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Contents of one ration meal.
1) General comments about food
2) Ordinary Food
3) Emergency Food or Rations
3.1) Overview: the BWM/C ration (Boiling Water Meal/Canned)
3.2) High-level design decisions
3.3) Current recipe for the BWM/C ration
3.4) Details about ingredients
3.5) The "kitchen"
3.6) Error: MRE (Meal, Ready to Eat)
3.7) Error: Milk carton as a container
3.8) Some considerations about rations and SHTF scenarios
3.9) Thoughts about water purification
3.10) Next experiments
I make no claims about the suitability of this food list. Unfortunately, none of this has yet been reviewed by a professional nutritionist, to see if the diet was balanced and healthy. See also Legal Consideration #18.
I'm of the "Food is Fuel" school. Don't consult this list to find tasty recipes to impress your acquaintances at the next potluck! My idea of a good meal can be summed up as: "Stop, Fill her up, Pay, and Go".
The ideal food would be:
1.2.1) Nutritionally-balanced. You could eat such a food, and only such a food, indefinitely, and not only would you not have any adverse effects, but you would be wonderfully healthy.
1.2.2) Chemically and biologically stable. It would keep indefinitely without any refrigeration.
1.2.3) Bachelor-friendly. It would require no cooking or preparation.
1.2.4) Compact, lightweight and robust. You could stuff plenty of such food in your backpack without making it too heavy, and it would not be damaged by the sometimes rough treatment given to backpacking equipment.
1.2.5) Easily available. You wouldn't have to order your food over the Internet from hyper-specialized shops halfway across the country, since it would be available in every grocery store.
1.2.7) "Flex-fuel", i.e. self-adapting to varying metabolic needs. For example, dense and protein-rich food which also takes a while to prepare and digest (salted pork, dry beans, and hard tack) is restorative, rebuilds muscle tissue, is pleasant to digest, and keeps the soldier warm at night. Perfect camp food! But it's unsuitable for a fast-moving soldier or scout who needs light energy-rich food (high in carbohydrates and electrolytes and low in fat and protein).
1.2.8) Nourishes the soul as much as the body. One reason for the high emphasis placed on palatability in field rations is to boost morale, but there is a far more important reason: men under stress generally fail to eat. Simply put: stress kills appetite. This is a serious problem in combat, and this is the critical reason why more emphasis is placed on palatability in the C-ration than in the mediocre cafeteria food that comprises the A-ration fed to soldiers on base at home. In this respect, a soldier (or a civilian in a disaster situation) is in a fundamentally different situation than a forest fire fighter or a lumberjack. In a high-stress situation, your stomach will regress to the culinary preferences of a fussy 6 year-old, and this must be taken into account.
The best example (unfortunately only imaginary) of such food is the elves' lembas bread, in the novel Lord of the Rings. (A more serious attempt at describing such food is High-Energy, Nutrient-Dense Emergency Relief Food Product.)
Another example, not at all imaginary since I've been feeding somebody this way for months (exclusively, this person eats nothing else), is Nestlé Isosource:
This formulation, less the water (which makes the product very heavy), and with better taste (yes, I tried, and it tastes bad) would be quite interesting. I did have a giggle with the local butcher, Pierre, when I slowly swept my hand at all the shelves and products of the grocery store where he works, and explained it could all be replaced with such simple pouches of solute!
A quick glance at Section 1.2 above tells us there is no such thing (as far as I know) as ideal food. For example, one of the most nutritionally-balanced, easily available and inexpensive food is fresh produce, straight from the farm. But that is also one of the least chemically and biologically stable foods.
My current attempt at solving this problem is to separate food into two "levels":
1.3.1) "Ordinary" food. This is food optimized mostly for criteria #1.2.1, #1.2.5 and #1.2.6. In other words, it's what you eat by default. It's just ordinary fresh fruits and vegetables, whole-grain bread, fresh eggs, milk, some meat, etc.
1.3.2) Emergency Food or Rations. This is food optimized for all criteria except #1.2.5 (easy to find) and #1.2.6 (easy to pay for). It other words, it's what you eat for short periods of time, when the normal food supply systems are lacking (earthquake, civil disorder, pandemic, etc.).
The US military had a more complex (and complete, and interesting) hierarchy of "food levels":
"A-rations". Food prepared using fresh, refrigerated, or frozen foods. Everyday food. The equivalent of my "ordinary food" category. Generally, this type of ration is served on base and in rear operating areas where established kitchens enable mess hall-style dining.
"B-rations". Meals prepared by army cooks in field kitchens where refrigeration is lacking. Fresh and refrigerated ingredients are partly (or entirely) substituted with canned, powdered, dehydrated, and otherwise non-perishable products like powderd milk, canned beans, etc. B-type meals are prepared by army cooks. Generally, B-rations are served in forward operating areas (like M*A*S*H units), but outside of the combat zone.
Every household should have some non-perishable high energy "B-type" food available. An excellent list of suggestions for high-energy B-type food products can be gleaned from the contents of the original C.A.R.E. Packages (that is, Cooperative for American Remittances to Europe): here and here.
"C-rations". Also known as "field rations" or "combat rations" are non-perishable ready-to-eat individual food rations issued to the foot soldier within the combat zone. The original C-rations were canned; the modern equivalent is the MRE. Although modern MRE's take weight into account, the common thread is that the entree is appetizing and fully hydrated.
"K-rations". A lighter, dryer, less appetizing subset of "C-rations". A necessary side effect of the fully-hydrated, appetizing, "ready-to-eat" quality of C-rations is weight. This is not generally a problem since daily re-supply is necessary for soldiers anyway -- otherwise they would run out of ammunition long before they ever ran out of food. However, some troops such as messengers, paratroopers, and mountain troops might sometimes need to carry multiple days of food in their pack. The lightweight "K-ration" was intended for use in this situation. It dispensed with a fully-hydrated entree and substituted dried meats, crackers, etc. Source.
"D-rations". Also called the "emergency ration". A dense, high-energy food bar intended only for emergency use. Every infantry soldier is issued one as part of their kit. Unsweetened hard chocolate had long been carried by explorers as a high-energy food that supplemented the regular rations of dried beans, bannock, and cured bacon. Indeed, the U.S. Army's first emergency ration bar was based on heat-resistant, unsweetened, protein-fortified chocolate. It was called the "Logan Bar" and for anybody looking to make their own dense emergency ration it is worthwhile reading about it. Believe it or not, some effort went into making the emergency ration less palatable, in order to ensure that soldiers would not snack on their emergency food ration.
My "food levels" are less complex, because my needs are less complex, and my budget is microscopic. My "ordinary food" maps to "A-rations", and my "rations" roughly map to a combination of "C-rations" (with the ready-to-eat tin can containing meat), "K-rations" (with the dry mix requiring water for re-hydration) and "K-rations" (with the included food bar and "GLS supplement"). In other words, I try to have my cake and eat it too, but simultaneously avoiding anything which would make my ration too rare or too expensive. Why? Because by definition, "emergency" doesn't go very well with "very expensive" and "very rare". For emergencies, redundancy is more important than maximum technical performance.
Ordinary food being what it is, there isn't much to say here. Healthy eating habits and a grocery store are enough. The rest is a question of taste. Personally, I like:
2.1) Egg and cheese sandwich.. One egg, spoon-mixed with a bit of milk and cooked for two minutes in the microwave, and placed between two slices of whole-grain bread, with a slice of cheese, and a bit of ketchup and mustard. It's my usual breakfast, along with a portion of fresh fruit (like an orange, or a banana, or a grapefruit, etc.).
Egg and cheese sandwich.
2.2) Veggie mix (macédoine). Just a mix of fresh vegetables cut bite-sized, kept in the refrigerator. What Quantity? What you can eat before they start to rot (for me, about 2 liters for about a week). Which vegetables? It depends on several factors. It's probably healthier to have a variety of vegetables. Also, price and availability of some vegetables varies with the seasons. Also, some vegetables keep better; I've had no success with pieces of cucumber, green peppers, etc. Currently, my "recipe" uses carrots, rutabagas, brocolis, sugar peas, cherry tomatoes.
Veggie mix (macédoine).
How to prepare them? Fill a dishpan with water. Wash the tomatoes and remove them from the dishpan. Cut carrots and the rutabaga and put in dishpan. Finish with the brocoli (since they are the "dirtiest", leaving little green dirt everywhere!). Slosh those vegetables around in the dishpan, then empty the water, straining the vegetables with your hand. Pour a cup of hot water in which you've diluted a tablespoon of salt into the dishpan, and re-fill with cold water, but just enough to cover the vegetables. Let the vegetables sit in this salted water about 5 minutes (I don't know what is the best duration, nor the best quantity of salt, but this treatment greatly extends the shelf life of the mixture in the fridge). After having drained the salted water, add back tomatoes to the mixture (otherwise the tomatoes burst because of the salt). Put in a container in the fridge. Voilà!
