Most people who gather to watch a weekend football game on TV dig into Tex-Mex chili, BBQ wings or a pizza topped with everything but Skittles.
Me, when I caught the 2009 Army Navy Football Game last Saturday, I ate what soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan are eating these days: a pre-packaged "Meals, Ready-To-Eat," or MRE.
Anyone who has served in a war zone, or is acquainted with someone who's sweated out deployment in those gigantic sandboxes, knows that MREs are the combat equivalent of breakfast, lunch, dinner and a snack. They usually require neither heat nor refrigeration, hydration or stirring. They're simply squeezed out of their packaging and down the gullet - 1300 calories of protein (13%), fat (34%) and carbs (54%).
Mmm, mmm, good!
The meals were being taste-tasted last weekend by civilians at the Army Experience Center, the snazzy, year-old recruitment mecca housed within Franklin Mills Mall. The place is huge, glitzy and loaded with seductively high-tech video games, computers and military vehicle simulators - all things that the Army hopes will entice potential recruits to give the military more than a gander.
Last weekend, while the Army Navy game played out on the center's many TV screens, guests from the Natick Soldier Research, Development & Engineering Center in Massachusetts were on hand to give passersby like me a chance to sample those MREs. We dug into Southwest Beef & Black Beans, Vegetarian Ratatouille with Italian Breadsticks, Pulled Buffalo Chicken and Coconut Sweet Potato Casserole - all of which I found surprisingly palatable. Next time, though, I'll pass on the Pepperoni Pocket Sandwich, which hit my innards with the gut-churning friendliness of a Hot Pocket.
My favorite dessert was the Cranberry White Chocolate Cookies, which were so sweet made my teeth fillings ache. That's a good thing since, in my book, there's simply no such thing as too much sugar.
The only thing that would've made the dessert more satisfying?
A win by Army. Sadly, Navy trounced the team, 17-3.
Anyway, many thanks to Natick's Robert Trottier and Jeremy Whitsitt for letting me back to the serving table for seconds on the sweet-potato casserole. Next time, I'll bring a jar of Marshmallow Fluff and garnish the dish the way my mama taught me.