Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Heater Meals

What happens when a company consolidates various edible items from a series of low quality food producers to create a gigantic mass of meal for people on the go? Well, you might get something like HeaterMeals©, the self-heating meal that is perfect for anyone lost in the wilderness, embedded in a war zone, or hopelessly wandering across the charred remains of a post-apocalyptic wasteland.

heater meal top down

For my birthday, many months ago, I was given a HeaterMeals Plus™ by a co-worker. This may have been because he knows about my penchant for trying strange foods. More likely is that, having just returned from training with the Army Reserves, it was "leftovers" and he thought it would be funny to pass it on. Either way, I was quite grateful to be the recipient of such an odd parcel and, noting the expiration date of nearly a year later, promptly stuck it in the cupboard to be used on some future adventure. Well, the adventure never came and one day I was hungry, curious, and looking to free up some cabinet space and decided this was the day I would put the self-heating meal to the test.

Innotech invented their Flameless Ration Heater technology, TRUETECH™, in 1990 which has been used to heat over 1 Billion Meals for the U.S. Armed Forces.

Using this self-heating technology, Innotech developed, copyrighted, and branded an array of ready-to-eat meal options including:

  • HeaterMeals© Self-Heating Meals - "a tasty, nutritious mobile, hot meal"

  • HeaterMeals Plus™, The Self-Heating Meal, Plus all The Fixings™ - a HeaterMeal with some snacks, condiments, and a drink

  • HeaterMeals3© - a HeaterMeal© with a 3 year shelf life

  • HeaterMealsEX (which, curiously, isn't listed with a copyright next to its name... I guess they reached their quota on the number of copyright symbols one can use on a web page and still be standards compliant) - a HeaterMeal© with a 5 year shelf life!

Whew, that was a lot of product. Within each of these categories are a variety of meals for carnivores, omnivores, and herbivores alike. Some of the options include:
  • Chicken Pasta Italiana

  • Green Pepper Steak with Rice

  • Homestyle Chicken & Noodles in Gravy

  • Mushroom Gravy, Mashed Potatoes, & Beef

  • Vegetarian 3 Cheese Lasagna

  • Zesty BBQ Sauce & Potatoes with Beef

  • Southwest Style Chicken with Rice and Beans

  • Pancakes, Real Blueberry Topping and Bacon Slices

  • + many, many more!

heater meal malnutrition

I had the "Pancakes, Real Apple Topping & Bacon Slices" from the HeaterMealsPlus breakfast series. Weighing in at a whopping 1240 calories, this is one burly breakfast! Included were two little pancakes, some strips of bacon-esque material, trail mix, raisins, apple juice, apple topping, a fruit cup, and the TRUTECH™ heating aparatus itself. There were more raisins and apple products than you could shake a stick at. Were these the fruits harvested towards the end of the season? Dried grapes and mushy apples rendered palatable through desiccation, liquefaction, and juice extraction? Well, it's a better fate than letting them go to waste.

heater meal steaming

To heat the food you place the appropriate items into the orange heater bag, pour in the provided pouch of water, and fold the bag in half to keep the heat in and prevent resultant chemical reaction from making a mess. At first the steam trickles out slowly but before you know it you're witnessing a violent boil. This thing really does get quite hot so one must take great care when removing the contents for consumption. I'm not a stickler for hot meals and can very well enjoy my food cold or tepid (I actually prefer to not heat up leftovers) but I could absolutely see this being indispensable in a cold environment where lighting a fire is not an option.

heater meal prepared

Now onto the food itself: basically it tasted like crap. The raisins, fruit cup, juice, and trail mix had enough sugar to kill an entire army of diabetics. The bacon was like fat jerky and, although it didn't taste too bad, it's not something I'd choose to eat again. Although most would disagree with me on this point, the pancakes were quite palatable. They were dry and rubbery but that just tricked me into thinking they were some sort of healthy, whole grain pancakes (is that an oxymoron?). But seriously, taste and enjoyability are not the point of these meals; this is not food you're supposed to choose to eat. You eat HeaterMeals because you have to. Despite my biting criticism about the quality of this product, there's no denying how incredibly essential it could be in a time of need. So while it may not win out in the taste arena (and I must admit, I only tasted one and it could very well be the poorest of the bunch) they certainly do excel in terms of:

  • Longevity: 1 - 5 years is a long shelf life for a meal and could mean the difference between life or death.

  • Nutrition: sure, not the "healthiest" food around but it provides all of the essentials and more for dire situations. The high calorie content could again mean the difference between life and death.

  • Warmth: because there's no socket for your spot heater out in the wild.

  • Portability: you can fit a lot of these in a backpack, particularly if you ditched the box and sorted everything out before packing it, and there's no need for extra cooking equipment.

If I was roughing it or surviving in a bind then these types of products would be essential. So yeah, they may not taste very nice to the comfortable and well fed but these are the best post-apocalyptic meals money can buy.

heater meal pancakes and bacon

Wow, I had planned on just making a bunch of disparaging remarks about this meal, particularly considering I couldn't even finish it (no need for the excess calories) but it appears as though I instead formulated a mini-infomercial. If only my endless drivel made any sense, then I might be able to capitalize on this aimless venture.

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