GORP, from "Good Old Raisins and Peanuts", doesn't have a set recipe. Currently I use the "3+4+4+1=12" recipe: three cereals (wheat, corn and oats), four nuts (peanuts, cashews, almonds, sunflower seeds), four dried fruits (raisins, cranberries, dates, apricots), and chocolat chips:
- 2 parts oat cereal (e.g. General Mills Cheerios®)
- 2 parts wheat cereal (e.g. Post Spoon Size Shredded Wheat®)
- 2 parts corn cereal (e.g. Kellog's Corn Flakes®)
- 2 parts peanuts (non-salted exists, but salted tastes so good!)
- 2 parts dried sultana raisins
- 1/2 part various dried fruits (cranberries, dates, apricots; I recut the dates and apricots in 2 or 3 parts each so they are distributed more equally in the mix)
- 1/2 part various nuts (cashews, almonds, sunflower seeds)
- 1/3 part dark chocolat chips
Nothing special about making it, if only to dry the kitchen sink well. When everything has been mixed in the dishwashing pan, and that you pour it into a container, if the sink is dry, it's not a problem if you tip something over.
One portion of gorp and one of veggie mix are easy to bag and carry around for lunch at work. Won't get crushed in your pack while your cycling to work. No need to refrigerate when you arrive at work, no need to heat up before eating.
2.4) Vegetable and meat couscous.
Vegetable and animal protein couscous.
Nothing special. A small handful of the our vegetables from the usual veggie mix, but re-cut into smaller pieces. About 180mL of couscous in about 250mL of water (with some spices), and a bit of meat or fish to have a complete protein. Normally my supper.
Packed ration meal.
To my great chagrin, I have never found ideal rations, and I do not have the budget to make them either. So what follows is my current very imperfect "solution". It's a partially homemade emergency ration, or DIY ration as some might call it.
Warning! Currently (2017-August-14), because of problems with vacuum-sealed bags and others, this attempt is broken. Frustrating, especially since I feel like I was moving forward nicely...
Each meal is individually wrapped in a vacuum-sealed plastic bag. Each bag contains four categories of components:
- "Wet" ingredients. A small tin can with animal protein (for
example, tuna in oil, or meat pâté, etc.).
- "Dry" ingredients. For example, a mixture of couscous, instant rice, quick oatmeal, dehydrated potatoes, along with dried fruits like raisins, apricots, dates, figs, cranberries, etc.
- "Semi-dry" ingredients. Just food bars, like "Clif" bars (TM) or "Soldier Fuel" bars (TM). Also known as "pocket food", for handy snacks later on during the day.
- Other items. Currently just one teabag, one GLS supplement (extra sugar, extra salt, extra fat), and a couple of paper towels (the rest is in the "kitchen").
(Note that some authors use the acronym "FBC" (Freezer-Bag Cooking) instead of BWM. I don't because if you actually try to cook in a plastic bag, you'll melt the bag, i.e. "rehydrating and warming" is not "cooking".)
As usual in engineering, everything is a compromise, so it's important to document design decisions. Here are a few, roughly sorted in decreasing order of importance:
3.2.1) Boiling water is required. Because water is: (i) essential for life; (ii) bloody heavy and usually findable and purifiable on site; (iii) easy to "cook" (boiling water is a heck of a lot less messy than cooking real food in any container, with on top of that an integrated thermometer which prevents the water from getting too hot! ;-) ; (iv) essential for the life of bacteria (not just our lives!), so removing it from food helps it last longer; etc. So because water is what it is, by removing much of it from the food, you gain many advantages. Hence the BWM as opposed to the MRE (Ready-to-Eat, i.e. no added water, which is not true anyway since much of the stuff in there requires water anyway). This unfortunately imposes a certain level of difficulty in preparing the meal (you must find potable water, and boil it), but nothing else is required (no complicated preparations of the food, no lengthy cooking, etc.). This means you must carry a pot, stove and possibly fuel, but in return the food tastes very good, and you have something to sterilize water (i.e. boiling for at least one minute, which is still the best disinfectant). Also, the first part of the acronym ("BWM") reflects this fundamental design decision.
3.2.2) Neither fully "wet" nor fully "dry". Since life requires water and oxygen and heat, food preservation techniques naturally revolve around removing such things. For example: removing water (dried figs, powdered milk, beef jerky, etc.), removing oxygen (mason jars for home canning, or "retort" pouches in MRE meals, or oxygen absorbers, etc.), removing heat (refrigerator or freezer). For water, the more you remove it, the less the meal is ready-to-eat, but the lighter the ration. Fully wet rations theoretically even include ready-to-drink beverages, and that leads to crushingly-heavy rations. Fully dry rations are very expensive (freeze-dried everything). So I aim for a compromise. The tin can is the "wet" part of the ration, the things like couscous or rice are the "dry" part, and the food bar is the "half-wet" part (and which therefore tends to have the shortest shelf life, but which also is the lightest and most compact ready-to-eat component).
3.2.3) All food items must be available at a well-stocked grocery store. Rations can of course be made with products coming from more specialized suppliers than ordinary grocery stores, but that does impose extra cost and complexity. For my needs, I've decided to impose the "Grocery Store Principle". Unfortunately, this pretty well eliminates freeze-dried products. You are roughly stuck with boring tin cans. The result is much heavier and has a much shorter shelf life. The second part of the acronym ("/C") reflects this fundamental design decision.
3.2.4) No "spanning" (i.e. one container = one meal; except for the "water-boiling kit"). You could force the user to "span" a meal between several containers, like take one container for the main course, then take a bit of snacks in another container, and some beverages in another container. This makes management of snacks and beverages much easier (you can have a jar for sugar, one for powdered milk or coffee whitener, etc.). But this complicates logistics, since for any given meal, you need to grab several containers. This restriction is excessive and ridiculous for normal camping and everyday life, but for the conditions in which these rations are supposed to be used, that restriction seems reasonable.
3.2.5) Assumption about the soldier: he has personal equipment. Military MREs are designed for a soldier wearing a bathing suit and not much else. The "BWM/C" rations assume the soldier will always have with himself: spoon, knife, water canteen, some way to boil water, matches, etc. This greatly reduces the otherwise inevitable requirement of having, for each meal, yet another spoon, yet another chemical ration heater, yet another water disinfection pill, etc.
3.2.6) Assumption about the soldier: he has training to adapt his food intake. The user is assumed to know a bit about how his body operates, so we don't pre-mix all contents together into one big container of "food paste". For example, electrolyte management and food consumption are separate things. You might have to travel on foot over a stretch of land where there are no good water sources. Perhaps 20-40 miles. Water is heavy, there is a limit to how much you can carry, so you've got to make this two day journey on very limited water. You can do it if you take careful steps to prevent sweating and electrolyte loss. Just because you're traveling over land doesn't mean you need to sweat like a pig! You'll walk slowly and at night, conserving your precious water. You'll need energy, though. Long-lasting energy like lipids, for the long slow walks. But you won't need that much salt. So keeping them separate makes the rations more versatile.
Another example is people in a lifeboat - though dense and calorie-rich, marine survival rations are specifically designed to be non-thirst inducing.
3.2.7) "Wartime" GLS (Glucid-Lipid-Salt) supplement. Rations have to be good for emergencies, but because of rotation costs, they should ideally be also usable in peacetime. But in peacetime, you want low fat, low salt and low sugar, to avoid health problems (e.g. cardio-vascular diseases and Type II diabetes). And in wartime, you need exactly the contrary. You need all the food energy you can get, packed as densely as you can. The answer, of course, is modularity. With a separate GLS (Glucid-Lipid-Salt) supplement, you have "two-speed" rations. You can add the GLS supplement to your mix when necessary (e.g. wartime), or just chuck it in the compost pail othewise (e.g. peacetime).
3.2.8) The weakest link in the shelf life chain (homokinetic aging). Ideally, every element in the ration has the same shelf life as all the other ones, or in other words "becomes old at the same speed" as all the other ones ("homokinetic aging"). Because I have no idea how to accomplish that, the discussion switches to "the weakest link in the chain", i.e. which ingredient will "die" first and require the ration to be disposed of (by eating, or replacing the "dead" item with a new one, etc.). We have to aim for items that roughly have the same shelf life, i.e. it's not very useful to have a super-duper expensive item that lasts forever, if it's combined in the same package as an item with a really short shelf life.
