A meal in a box and the "ageless oxygen absorber"
This post is long overdue.
Many months ago I got in touch with a company called Meal Kit Supply Canada, a distributor of prepackaged meals developed by the U.S. Military. The meals are warmed using a water-activated heating pack.
I had reached out to the company early on in the series, and Stevi Hanson, vice president business development, had sent me a sample pack of their most popular meals.
It seemed logical to wait for an actual emergency or outdoors experience to try them out. Thankfully there have been no emergencies, and my two outdoor experiences, the cottage and my week with Sticks and Stones Wilderness School, involved so much delicious provided food I may have gained a few pounds.
So the box sat in my closet for several months.
With the clock ticking on the wrap-up for the blog, I decided Sunday night was the night!
I slit open the case and perused my choices. The meals included vegetable lasagna, beef ravioli, and chicken and dumpling meals. I went for the chicken and pesto pack.
Pasta is just the main course. This meal comes with potato cheddar soup, crackers, a massive 1.5-ounce tube of peanut butter, vacuum-packed carrot pound cake, hot chocolate, and an electrolyte juice-type drink.
As a lover of gadgets and disaster preparedness (nerd flag flying high here), I have to admit that cracking this open was a bit like Christmas morning. My favourite part was the print on the directions for the hot chocolate: "Allow water just chemically purified to stand 30 minutes before adding to beverage powder." Perfection.
To heat the meals, you drop a sealed pouch of food into a plastic sleeve with a heating pack that is activated by water. You add water, fold the top of the bag, tuck the meal and sleeve back into the cardboard box it came from, and wait for it to heat.
I may have added too much water.
As I am typing, my meal and the cardboard box I stuffed it back into is making gasping noises like a dying fish on my counter.
I wait for the bag to settle down and manage to remove the meal without burning myself. The water in the sleeve has a strange odour, a product of the heating pack, but the sealed pasta is actually hot and there is a high volume of decent tasting chicken.
While I wouldn't describe it as fine dining - let's be honest, this is for a disaster - it is impressive for something that came out of a bag and is brought back to life with a heater pack.
The carrot cake comes in the shape of a bar of soap but is actually quite tasty. Because I am easily amused by the little things, I was delighted to find the "ageless oxygen absorber" packet that comes inside.
Each meal also contains instant coffee, dried creamer, sugar, and a lemon moist wipe. There are also two of the sturdiest plastic spoons I have ever seen. I am guessing the company that makes these gets a lot of feedback on how little things make a difference in harsh environments.
So how did Meal Kit Supply Canada get into the business of distributing meals in a box?
Hanson said the main reason was SARS.
"There was mild concern of an outbreak and some sort of breakdown in infrastructure," said Hanson.
Those concerns prompted company owner Blair Calder to seek out food products he could store in his basement.
Calder sourced the food products from the U.S. manufacturers and was told that there was no one distributing them in Canada. They negotiated exclusive rights and about five years ago the company was formed.
Their big clients are the RCMP and OPP, fire and emergency service workers, and government workers, including Toronto, said Hanson.
The meals can be picked up at Costco or ordered online or over the phone. The smallest case costs $129.99 and comes with 12 meals, four breakfasts, four lunches and four dinners. If you store them at room temperature, they last five years. The food is also preservative-free; the package is what keeps the products from spoiling, according to information on the company website.
Hanson said demand often increases during global emergencies. "After Haiti, we sold out our warehouse," mostly to the Red Cross and other emergency support groups, said Hanson.
They also experience boosts in sales when smaller disasters hit in Canada or abroad, said Hanson.
Opening the boxes and using the heating pack was fun, and I can totally understand the appeal of having huge, ready-to-eat meals in case of an emergency. But for someone like me, with lots of space in her apartment to store a variety of bulkier foods - I am more of a dried meat, fruits and nuts kind of lady - and on a budget, I don't know if they would be my first choice.
That said, buying a box would be an easy solution to stocking up on food to last for 72 hours. If you were not expending much energy, the peanut butter tube alone could be a small meal.
I can also see why they would be ideal for people in remote locations or using up thousands of calories working in emergency situations.
Really interesting product. Still picking away at the carrot cake.