DAILY QUIRKS: Kabul’s Lazy Dinner (MREs!)

Generally people like myself, who are always busy with work and life but also exhibit certain laziness tendencies at times, have found life hacks that fit well with our busy-but-lazy lifestyle.

There are all sorts of examples of Kabul life hacks, but my favorite lazy-but-highly-effective way of freeing up time is with MREs. “Meal, Ready-to-Eat” are the American solution to feeding troops in the field. They are “home-cooked” in the U.S. and stamped with the approval of the Department of Defense. They all have the catchy, copyrighted slogan “Warfighter Recommended, Warfighter Tested, Warfighter Approved”, and the main course generally sports instructions detailing all the reasons for why it is dangerous to not consume sufficient calories while in the field. (These things aren’t exactly five-star dining and I guess it can be hard to convince certain gourmet-loving soldiers to actually eat the vacuum-sealed meals, but I don’t think they’re that bad.)

All you need to set up a night of working without ever having to leave your desk is an MRE package and some water. First, you open the package and sort through all the surprises – you only known what the main course will be by what is written on the outside of the package; everything else is kept secret until mealtime (I suppose they do this so that soldiers in the field have at least one daily surprise to look forward to that breaks the monotony of missions).

Today I picked “MENU 8: Meatballs in Marinara Sauce”. My package contained:

  • the main meatball course
  • a package of “wheat snack bread”
  • cheddar cheese pretzels
  • smoked almonds
  • crackers
  • cheese spread
  • tropical punch flavored “beverage base powder”
  • The usual package of condiments etc: a pack of Nescafe, a non-dairy powder creamer, a salt package, two pieces of gum, pizza seasoning (why?), sugar, a pack of waterproof matches, a tissue, a spoon, and of course a moist-towelette so the soldiers with etiquette can clean up when finished.

Today’s menu is merely satisfactory. Sometimes they contain all sources of fancy extras such as (Real!) M&Ms, apple-cinnamon “muffin tops” (so you only have to eat the best part of the muffin), hot coco, or the favorite “HOOAH!” energy bar.

The cheesy-filled pretzels today look the best, and I start with them. My MRE routine is usually the same: pick at a few snacks, then once I’ve been at my desk for a few hours go through the process of cooking the main meal. You simply add an ounce of water to the MRE Heater Bag, and insert the main course into the bag. The water heats the food using some sort of oxidation-reduction reaction with the magnesium in the heater bag (yes, I am a scientist at heart), and within 5 minutes you can remove your main course and voila! A hot dinner without ever having to leave your desk. There is even generally enough heat left over to prepare a decent cup (or, umm, plastic bag) of Nescafe.

And there you have it! A complete dinner and lots of extras all for about 70 cents (on the underground market), no cleanup or getting-up required. Kabul life hacks are great. Now it’s back to work!