3.2.9) No effort to make socially-acceptable dishes. I aim for nutritional completeness, not good looks or refreshing variety, or refined taste. So don't be surprized if you see gastronomical abominations like morning oatmeal with weiners! On the other hand, of course, if they boost morale because they taste good, and it doesn't impose much of a weight/cost/bulk penalty, I'm all in the favor of it.
3.2.10) Fly what you test, test what you fly. It's relatively easy to dream up a new ration, and look at some numbers printed on the Nutrional Information sheet, and calculate this and that, and declare proudly: This is inexpensive, has a long shelf life, will keep me fed for X days! Except the result is so foul-tasting you'd need to be starving before you'd dare eat it, or if you do try to eat it, you end up going back for more normal food after your "ration" meal, because your ration doesn't actually feed you enough. I prefer a ration which forces me to fight against myself to avoid eating, and if I do eat it, I prefer a ration which makes me feel like taking a nap because I feel so full. In other words, I prefer a ration that is "not sexy", but that gets the job done, for a reasonable price, provably.
3.2.11) Maybe only two meals a day, but bigger. By splitting the food energy of the third daily meal and putting that in the other two, you get the same amount of total daily food energy, but with less packaging. And since you need to boil water to eat, you also reduce the amount of fuel. Having food bars (that require no heating or rehydrating) lets you eat snacks all day, somewhat mitigating the elimination of one meal.
Standard MRE vs. BWM/C.
- One small tin can of meat (Paris Pâté ®, 78g, various flavors available like
ham, chicken, beef, etc., shelf life 2 years approx.).
- Mixed dry ingredients (100mL of couscous, 100mL Sheriff® potato flakes, 50mL Quaker One Minute oats ®. Also some spices, like pepper, oregano, but no salt. No idea for the shelf life.)
- Some dried fruits: 3 dates, 2 apricots, 1 fig, some dried cranberries (half-dozen or so). (No idea for the shelf life.)
- Food bars (Clif Bar® chocolate chip, 68g, often short shelf lives but I've seen 9 months in the local supermarket. You have to check the date before buying. Currently trying two in each ration.) Make small hole in pouch so air will come out.
- One tea bag (Twinings® individually wrapped).
- One GLS supplement (four white sugar cubes, one Nalgene® HB025 30 mL Straight-Sided Jar, filled with Kraft® creamy peanut butter, 5 Saltsticks.
- One ordinary white paper towel, folded on top.
Make a "mold". I slapped together a little box (90x90mm), that is 120mm tall, using "coroplast" and duck tape. The dimensions were eyeballed so that a small vacuum seal bag would fit nicely (currently I use FoodSaver® heat-seal pre-cut 940mL bags). I should probably make it a tad smaller (80mm x 80mm?).
Last iteration I made five at a time, so I laid out all ingredients on the table, each bag lined with its contents (dry mix in a little plastic container that also made it easier to pour into the bag without contaminating the sides of the bag with particles). Makes it easier to check everything is there.
Clif® bar wrappers are sealed, but not vacuum sealed, so poke small holes in their wrappers so the air will be sucked out instead of bulging.
I used to line the inside of the plastic bag with the paper towels, to avoid puncturing the plastic when the strong vacuum pushes the bag against the contents (I've had problems with the rice poking holes in the bag). But I don't anymore because I've eliminated rice for that reason.
Place vacuum sealer bag inside the mold, making it conform as best you can. Place largest and hardest items first (current the tin can "sandwiched" between the two food bars, then the dried fruits, then the Nalgene with peanut butter, then the dry mix). Tap and shake to try to make it the densest, most "brick-shaped" you can.
Put the sugar cubes, salt and tea bag (smallest items) in the middle of the paper towel, and fold it over so the final shape is roughly the size of the top of the "brick mold", and use that as a kind of "lid" to "close off" the contents. Many reasons to do this: prevent the sharp edges of the sugar cubes from puncturing the bag; make it easier to find the smallest items, instead of having to dig inside the dry mix for one lousy sugar cube; make contents far more manageable while you are trying to vacuum seal the plastic bag; filter the air being sucked out, to avoid small dry particles contaminating the seal. (The actual size of the folded paper towel is worth adjusting so the "plug" has a nice tight fit, neither leaving space between it and the bag, nor causing a bunching up of the paper towel along the bag. Also, keep the sharp edges of the sugar cubes under the tea bag, to avoid puncturing the bag.)
Pass your clean finger one last time inside the lip of the bag, to make sure there are no little particles of dried potatoes or such that would harm the seal. On my current sealer, the edge of the bag must reach at least to the drip tray, and not further. (I tried to make it easier to re-use the bag by having the seal much closer to the edge, but it would not vacuum out the bag.)
Use a vacuum sealer to suck as much air out of the bag as it can, and then to seal the bag closed. Push the "paper towel lid" in, as the air is being sucked out, to prevent the lid from being sucked out. If you work too fast and your vacuum sealer is cheap (like mine) you will need to give the sealer a periodic rest (heat dissipation I think). Currently I work too slow with batches too small to run into that problem.
Pull out of the mold. The result should be dense and "brick-like" and packable. If you screw up, the nice milk-carton shaped brick will draw air in and become sloppy again. Let sit 48 hours to check for "slow leaks", before packing them into a larger container. I regularly, despite my best precautions, see become "soggy" after roughly two days, even though it looked perfect for a day or so.
I think putting all this food into large carboard boxes is begging for rodents to come and ruin your day. Square plastic pails might last for a decade or so before becoming too brittle. (I'd rather have a square metal pail with a lid, but have no idea where to find such beast.)
Why did I chose the FoodSaver® vacuum sealer? No good reason. It was available at a local store. I don't like the kind of bags it uses. One side of the bag is "micro-ribbed", so that when the vacuum sealer clamps down on the bag opening, air can still slither out of the bag. This means the bag is heavy for nothing, and immensely expensive (because probably protected by a patent). Any thermoplastic bag should work, but the vacuum sealer would then need a kind of short metal straw that pokes into the bag to suck out the air, then quickly retracts so the opening can be heat-sealed. I've seen some nice industrial-grade vacuum sealers that work like that, but they cost ten times more at least. So if ever I decide to make more rations, I'll dump the cheap sealer and get a real machine.
Water. To save fuel and time, probably a better idea to boil for one minute all the water for the meal, pouring out a cupful for tea, and pouring the rations into the boiling water in the metal saucepan for the rest. That way the heat inertia of the pot and lid can be used to reconstitute the meal.
Using the ration. Cut the plastic bag open. Take out the paper towels. Remove the tea bag and the sugar cubes and place in coffee mug. Take out the food bar and place in pocket for a snack later. Take out the GLS supplement and the tin can. Pour disinfected boiling water into mug for tea. Put contents of GLS supplement and the tin can into the boiling water remaining in the saucepan. Use that water to get as much food out of those two containers as possible, without burning yourself. Pour rest of dry ingredients in, mix, replace lit on pot. Take pot off stove, shut off stove with aluminum foil, wrap pot with something insulating to keep warm (e.g. woolen tuque). Wait 5 minutes, sipping your tea. Say Grace, and enjoy your meal!
Dish washing. The very greasy GLS supplement residue unfortunately won't go away with ordinary 70% rubbing alcohol, and methyl hydrate is toxic. Currently, ordinary detergent seems necessary.
Fresh vegetables. Ideally you add fresh vegetables, finely chopped. Actually, almost any ingredient can be easily added.
This section could also be called "Low-level design decisions for the BWM/C ration". I also try to list them in decreasing order of importance:
3.4.1) GLS supplement: Necessity. Why not depend on the already high contents of salt and fat in the commercial tin can (of pâté, or other animal protein)? Because first no existing commercial tin cans contain all the lipids and the salts I want for my "wartime" levels. Second, even if such a can existed, it would be against our other goal of versatility. But, it could be argued that such high levels of sugar, fat and salt are always bad. I counter-claim we need to focus on the real-life scenarios where this ration could be used. A firefighter fighting a forest fire 14 hours a day will happily eat 5 or 6 thousand kilocalories per day, and he will lose weight during his stay in the forest. But when I'm eating my rations because they are past their best-before date, I will probably need 2 thousand or less to cover my basic metabolic needs. The GLS supplement is meant to be an absurdly excessive amount of fat, salt and sugar, except during extreme situations where they become necessary. And these rations are designed to be useful during extreme situations.
