgency of 50-year-old turkey loaf. It's slow TV with heart and I can't get enough.