You will commonly encounter preppers stocking, stashing, praising and pillorying MREs, those ubiquitous pouched meals that seemingly never expire. Everyone that has ever served in the military is well acquainted, but these infamous transportable rations, and probably learned to hate them.
But for us preppers, even if not the biggest fan of the taste, you probably do appreciate how stable and convenient they are as a survival food. What you probably don’t appreciate is the cost. Why are MREs so expensive?!
While not exorbitantly pricey compared to other shelf-stable Staples, MREs do cost quite a bit more per meal than other comparable survival foods.
With the cost of a case of 12 going anywhere from $70 to $100, the cost of a complete MRE goes anywhere from $4.50 just $6.50. Much of this cost comes from the packaging, each meal component typically being housed in a heavy duty plastic wrapper inside a cardboard box, and the entirety of a meal’s contents make contained in a heavy vinyl plastic. Processing and extensive packaging are responsible for much of the cost of an MRE.
$4.50? Is That Really So Pricey?
Yes. Yes it is. Preppers typically calculate their ration expenditures as a function of cost per calorie.
This makes sense, since calories are really just fuel for our bodies, and while we cannot anticipate how fast will be burning fuel we do generally know how much fuel our bodies require to remain functional at a low, moderate or high level of activity.
Not really much different than calculating how many batteries you need for your electronics or how much fuel you’ll need for a generator!
So for what they provide in terms of raw calories, MREs are not terribly efficient and are costly compared to other foods, even long-life, shelf-stable foods.
If you’re on a budget, you may not want to make MREs your primary meal option for your survival stash.
Costs aside, cost per calorie is not the end-all, be all consideration for survival. The biggest advantages of MREs are convenience and durability.
Durability is not something often considered as a positive characteristic when discussing food, but for our purposes it might make a difference. MREs are designed to not only be shelf-stable in various temperature extremes for a long time, but they’re also packed to last.
Their robust, heavy-duty seals and internal redundant packaging make MREs resistant to all kinds of rough handling and mistreatment that would compromise the packaging and ergo the longevity of all kinds of other foods, cans included.
If you know you’re always going to be on the go, are constantly transporting your preps by vehicle, or want some food to bounce around in your BOB with no ill effects, MREs make a lot of sense.
They can be jostled, bashed, mashed, shaken, dropped, punted and slammed while remaining completely safe to eat and nominally tasty.
Now, some of your fragile items like candies and crackers will probably fall apart under such duress. Powdered or not, they will remain safe to eat!
Beyond their durability, MREs have other advantages over similar survival foods.
In a bind or just in a big hurry, you can open up an MRE and eat it with no more preparation necessary than mixing up your powdered drink in a cup of water.
While their efficacy is highly debatable, MREs also include a flameless ration heater that takes just a little bit of water to steam your main entree to a more palatable temperature. I know, it’s usually lukewarm at best, but sometimes it beats cold.
If you want to think of it another way, you’re paying a certain amount of money for the convenience of having, literally, everything you need for a meal and want easy to transport, rugged package.
From the silverware, heater and napkin to the hot sauce bottle and the food itself, there’s nothing else to transport and nothing else to buy. Convenience, as with all things, commands a certain premium.
Also worth consideration is the fact that a case of MREs is easily grabbed, hauled or taken on the road. While not as efficient as freeze dried food, MREs are still quite compact compared to a shelf full of the usual staples.
Combined with their above-mentioned longevity, this may make MREs more appropriate and useful for mobile operations, like a bug-out, than other foods.
Cost-Benefit Analysis is King
There’s no two ways about it: MREs are expensive on a per-calorie basis. Whether or not they are good value depends on your preferences, plans and other factors unique to your situation.
For those who would rather spend a little more on food with the assurances that will last a long time sitting in storage, is durable enough to survive being crammed into a pack or their container, and would prefer a variety meal options with no additional planning, MREs are good choice.
If you plan predominately to bug in, or don’t mind and are already set up for cooking in austere conditions, storing bulk staples or conventional freeze-dried survival food may be the better option.
And why not both? There’s more than enough room in the average pantry for staples, freeze-dried foods, and MREs.
MREs are ideal for bugging out, especially when their packaging is broken down they can be more efficiently packed into a BOB. Freeze-dried foods are extremely light, very compact and fairly easy to prepare.
All they need is a little boiling water. Staple foods, like beans, flour, honey and rice can keep someone alive for a very, very long time for little money and they themselves are pretty easy to store long-term though pests are an issue.
So while you are not wrong in declaring MREs expensive for what you get, if you’re just looking at calories and not capability your analysis may be skewed. Be sure to consider all pertinent factors for choosing your survival rations.