3.4.2) GLS supplement: Lipids. What is the best source of lipids? My expert reviewer says: Crisco is a vegetable shortening. It isn't nutritious. It's the dietary equivalent of eating vulcanized rubber which has been dissolved in sulfuric acid, then buffered back to neutral pH and partially re-solidified by adding Bakelite plastic. Yuck! Why not something more wholesome, like peanut butter? Peanut butter is about 50% lipids, 25% protein, and 25% carbohydrates. You can scarcely ask for a better energy food. One caveat: I have conducted personal tests of the shelf life of peanut butter. Unless it's in the freezer, peanut butter in the original plastic jar will go stale after 12 - 18 months.
3.4.3) GLS supplement: conservation of Lipids. Should we mix the GLS salt in with the fat? Wouldn't the salt increase the shelf life of the fat? Apparently not. Salt preserves food by increasing the osmolarity and thereby lowering the practical availability of free water to any living cell (like bacteria or fungi) in the medium, by increasing the osmotic pressure gradient against which the cell must work to draw water into itself. Same basic idea as freezing: it locks up all the free water so that it isn't available to living cells. But salt probably won't help the shelf life of pure fat. Fat goes bad via rancidification, a process that primarily depends on oxygen (oxidative rancidification) but also proceeds slowly without oxygen (hydrolytic rancidification). Since fat is already hydrophobic and therefore basically moisture-free, there's not much more you can do. Also, even though salt reduces water availability to living cells by increasing the osmolarity of the medium, this won't do anything to stop hydrolytic rancidification since any water is still chemically present, and chemical reactions involving water aren't much affected by osmotic pressure.
3.4.4) GLS supplement: Lipids container. Why a heavy, bulky and expensive Nalgene® bottle? I cannot find (or indeed imagine why anybody in their right mind would want to sell) an individual container filled with too much pure fat for your own good! Also, rations have to be fairly crush-resistant and can be exposed to heat; I don't like the idea of lard being squirted all over the rest of the contents. Why a wide mouth bottle? Room-temperature lard or vegetable shortening is a beast to handle (gooey, refuses to go where you want it to go, etc.). The contents are already hard to empty, and the remaining container is hard to clean out, so any narrowing mouth makes both operations even harder. The downside is a heavier and bulkier container.
GLS supplement: Packaging the lipids.
My expert reviewer says: You probably don't have to worry about sterilizing the
bottles which contain the lard. So don't sweat it. Boiling will not completely kill
bacterial endospores, and will only kill some fungal spores. Washing in 70%
isopropanol solution would have roughly the same effect as boiling. It's certainly
worth doing, but you're not going to achieve sterility. That would require an
autoclave (or pressure cooker) and as you suspect, Nalgene bottles will not survive
those temperatures. I can personally confirm that, having placed a Naglene bottle
into the autoclave in the laboratory as an experiment.
(SJJ adds here: paper document included with the ones I ordered say "Thermo Scientific Nalgene Autoclaving Instructions", "recommended autoclave cycle is 121 Celcius 15 psig for a minimum of 20 minutes", "carefully clean all items before autoclaving. This will prevent baking contaminants onto the surface of the plastic", "after cleaning, rinse all items with distilled water", "remove all closures [lids] from all containers before autoclaving!", "After autoclaving, do not screw on closure until the product has reached room temperature", "Do not autoclave products made of HDPE, LDPE, PETG, PS or PVC", which seems to support what my expert reviewer says.)
Side note: endospores are produced by a few species of common bacteria in the Bacillus genera. Endospores are durable. Let me tell you how durable: bacterial endospores over 2,000 years old have been recovered from the dust of Egyptian tombs, and they germinated within a few minutes after being placed into nutrient broth! Endospores require an autoclave or pressure cooker to kill them. A 10% household bleach solution will also kill them, but the hypochlorite would probably give the food an off-taste and would also slowly embrittle the plastic if not thoroughly washed off.
I'd probably rinse the Nalgene bottles thoroughly with 70% isopropanol, with a final squirt with 91% isopropanol. You don't want to use ethanol for two reasons: first of all, ethyl rubbing alcohol that you buy from the drugstore or supermarket contains a bitterant to prevent people from drinking it. The bitterant will be left behind after the ethanol evaporates, making your crisco taste bad, and second of all, isopropyl alcohol is slightly more effective at killing bacteria anyway (ethanol being slightly more effective at killing viruses -- which is why most commercial hand sanitizers use ethanol).
But WHY would I rinse with isopropanol, instead of boiling? Because in addition to sanitizing the Nalgene I am removing trace nutrients which would make the lard more digestible to any bacteria or fungi left on the surface of the bottle.
The spores of Clostridium botulinum can survive boiling, which is why canned foods are subjected to pressure cooking, which can kill the spores. Is an obligate anaerobe, which means that it can only grow in environments lacking oxygen. Air will prevent it from growing. But, it won't grow in a can of lard anyway, for the same reason that it doesn't grow in your jar of peanut butter. It requires water, like the moist, oxygen-free environment found inside canned food.
Drying the Nalgenes after cleaning them would re-introduce germs. That's why I would squirt with 91% isopropanol, then let them air dry. The isopropanol will evaporate within seconds, leaving the bottles dry and ready to go. But remember: you're really just sanitizing the Nalgene bottles as an after-thought. It is not a crucial part of the process since lard (like salted pork, or the tea, boullion cubes, and dry cereal in the ration) is prevented from microbial spoilage due to its water-free nature. It is inherently spoilage resistant.
What headspace to leave? Less headspace the better, since oxygen will cause the vegetable oil to go stale. But you don't have to go crazy trying to eliminate headspace. Whatever oxygen is present in a small headspace will react with the vegetable oil until the oxygen is exhausted. Don't worry about botulism in this case. Your stuff is (a) dry, and (b) there is oxygen present. It's not the kind of environment where Clostridium can grow. When you start canning fresh vegetables in water, then you can worry! What about the freezer option? Perfect option. Anything with an expiration date of "x" years at 70°F, if you can lower the temperature to 50°F, you can essentially double the storage life (there are charts for this sort of thing). Once you get down below 32°F, the shelf life will be extended almost indefinitely.
First attempt for filling Nalgene with peanut butter: I used a popsicle stick, then slightly domed the top (3-5 mm), then use scottowel to not only clean off peanut butter from outside of rim, but also to slightly remove peanut butter from about 1mm deep inside of rim (since lid comes down on both sides of rim). If done right, no peanut butter touches the seal of lid either inside or outside the rim, and the top of the dome touches the lid, removing even more oxygen.
GLS supplement: Glucids.
Which kind of glucid (sucrose, fructose, glucose)? Under which form (cube, little
paper packet, etc.)? My expert reviewer says: Hard candy is far more durable, it
gives the soldier something to suck on (or sip from his canteen) and releases energy
over a period of time. You could use pure unflavored sucrose hard candy ("rock
sugar"), then not only do you get all the benefits of hard candy, but you could still
also dissolve it in your tea. If you are really bent on using sugar cubes, I suggest
switching to white sugar. Brown sugar is more hygroscopic due to the molasses
content, meaning that it will attract and retain moisture during storage more than
pure white sugar.
So offhand, I'd love rock sugar, except I can't find any at the grocery store. Should I make my own? For now I'll default to plain white sugar cubes.
3.4.7) Food bar. Why not make them myself? I'd love to, but I don't know how, and might not have the necessary equipment to produce a product with a long shelf life. Clif® or Soldier Fuel®? Soldier Fuel is about twice as expensive, and much harder to find (currently only online in Canada), but has a shelf life about three times longer, so it might end up being less expensive (less frequent rotations of stock). Clif bars are available at the local grocery store, so I'm starting with them.
Food bar: Mainstay® emergency food rations.
Why not Mainstay® emergency food rations? My expert reviewer can't stop loving
them: A whopping 400 calories in a cube smaller than a clif bar, very dense and
satisfying, and non-thirst inducing. They are intentionally low on protein because
thirst-minimization is an overriding concern, and lifeboat occupants will need little
protein anyway. I don't regard this as a problem because, like I said, I use it for
the calories and fat. I consider it a complement to protein-dense rations like
freeze-dried meat, powdered and freeze-dried eggs, powdered milk, etc. Many foods
like dried beans and pasta, to say nothing of the old beloved hardtack, give
calories. But rarer are rations that provide the necessary fat in a palatable form,
with a very long shelf life. That's what impresses me about these.
In an emergency, you will get much further with these than with MRE's heavy on salt and water. Over the relatively short periods of time (perhaps a couple weeks) that you would consume a mobile ration you won't need much protein anyway, and the thirst-minimizing feature is a big plus if you are on foot.
