'Taste of MetroWest' samples operational rations
March 14, 2013
FRAMINGHAM, Mass. -- Armed with 50 pounds of operational rations for hungry partakers, food technologists from the Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center's Department of Defense Combat Feeding Directorate had plenty to share with the crowd of more than 1,000 people at the third annual "Taste of MetroWest" March 12 at the Sheraton Framingham Hotel.
The Taste of MetroWest had about 50 different exhibitors, each supplying unique beverages and/or food. Attendees had the chance to sample a variety of operational rations from CFD and learn about the science and technology that goes into each and every meal.
"We try to showcase food that people won't ordinarily come into contact with; that's what makes Natick Soldier Systems Center food so appealing," said Bonnie Biocchi, president and chief executive officer of the MetroWest Chamber of Commerce. "While you can go into any restaurant, you can't go into a base. This serves as a great way for citizens to have, in a very small way, something in common with the Soldier."
Biocchi sits on the Science and Technology Advisory Board and had the opportunity to taste Meals, Ready to Eat. She invited NSRDEC to the second annual event last year because she "thought it would be important for folks throughout the region to see first-hand the kind of work Natick Soldier Systems does on behalf of our Soldiers."
Most tasters started off their sampling at CFD's table with one or more of the hearty MRE options, which included Pulled Barbecue Beef, Beef Taco, and Vegetarian Taco Pasta.
"I thought the food was so good!" said Massachusetts State Rep. Carolyn Dykema. "I'm on my way home to cook for my family, and I wish I could have a large stock of MREs in my basement. It's a bit of a relief to see that our Soldiers are getting fed with proper nutrition."
The Southwestern Chicken Chili was a big crowd pleaser at the event, which is good because it is part of the Unitized Group Ration, Heat & Serve that feeds approximately 50 Soldiers using a single, easy-to-heat container consisting of pre-cooked meals.
The UGR-H&S chili was one of Scott Hamilton's favorite dishes at the CFD table. Hamilton said the food was "awesome" and he was happy to see the variety of food offered to Soldiers now. He served in the U.S. Army from 1985-1988, and when he deployed, there was a limited amount of food choices available.
"I think it is important for the public to taste MREs and other operational rations, because I believe a lot of civilians think of military rations as being the same way they were when their parents may have served many years ago," said Sgt. 1st Class Scott A. Sickels, CFD noncommissioned officer. "There is wide variety of meals available to our warfighters today that are nutritious, and they really do taste great. Most people that sample operational rations are truly surprised and amazed with the flavor and variety, and they come away with a new perspective about military food."
First Strike Rations (FSR), perfect for eating on the move, made them easy to eat at this standing-room-only event. These rations were bite-size snacks for attendees who quickly snatched up the Honey Barbecue Chicken Shelf-Stable Sandwich, Honey Barbecue Beef Shelf-Stable Sandwich, and very popular Filled French Toast FSR.
"I'd eat (Filled French Toast) over a Pop-Tart any day!" said John Zompetti. "This is delicious."
"If you packaged (FSRs) and sold them at a convenience store, I'd definitely buy it," said Alison Atawa.
Besides the food itself, packaging is one of the most important aspects of the different types of operational rations.
"It's important for the public to understand the constraints we are working with when we make operational rations, and appreciate some of the strict standards we are operating in, like the three-year shelf life," said Tina Howard, food technologist at NSRDEC.
Taste of MetroWest offered an opportunity for people to try military food as well as learn about the science and technology that go into making food that meets rigorous nutritional and shelf-stable standards for the U.S. military.
"Serving nutritious, tasty meals dispels the notion that military food can't be delicious," Biocchi said.