I ate some MREs this week. (Quick definition of an MRE: An MRE is a self-contained meal in a plastic pouch. The pouch contains smaller retort pouches filled with various foods. MREs are designed to last a long time at room temperature and are used by the military and disaster relief agencies.)

Now, you may be thinking, “Why would you willingly consume an MRE? Soldiers complain about them all the time!”

A couple reasons. First, I’d always been curious about them – it’s just an interesting concept. Second, all MREs have about the same number of calories and are balanced meals, which means they could help dieters. (Which I’ll get to in another post soon.)

Having eaten four MREs (clam chowder, meat loaf, pork loin and cheese tortellini), I can honestly say that today’s MREs taste pretty good, actually. The only one I didn’t like was the cheese tortellini. They are also pretty darn filling for such a small amount of food (the main entre of an MRE is eight ounces and the side entre is usually about six ounces).

Which got me to thinkin’. At my last job, we had a frozen food vending machine in the break room. It had frozen meals, as well as ice cream bars and other frozen desserts. But the thing was always breaking down – either the refrigerator would break, causing everything to thaw and go bad, or the machine wouldn’t give you your meal because the vending spring malfunctioned. And in the end, all you got was a frozen meal.

Why not have a vending machine that serves food in retort pouches, like MREs come in? You could have main dishes and side dishes, you wouldn’t have to refrigerate them (food sealed in retort pouches lasts for three years at room temperature), you could have more variety, the machine would work better, and the food would taste better. They’d taste even better than MREs do because they wouldn’t have to be made by the lowest bidder.

Why hasn’t anyone done this yet? Heck, why can’t I buy retort-packaged food at the supermarket? As far as I know, the only company using retort packages for anything is Starkist for their tuna. I guess it’s probably because everybody is set up to use cans and switching over would be a big cost…but I’ve got a feeling someone is eventually going to bring retort-packaged food to the consumer market in a big way, and I think the market is going to respond very favorably.