In addition to having a far longer shelf life, per calorie, Mainstay® bars are much cheaper than Clif® bars or other grocery store energy bars. Not only cheaper per calorie, but far cheaper per serving, too. Last time I checked price (which was admittedly a few years ago) Mainstay® rations were $125 for 180 ration cubes. That's about $.69 per 400 calorie vitamin fortified cube, of which 210 calories are from fat. Compare that to $1.25 USD ($1.00 when on sale) for a non-vitamin fortified, 250 calorie Clif® bar, which has a much shorter shelf life, and gives only 45 to 60 cal from fat.
I've tried some emergency rations that try to incorporate a lot of protein. Yuck! They always seem to taste horrible. Better to let the emergency ration take care of the calories, and get your protein from some beef jerky on the side.
I don't mind agreeing with my expert reviewer. I've tasted Mainstay® bars, and I find them OK. The single biggest argument against them is: I cannot find them anywhere except by Internet from very specialized suppliers, and I'm supposed to design a ration that you can build by going to the grocery store. (That design rule is not written by God; I could decide to break it, but I'd rather not, or at least not yet, before I've tried respecting it.) Less important arguments against Mainstay® bars: (i) They are not packaged in a one-meal size, so I'd have to break the seal, so their 5-year shelf life would be gone. (ii) The taste is not objectionable, but it's nothing to look forward to either. (iii) It's mostly just flour, vegetable shortening and sugar.
The dry ingredients mix.
Why not just coucous, or just rice, etc.? I'm hoping it will be less unhealthy to
have more variety in dry ingredients. Why mix them all? Why not have one meal with
rice, another one with couscous, etc.? Too much trouble for now. How long will this
mixture last? No hard data, but I suspect it will not be the
Why remove the rice? "Instant" rice currently causes three problems: it tends to puncture the vacuum-sealed bag (very bad!), it's the slowest ingredient in the dry mix to "cook" (i.e. even after 5 minutes of rehydration with boiling water, still not ready to eat), and it was the only ingredient in the "dry mix" that could not, in a pinch, be eaten as is, without rehydration. So I'm currently replacing the rice with potato flakes, which my expert reviewer would like to see more of.
Why not a dry mix that can be normally eaten either raw or after reconstitution with boiling water? (as opposed to the current situation where the "dry mix" can be eaten dry, but it will not be enjoyable). That would give great flexibility for meal preparation, but I have no idea which ingredients I would need to select for the dry mix. Also, the food bars are in the ration for precisely this reason: so there is something that can be eaten when you don't have access to boiling water.
3.4.10) Dried fruits. Should they just be added with the dry ingredients mix? They do seem to have some residual humidity (dry ingredients stick to them). I guess it depends. If adding the fruits transforms the dry ingredients mix into the "weakest link", then of course not. If not, it might make the ration less expensive to avoid yet another packaging operation (also, bulk dried fruits can better occupy space to make the ration denser).
Why not coffee? I love coffee, but currently cannot find a good way to have long
shelf-life individual cups of coffee that don't taste horrible. Keurig® cups
are bulky, expensive, an environmental disaster, and I can't find the right-sized
Nalgene that would let me make a nifty coffee machine (cut off the bottom of the
Nalgene bottle, and cut out the lid so the bottom of a k-cup will fit just right
through it, with the rim of the k-cup water-tight against the rim of the Nalgene. Put
a hole in the k-cup. Pour boiling water into the Nalgene, and blow with your mouth to
give it enough pressure to force the boiling water through the k-cup. Voilà! Must
provide positive pressure otherwise too long to pour water through. Using the k-cup as
a "tea bag" also gives poor results).
I've tried Nestlé® 2-1 (combination of instant coffee, whitener and sugar). Taste is instant coffee (i.e. not very good), it's expensive, hard to find, bulky, and I cannot vary the amount of sugar.
Why not cold beverage mixes? Because I prefer boiling water as a disinfection method, my water tends to be very hot when I'm the thirstiest. Also the climate in a Nordic country means you tend to want to warm yourself up.
3.4.12) Plastic bag. Why a fancy vacuum sealer? Why not just use plain plastic bags and suck the air out myself? I tried ziplocs, and it didn't work. I tried ordinary plastic bags, and was never able to seal the bag correctly (twisted and taped). Maybe I should have twisted, bent 180 degrees, then taped. The vacuum sealer seems to solve several problems at once: (i) waterproof container for the whole individual meal; (ii) removes a lot of oxygen, so bulk ingredients last a bit longer; (iii) suction produces a handy and compact "brick"; (iv) because it's sealed and cannot be opened without destroying the bag, helps me stay out of my own rations (I have a lot of problems staying away from tasty food in the evening when I'm depressed!). When something is sealed, I'm pretty good at staying away from it, thank God.
3.4.13) Paper towel. I currently add paper towels to each meal. They serve several purposes: (i) facilitate packing (keeps contents coherent and away from the seal); (ii) washing dishes; (iii) body hygiene (e.g. cleaning after bathroom). Ready-made alcohol wipes are available, but increases wrapping and cost.
Trangia alcohol stove.
The "kitchen" is just a fancy word for "most of the rest of the stuff required to eat a ration". One of the deliberate design decisions for the "kitchen" is to keep it simple and inexpensive, so there isn't only one (i.e. you could have boxes of these rations stored in several different locations, and each location would also have a "kitchen").
3.5.1) Simple alcohol stove. Advantages of an alcohol stove: (i) dead quiet; (ii) so simple it's just about unbreakable; (iii) fuel (methyl hydrate) isn't too hard to find, and could even be home-made (e.g. still to make potato alcohol); (iv) can be safer, since you can add only the fuel you need (i.e. the stove can easily be made to contain insufficient fuel to be dangerous, e.g. killing with carbon monoxyde poisoning, or being forgotten or mishandled so as to cause a big fire, etc.).; (v) as opposed to opaque gas canisters, you can easily see how much fuel you've got left; (vi) OK, this could just be me, but I don't feel relaxed around any combination of "fuel" and "pressurized device" (I've owned an MSR Whisperlite International and a propane-canister mini-burner).
Disadvantages: (i) slow; (ii) heavy (requires more fuel); (iii) slow. More seriously, methanol, ethanol, and isopropanol alcohols are fairly low in energy content per unit of weight. Alcohol is fine for use at home or in the field in a "B-ration" situation (or keeping the gravy warm at catered dinners) but does not offer a good weight/energy ratio for the man on foot. Therefore, for emergency use, its good to keep a few methenamine (a.k.a. hexamine) solid fuel tablets handy. They are very energy dense, burn for a long time, have an indefinite shelf-life if kept dry and are also cheap!
Currently, I don't use the "simmer cap" (heavy and not useful for me, because I only boil water, also a bit of aluminum foil can probably be used as a lightweight replacement). I also don't use the "screw-on cap" (I tend to add the amount of fuel I'll need for making one meal). I added a little plywood "coaster" to prevent the stove from transmitting too much heat to the windscreen/potholder. Ideally, that little coaster should probably also be porous and fireproof, so it could double as a pre-heater for Winter conditions. Some kind of asbestos coaster like they use in chemistry labs?
Why the Trangia®? No specific reason apart from the fact I can buy it at the local camping store; a DIY "beer can stove" would probably be just as good. But as it, it works, the pot and lid are sufficient, and the windscreen/potholder is at least functional.
In perfect conditions (i.e. inside the house, no wind, everything starts out at room temperature), takes about 25mL of methyl hydrate to boil 500mL of water in about 11.5 minutes (with one-minute rolling boil included, to disinfect the water). For my normal cup of coffe (less than 500mL of water, and no disinfecting of water), 15mL just gets it to boil before running out of fuel.
3.5.2) Spoon. Metal spoons are heavy, and can damage fragile pots and pans. But I've owned "lexan" plastic camping spoons, and they are hard to clean, and easy to break. I currently just use a stainless steel normal kitchen spoon.
3.5.3) Cup. Currently a double-walled stainless-steel cup. It's complicated and heavy for camping. But in emergency situations, every BTU is expensive, hot beverages can mean the difference between life and death, lids prevent spilled beverages on your laptop on top of conserving the heat better, etc. My usage scenarios don't put such a focus on lightweight equipment, otherwise I'd take a plain plastic mug. Tip: when heating the water, I carefully balance the mug, inverted, on top of the pot and lid. This pre-heats the metal mug, which makes beverages stay hot longer. But careful not to tip everything over (stove, water, etc.).
Fuel (methyl hydrate).
I currently find methyl hydrate in local hardware stores, in the paint thinner
section. (I hope some Government agency doesn't decide that methyl hydrate is
somehow a banned substance, drying up the supply!) I also currently have a little
"pill dispensing cup" or whatever it's called, a small graduated transparent cup
containing about 30mL they give away free in hospitals, to take liquid medication.
It allows me to measure my 15mL. I'd like to try an actual syringe: it might make
it less fussy to draw the exact amount (harder to spill everything).
Usage. Methyl hydrate doesn't contain much energy, so you use a lot of fuel. Last time I tried (2021-Jan-04), just four cups of coffee and one oatmeal breakfast used up more than half of my 125mL Nalgene. And that did not even include my supper which require far more heat to cook the rice.
Expensive storage error. I purchased several "MSR Fuel Bottles" for a lot of money, but the methyl hydrate reacts with the aluminum and corrodes it quite badly, making even difficult the removal of the screw-on cap! Crap... what a waste. So now I just use dopey "Nalgene" plastic bottles...
(Semi-related topic: Ordinary Rubbing Alcohol. Should I carry ordinary pharmacy "rubbing alcohol", for washing dishes, disinfecting hands (after making proper concentration), and as fuel for the stove in a pinch? I have not tried it yet. Careful: alcohol requires the presence of water for its microbicidal action. 70% is the ideal concentration for disinfectant use, although any concentration between 60 - 80% is usable. Above 80% it rapidly becomes useless. At 95% the microbicidal action of alcohol is almost non-existant (to the extent that bacteria can be submerged in it for weeks without killing them.)
3.5.4) Kick-knacks. (Still working on this). Matches and a lighter. Water canteens (at least two 1L widemouth Nalgene® bottles, so you're not desperate if one is broken; also 1L because it's the appropriate size for water disinfection tablets). Also, since I'm imposing a separate "kitchen" on top of each actual individual meal bag, probably less trouble to put small consumables in the kitchen (like water disinfection pills, caffeine pills, etc.)
Mini ecological disaster caused by MRE from www.mealkitsupply.com.
I used to buy boxes of MREs made by www.mealkitsupply.com. They work, taste fine (for me), last long (theoretically 5 years in ideal condition), but I stopped for several reasons:
3.6.1) No "pocket food" snacks. The supplier stopped including "Soldier Fuel" food bars in the MREs. I think that is a serious mistake. I like the idea of taking part of the meal and stuffing it in your pocket for later. Actually, food bars are, in my opinion, mini-MREs, so they are even more important than the MRE. The most minimalist ration I can imagine are food bars and water disinfection tablets. So I would have increased the number of food bars per meal, not removed them! Why did MealKitSupply.com remove Soldier fuel bars from their MRE? I'm guessing because of the mismatch between the shelf life of the MRE (fivish years), and the shelf life of "Soldier Fuel" bars (threeish years), and the logistical nightmare of opening sealed boxes of MREs and then opening the tough, welded plastic bag of each individual MRE, pulling out the food bar and replacing it. I'm guessing customers complained about rotten food bars, which would explain why they stopped including them, and are not bragging on their web site about why they removed them. So their decision is understandable from the point of view of corporate profits, but unacceptable to me the lone survivor.
3.6.2) Excessive packaging. There is excessive packaging (like main course in useless cardboard box on top of retort packaging). The external meal bag is very strong but not used to prepare the meal, and not really reusable after; too strong for what it does. Also, the shape of containers maximises packaging and minimizes internal space (a thin envelope is farthest away from a sphere, which gives maximum storage space for minimal material). Each meal is a minor ecological disaster, and each box of MREs is therefore much bulkier and heavier than necessary. The picture here above shows what remains of an MRE after you have eaten all of the food!
3.6.3) Difficult to rotate. Emergencies don't happen every day, so emergency food usually ends up being eaten because no emergency happened, and the rations are getting close to their "Best Before" date. These MREs are particularly hard to "merge" into a normal food routine, because they are so different from normal meals. I would prefer rations that could be more easily rotated. The cost of replacing outdated rations seems negligeable at first, but after a few years it starts to hurt.
That being said, the expiration date on MRE's might be pessimistic, according to my expert: "I researched the origin of the 5-year expiration date for MRE's. It turns out that the five-year date is a conservative number that assumes storage in conditions at the very top of the permissible storage range (approaching 95°F) and is furthermore based solely on *taste.* Specifically, the earliest date when laboratory taste-testers can detect any difference between new MRE's and MRE's which have been subjected to accelerated aging at high temperatures. (Remember how it is thought vital that combat rations be palatable.) In fact, MRE's will retain all of their vitamin content for at least double that time, and will be safe to eat indefinitely. I recently chowed down on an MRE that I had been keeping in the back of my Volvo 240 station wagon since 2003, through hot summer after hot summer. That was 12 years. Guess what? -- it tasted great!"
3.6.4) Increased foul-tasting items. When I was in the army, I used to gross out the other officer-cadets because I would gladly eat the items in their rations that they thought tasted too bad. So I'm not fussy. But over the years, the supplier seems to have increased the proportion of foul-tasting items, like "Pop Tarts", strawberry "milkshake", a horrible grape drink, not to mention the coffee that was always undrinkable.
3.6.5) High price. Last order in 2017, for two boxes (12 meals each), cost about 340$ CAN (about 14$ each meal). So the purchase price is steep. But disposal is also expensive, because they don't merge with my normal food. Plus they are more medically expensive, because they encourage lifestyle diseases (Type II diabetes and cardio-vascular diseases).
3.6.6) No customization. Of course, if you buy rations, they will not be adapted to your specific food allergies, or to the actual quantity of food you need (a 50kg little old granny doesn't have the same metabolism as a 100kg young heman), or to your tastes, etc.
3.6.7) Vulnerability to political correctness. Yes, even in the food you buy just to feed yourself... How many times have I seen bacon removed, because of complaints of Muslims and Celery-Worshippers... I'm also noticing a marked increase in vegetarian meals, and a surprizing increase in soy (look up "soy boy" and phyto-estrogens) just about everywhere (including, to my amazement, in the orange juice!).
3.6.8) Maybe too much of the kitchen is included in each meal. Here, I cannot blame the supplier, since the MRE by definition is not supposed to need much outside the meal bag. So you end up with much redundancy (for example, each meal includes a spoon, even though a spoon is so easy to carry and reuse). By making each meal bag less "self-sufficient", i.e. by imposing a requirement for an external spoon, an external pot and stove, etc., you can make each meal smaller and lighter.
3.6.9) Irregularly-shaped meal bag. Each MRE takes up more space than necessary.
3.6.10) Flameless ration heaters that don't work. In 2019, I could not get any of the 2015 ration heaters to heat anything. They were just all broken. Another waste.
I thought I had a brilliant idea: re-use 1 liter milk cartons as an individual BWM container. They are free, lightweight, waterproof, they are a very space-efficient shape, etc. But I was defeated by several problems:
- I cannot find a ready-made lid on the Internet, despite searching for combinations of: cardboard, milk carton, plastic, lid, reusable, quart size, etc. It would be nice if Tetra Pak manufactured such a lid themselves. They could make it out of their typical "cardboard+aluminum+wax" mixture, so it would be inexpensive and oxygen-proof.
- The ration becomes extremely sensitive to variations in shapes and quantities. You change food bar supplier, and your new food bar is a bit longer? All your containers need to be changed.
- A lot of space is wasted. The items you put in the milk carton are not designed to nest neatly.
- If I try to re-use the existing method to close the milk carton, it makes the container less space-efficient, and it's pretty destructive (i.e. it's hard to reuse the same seal; each time you re-glue and re-open it, you break it more).
- If I try to cut the top of the milk carton to make a flap or lid, it makes the container too small, and poorly-sealed (lets water in) despite taping.
- I could try to fit a plastic or mylar bag inside the milk carton to insure the airtightness, but that makes everything heavier and more complicated, on top of being unable to find "milk-carton shaped" resealable bags on the market.
- Best Before dates are hidden. In a home made ration, it's very hard to find components with all the same expiry dates. Putting them in an opaque container makes things worse, since you cannot visually check to see if some component needs to be replaced. You have to take the earliest date of all the components and use that for rotation scheduling.
- No way to avoid garish colors and publicity for the milk. Can't put a nice sheet of paper inside to show ingredients and instructions (can't see through cardboard).
The idea would work, I think, but only if these rations were manufactured by professionals for that sole purpose. They could use "Tetra Pak" cartons (aluminum-lined, so very hard for oxygen to get in, greatly increasing shelf life), brand new, exactly the right size (so no wastage), factory-sealed (so hard for oxygen to get in), with appropriate stuff printed on them (instead of stupid milk carton stuff!), with reusable plastic lids (even when opened you could close them up again), with all rounded corners (not like real milk cartons that are full of sharp edges and corners), with individual components designed to fit together (like a tin can that is the right size, food bars that fit along side the tin can, etc.).
My expert reviewer adds these more "philosophical" general comments:
It doesn't necessarily relate to your ration, but I will repeat a general comment that I've made before: far too much of modern preparation planning is based around the Cold War nuclear survival "bunker" mentality. In an atomic war situation, survivors would be trapped in makeshift bunkers or fall-out shelters. They would have no access to outside supplies for weeks or months, and crops would be completely inedible. Therefore they needed *nutritionally complete* emergency food meals. But that was then.
Today, the intellectual heritage of Cold War bunker survivalism steers people badly wrong. In a modern SHTF situation, there will almost certainly be fresh food available. Especially fresh green vegetables. The only problem is that it will be calorically insufficient. Perhaps a better practical example for modern times is given by Dmitry Orlov in his 2008 book "Reinventing Collapse: The Soviet Example and American Prospects." He was in Russia during the break-up of the Soviet Union. He recounts, "The summer of 1990 particularly stands out in my mind: it was the summer when we ate nothing but rice (imported), zucchini (grown by us) and fish (from a local lake, caught by some neighbors). The dismal state of Soviet agriculture turned out to be paradoxically beneficial in fostering a kitchen garden economy, which helped Russians to survive the collapse."
In other words, in planning for a modern SHTF situation, what one must plan for is a period of many months where food will be available, but it is nutritionally unbalanced and/or calorically deficient. Therefore, what people will most need is (a) vitamin pills, and (b) caloric supplementation in the form of fats, oils, and proteins.
My suggestion is, therefore, that one must plan for both short-term food emergencies, and plausible modern long-term food emergencies:
-- Short-term: This is where the self-contained ration comes into its own. There is a definite a place for the nutritionally complete ration both as it relates to short- term individual mobile (i.e., C-type and K-type) rations, and short-term in-home winter storm / disaster food storage (i.e., B-type food).
-- Long-term: In planning for a plausible modern long-term food emergency -- i.e. lasting longer than a few weeks -- what people should do is shed the bunker mentality and rather than trying to store whole meals or staple foodstuffs (like dry beans or pasta), instead they should focus more on storing a little bit of high fat, high protein stuff (like a few big #10 cans of freeze-dried creamed beef, powdered peanut butter, powdered eggs, freeze-dried protein, olive oil, canned lard, etc.) to supplement the meager produce from home gardens during a lean year or two.
More information from my expert reviewer I'm putting here so I will not lose it.
Ah, cryptosporidium, talk about a pain-in-the-neck little organism. They are talking about the ineffectiveness of chemical disinfection against cryptosporidium. That troublesome little protozoan cyst.
Take a look at the this chart from the Centers for Disease Control. You'll notice that filtration of any kind is totally ineffective against viruses, while chemical treatment is totally ineffective against cyst-forming protists (cryptosporidium). If you want to "pick your poison," you'd probably want to choose the treatment method that kills the viruses. Cryptosporidum inflection, while most unpleasant, is self-limiting. About 80% of people have have cryptosporidium-related diarrhoea at some point in their lives.
The bad news is this: cryptosporidum forms a tough cyst that's highly resistant to chemical treatment. It is almost impossible to kill with even high levels of halogens (chlorine and iodine), and therefore it occasionally causes outbreaks even in public water supply systems.
The good news is this: is is very large (about 5 microns), and is therefore easily filtered out, even with a home-made sand filter. Another bit of good news is this: because it is so large, it is not mobile through soils.
Let me illustrate. An outbreak of Hepatitus A was linked to a high school football team drinking water from a fountain at one end of the football field, where hepatitus-infection teammates urinated on the other side of the field. Viruses travel. Cryptosporidium, on the other hand, does not. Your greatest risk of contracting cryptosporidum comes from lakes and other bodies of standing water (or malfunctioning public water supply systems). If you are moving over land on foot, you're going to get your water from small creeks and fast-moving water. With these sources, your chances of getting crypto are low, unless somebody is pooping directly into the stream.
Nevertheless, the golden standard for water purification remains hard boiling. If that is not possible, a combination of filtration and chemical disinfection is essentially as good.
Don't overestimate how easy it is to boil water. As a veteran camper, you know how hard it is to bring even a small pot of water to boil over a roaring campfire. Not easy.
[About Polar Pure, a discontinued product for water purification:]
(1) Elemental iodine by itself is only slightly and slowly soluble in water. At room temperature you can form a solution that is just under 0.03% concentration, but this varies wildly with temperature, so the iodine concentration will be rougly double at 50°C. This means that with Polar Pure you really don't know what concentration of iodine you are using, and you have to use large quanities of it since the solution is so weak.
(2). Elemental iodine doesn't store conveniently. It slowly sublimates at room temperature into iodine gas. That wouldn't be a problem except like all halogens, iodine gas is a strong oxidizer, so it will eventually degrade rubber gaskets in the bottle you are storing it in, embrittle the plastic, stain things stored near the bottle, and generally make an annoyance of itself like a destructive 6 year-old child. By contrast, in iodine tincture the iodine is tamed.
(3). The concentration of iodine in the solution is too low to use as an effective wound antiseptic.
(4). In iodine solutions which are allowed to sit for long periods of time, the elemental iodine will gradually convert to iodide ions until a balance is reached between iodone and iodide in the solution. Go down to the drug store and have a look at a standard 2% iodine tincture (tincture means it's dissolved in alcohol). You'll notice that one of the ingredients is potassium iodide. By adding iodide along with the iodine crystals, you stabilize the solution so that no further iodine will be converted to iodide. The iodide also allows much concentrations of iodine to be achieved (above the 0.03% solution you can get with elemental iodine alone).
Bottom line: go for a Lugol's iodine solution, or a tincture of iodine. If you like, you can make up a strong tincture of iodine containing 7% iodine, but then it's too strong to be used for antiseptic purposes. So, I say 2% is just fine. Concentrated enough for use in drinking water, but not too strong for application to the skin. And the iodine is tamed, so it won't cause as much mischief inside of your pack.
Finally, if you were going to keep a reserve of elemental iodine, you'd want to keep a separate supply of potassium iodide around anyway. There are excellent reasons to keep these ingredients separate. Why? Well, In the event of a nuclear attack or meltdown, people are advised to take potassium iodide pills. Well, aren't you lucky! You'd already have some iodide on hand!
Tincture of iodine remains the most effective antiseptic for skin wounds in general use. More effective than anything else, and the strong residual action can't be beat. The only reason why people don't use it is because it stings when you apply it, and it can stain clothing. But we hemen don't care about that!
That's the other reason to carry 2% iodine tincture in your pack. Seriously, without antibiotics, a small cut or abrasion is no laughing matter.
If I had a big budget, my next experiments would probably be:
3.10.1) - Why such a high rate of failure for vacuum-sealed bags? Current failure rate, 48 hours after packing, is roughly 25%. At two months after packing (one freeze-thaw cycle), the failure rate is 100%. This is unacceptable. Is it just because I picked the least-expensive vacuum sealer available (because it was just a test)? Is it because I fold the bag in my "mold" before filling it (which bends some corners of the bag sharply, which might weaken the plastic), instead of just packing the food in the bag as "flatly" as I can, then vacuum-sealing? Am I doing something else wrong? (bad packing sequence or manipulation, etc.?)
I unfortunately suspect that the commercially-available vacuum-sealed bags are just not tough enough, and that I need another packing technology... I don't know where the MRE manufacturers get their nice pouch material (the pouch geometry sucks, but the actual material is very tough and airproof).
3.10.2) Peanut butter is not practical. By its very nature, peanut butter is hard to manipulate, and difficult to clean out. It's much more practical to just carry peanuts: you eliminate all the packing problems, and all the cleaning problems after eating. This seems to point in the direction of "super-GORP", having peanuts mixed with many other nuts in one thin and non-airproof bag, along with all the dried fruits. They can then be selectively either mixed with the dry mix and boiling water, or not. Simpler, closer to the grocery store inputs, lighter, less-expensive and easier to clean up after the meal.
3.10.3) Homemade "Mainstay" food bars. All the advantages of the commercial "Mainstay" food bars, but more tasty, more protein, less expensive and hard to find. Would replace the current Clif® bars. Maybe a modern iteration of the Logan bar? (3 oz chocolate, 1 oz of table sugar, 1/3 oz of nonfat dry milk, 3 tablespoons oat flour, 2-4 drops vanilla extract, paraffin wax as needed, etc. Maybe add beef jerky, vitamins, etc.?)
3.10.4) Homemade canning. There is a huge domain to be explored, related to home canning. If I could find very small canning jars made of stainless steel, not glass (lighter, stronger), I could replace the existing tin can. This would give me more control over the "wet" part of the ration. Ideally these steel cans would have a full-metal well-polished seal like expensive autoclaves, so no gaskets would be necessary. A bit of precision grinding, a bit of delicacy in handling, and you have a reusable seal that never wears out (like rubber). This kind of can could be lighter than normal tin cans, on top of being reusable. Because currently it's so easy to find ready-made single-meal-size tin cans in most grocery stores, this is not a priority.
I have many questions that need to be answered. I tried to roughly sort them in decreasing order of importance:
- Massive initial error in the design decisions? Is the entire direction of these "BWM/C" completely wrong? For example, should I just try to re-invent pemmican, or some other very simple, very energetic, very stable food? Or should I just "bite the bullet" and buy commercial freeze-dried rations and live with their problems? (Like the fact they are not individual meal, and cost a lot, etc.)
- Professional review? Of course, these rations need to be examined by professional nutritionists.
- Shelf life? What is the shelf life of these "BWM/C" rations? I don't know, I'm testing now! I'm afraid that without freezing, the "weakest link in the shelf-life chain" will be the food bar (Clif® bar about 8 months max.). Hence the push for freezing.
- Keep in freezer? Because they have been carefully designed to be that way, these "BWM/C" rations should keep without refrigeration for at least a few months. But freezing them (if the tin can and the food bar allow it) might make them keep even longer. This means they would stay in the freezer until an emergency, and would then "revert" to their standard (fairly long) unrefrigerated shelf life. So I might be able to have my cake and eat it too, i.e. I could have rations that last long, while not costing too much. What would be the shelf life in a freezer? I don't know. I've heard rumors of 3 years for frozen lard, canned pâté seems to last over a year without freezing, etc.
- Is there a better way to add lipids? I do wish I could find a better way to include some lipids (oil, butter, grease, fat, etc.). I have seen little individual packets of olive oil for sale in super-specialised online stores. Would they go bad too fast? Is there a better way to include lipids (like in homemade canned food)?
What I've read about canning fatty foods says it's VERY DANGEROUS (something about home canning devices not having enough pressure, hence insufficiently high operating temperatures). The moist but oxygen-free environment renders the food susceptible to the anaerobic growth of Clostridium botulinum, the bacteria which causes botulism. Clostridium spores are present everywhere in the environment, and are difficult to kill by boiling. Clostridia has NO ODOR and NO TASTE and is both deadly and fast-acting. Some 15 years ago I (my expert reviewer) remember reading a news story of a woman who was given home-canned olives. She used them while making a salad at a family gathering. She put some pasta in water to boil, then sat down to eat her salad. By the time the pasta was done, she was dead. Her family only noticed when she failed to get up from her recliner after the pasta timer rang. That's how deadly botulinum toxin is. Don't go near home-canned foods, especially oily ones, and especially these days when the art of home canning has largely been lost, meaning that anybody who tries it doesn't really have much experience.
- How should the water be boiled? There is a whole series of questions related to the device used to boil water, which should probably be in another article:
- Shape of container? Is it more fuel-efficient to use a "salad-bowl" shaped stainless steel container (i.e. shaped like a "wok"), as opposed to a pure cylindrical shape? Or does the difficulty of finding a lid, as well as the increased weight, cancel out the heat-transfer advantages?
- Heat exchanger? Is it worthwhile to have a fancier and heavier pot with a heat exchanger? We are going to boil a lot of water, and that uses a lot of fuel.
- Beware of non-metallic pot lids. Many reviews talk about non-metal lids softening dangerously and even burning (e.g. Olicamp XTS Pot).
- Mini-Trangia windscreen/potholder. Is it both too heavy and not "windscreening" enough? Also might not insulate the actual stove from the cold ground, which would impair combustion. No brilliant ideas yet to replace it. It does currently work.
- Super-kettle. Someday I'd like to try to build a super-kettle: tall
cylinder, insulated outside with wood (light, fairly fire-resistant), with
many "chimneys" coming up through the "floor" of the kettle, through which
the hot air would rise. By not closing off the top, avoids dangerous overpressure,
and allows cleaning of deposits caused by "hard" water being boiled often.
Would have a small spout for precision pouring.
Would lock into a "firebase", which would hold everything off the ground in a stable way, protect the heat source inside from the wind (and keep it off the cold ground), and ideally be adaptable to wood, propane or alcohol stoves.
- Oxygen absorbers? Easy to buy off the Internet. Should I pack a bunch of meals
in one box, but line that box with a thick plastic bag, in which I would put many
oxygen absorbers? Offhand, doesn't seem promising, because plastic bags let oxygen
through, and these BWM/C are designed to be fairly easy and cheap to rotate. Also,
oxygen absorbers are apparently just iron filings that rust, "absorbing" free oxygen.
Apparently useless to have such oxygen absorbers if there is no aluminum layer in
Oxygen absorbers add a wee bit of moisture (necessary for rusting), but they are highly efficient: they can absorb virtually all of the oxygen in a container. The iron filings are micronized in a way that dramatically increases surface area. That they will reduce the volume of air by about 20% (since the oxygen is gone), thus creating a fairly strong vacuum. This can be a feature or a disadvantage.
- Dehydrated vegetables? I've never found a good reliable source for dehydrated vegetables (that don't require cooking to reconstitute). Am I just shopping at the wrong places, or is it inherently more difficult to dehydrate vegetables compared to fruits, because vegetables are not naturally sugary (like figs, dates, apricots, raisins, etc.), so they will never keep as well?
- Hardtack? My expert reviewer loves hardtack, and would replace the "dry mix" with it. It can be eaten as is (no boiling water required), or mixed with whatever boiling water thing you have handy. It seems to last forever without refrigeration. But a huge problem is supply. The only source in the USA is G. H. Bent company (in business since 1801, and an original purveyor of hardtack to the Union army in the Civil War; the last remaining manufacturer of real honest-to-God 19th century hardtack). "Single-source" and "reliable and inexpensive supply chain" don't fit very well in the same sentence. Also, "One significant change was the elimination of the much disliked hardtack", Army Quartermaster History, p. 105. I'd prefer homemade "Mainstay" food bars. Good for 5 years without refrigeration, tasty, nutritious, etc.
- Eagle Brand condensed milk? How I would love to have miniature tin cans of Eagle Brand condensed (and sweetened) milk! It tastes great in coffee! But the available cans are so bloody large...
- Beverages? Should I include more cold beverage powders, preferably "electrolytic" or "oral rehydration salts" formulas, ideally usable both to rehydrate during hard exercise, but also for medical purposes (diarrhea, etc.)? So far, I've only been able to find things that cost a lot, produce small quantities, and have a short shelf life. Saltsticks? Oral rehydration salts? (by the way, the MEC equivalent of "gastrolyte" is by far the least expensive) Hydralyte Orange Flavour Electrolyte Powder?
- Alcohol as food preservative? Alcohol-laced fruit cake lasts for years. Why not use this trick? Because it's apparently a stupid idea: "Alcohol inhibits the breakdown of nutrients into usable molecules by decreasing secretion of digestive enzymes from the pancreas. Alcohol impairs nutrient absorption by damaging the cells lining the stomach and intestines and disabling transport of some nutrients into the blood. In addition, nutritional deficiencies themselves may lead to further absorption problems. For example, folate deficiency alters the cells lining the small intestine, which in turn impairs absorption of water and nutrients including glucose, sodium, and additional folate. Even if nutrients are digested and absorbed, alcohol can prevent them from being fully utilized by altering their transport, storage, and excretion." [Source]
- GSI Fairshare Mug II? I tried the 1.0 version. Seemed OK: (i) Very big, so you can put in freshly chopped and microwaved veggies, AND the couscous, AND the tuna/fish, AND pour over a cup of water, AND mix the slop without spilling anything. (ii) Plastic, so doesn't suck up water's heat when poured in. (iii) If you diligently use tuque and other articles of clothing to insulate it during "cooking" period, and if you quicky replace lid (without screwing) after you fish out each spoonful, stays nice and warm. Is the new version worth a try? Wouldn't a tall and squarish section "tupperware" type of container be lighter and simpler? By being squarish, it would be easy to drink from a corner, plus it would take up less space. Or just use the metal stove pot, since we're carrying it anyway? Once insulated with your polar jacket, it will keep the food warm for rehydration.
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