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Meals Ready to Eat

By February 1, 2006new orleans

–posted by Neil Hendrick

This was my welcome to the New New Orleans…in November, things were still in a state of emergency. There were Red Cross stations everywhere, HUMV’s patrolled the streets (they still do, but now we don’t notice) and the cuisine du jour was Army rations. These are some of my first impressions of New Orleans.

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I thought it would be nice to share some of what is going on here. All said, it’s a pretty interesting place to be right now. I’m including some pictures of the outside world. First off, I wrecked my bike the other day, and have been walking around, since it’s hard to find a bike shop that is open. The only bike shop I can find, down on the "come as you are" section of Magazine street, has a sign declaring the hours of business, "Open — Late, no special time, Close — Early, depends how I feel." I guess this is how business was done before Katrina, you can’t expect it to be any better now. So I am walking for the time being, but there is plenty of good stuff in walking distance, and besides, maybe I need to work on my balance or something, look at this magnificent bruise I got crashing my bike.

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I am not the only one who has been damaged. New Orleans suffered most in the destruction of some of it’s most distinctive neighborhoods. Many great old homes were damaged or destroyed.

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There are trees down all over the place, some of them right on top of the homes they once sheltered

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And there is crap everywhere. There are power lines down, yards full of debris, and on the sidewalks, tremendous piles of appliances, furniture, and miscellaneous detritus, all things ruined by the storm. There is some kind of code for what you write on your refrigerator. I have been thinking that TFC stands for "Total Freaking Crap" but that might not be the case.

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I have since learned that "TFC" stands for "Took Freon Core." The Freon is a bio-hazard and has to be disposed of carefully.

Still, there are a lot of people about, the coffeeshops and breakfast places that are open are full. Where there is internet access, there are people with laptops, riding wireless.I have staked out several haunts. Sometimes, I can even get a signal in my apartment.

Everyone here is doing something. My house, which has half a dozen apartments other than mine, is full of workers, dry wallers, roofers, and the like. I think I am the only tenant who doesn’t work for the landlord. The workers are roughnecks, they live in a kind of commune, their families left in other states. They grill steaks in the front yard and eat the meat with their hands, right off the grill. They have fistfights on the front porch and then laugh about it. We get along fine, I drink beer with them and sometimes join them for dinner. Many of the people who are here in town are here for the reconstrucion effort. I seem to be one of the few people just living here. (Some might question the wisdom of moving to a ruined city where I don’t know anyone for no other reason than wandering around the destruction crashing into things…)

Since I don’t have a car, and there are limited retail locations available in my immediate area, I am fortunate that just around the corner, there is a Red Cross relief station. Before anyone gives me any crap about taking donations from the Red Cross, keep in mind that I have been a refugee for months, and that while all the other people (and there are many) who are at the Red Cross are loading their stuff into their SUVs, I am humping this junk home in a backpack, to an apartment where you can’t drink the water and there isn’t a place within two miles where I can buy anything, other than Fat Harry’s bar…and I don’t think they serve water.

If you go to the Red Cross, they don’t ask you any questions, they are super nice, sometimes there is a woman at the front of the line who hugs you and then gives you a shopping cart to load up. (I am not joking about the hug). You take the shopping cart and go down the line. I don’t take anything I can’t use. The Huggies diapers and baby stuff I pass by. Especially the Pedialac, which is like Tang, but for babies instead of astronauts. I do have some of it from the first time there, and adults CAN drink it, but I have discovered that it tastes like crap, no matter how much Gin you put in it.

My apartment is as clean as it’s getting, so I pass up the cleaning supplies, except for some paper towels. I have done all I can to remove the thick layer of plaster dust that covered everthing upon my return. I’m over it.

The most important thing for me to get is water, and I get a couple gallons of it. Second is food (they do serve food at Fat Harry’s, though it isn’t any good.) The Red Cross will give you all kinds of food, whatever they have, and they have different stuff all the time. They try and package up meals that are ready to go. Like this:

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Water, Pringles, apple sauce, cookie, Tuna Fish salad with crackers, a Red Hot Sausage, a little after dinner mint, and the requisite moist towelette. If you are a junk food junkie, you are in heaven, I am sure that there is some sort of General Milles advertising executive dreaming this whole scheme up. I have rarely seen anyone eat this much processed food in one sitting, and for me, the water, tuna, applesauce, and (sue me) the hot sausage do make a mighty fine lunch. Much of the crap I screen out of these goodie boxes end up in the cabinet…I have a whole shelf devoted to Red Cross junk food.

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You thought I was joking about my junk food shelf. Please, come to my house and gorge yourself on this goldmine of monosodium glutamate, trans-fat, and phosphates.

The Red Cross also distributes some more useful items, cans of soup, beans, rice, Chef-Boyardee lasagne and spagettios. I have a can of peaches the size of a planet, they must have ravaged every peach orchid in Georgia to fill this can. I have several mysterious cans of "Boned Chicken"

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This is my favorite thing, though. Military people the world over will recognize the K-rations of the modern age, Meals: Ready to Eat. MRE’s are being consumed right now by boot camp trainees covered in mud at Paris Island, in Afghanistan, they are taking a break from rampaging around the hillsides rooting out Taliban commandoes turned Tribal Warlords to tuck into MRE’s, and in Iraq, terrified teenagers in up-armored HUMVs are lunching on these same nutritional swiss army knives.

These Meals (Ready to Eat) come in a super tough nylon pillow, sealed against things that would keep you or I up at night. You would starve to death before you were able to open one by tearing at the plastic, all you could do is stare through its transparent skin and read the nutritional contents of Vegetable Manicotti, Beef in Terriyaki Sauce, Veggie Burger in B-B-Q sauce. So, have a knife ready to open the thing.

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Inside, is a hefty meal, filled with all kinds of stuff. All of it can be eaten right out of the package (thus, "ready to eat") some of it is better dropped in boiling water for a few minutes, some of it just begs to be thrown away.

There are marketing slogans and graphics on the tan cardboard and kaki foil shrinkwraps. They tell you useful things like: "Knead Package before Opening" (as if I would eat a tube of Cheese Spread with Japapenos without really needing it), and " Food>Enery> TOP PERFORMANCE, and "Restriction of food & nutrients leads to rapid weight loss which leads to >Loss of strength >Decreased endurance > Loss of Motivation >Decreased Mental Allertness"

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One of these little wonderments comes with the following:

Cheese Tortellini in Tomato Sauce–

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Beef in Teriyaki Sauce with Vegetables

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An Oatmeal Cookie, Chocolate Flavored Coating (my favorite).

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Something called "Wheat Snack Bread" that I will not eat unless we end up in a Nuclear Winter

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The aforementioned Chees Spread With Jalapenos (Knead package before opening)

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Beverage Powder, Carbohydrate Electrolyte, Lemon Line, New Weight 24 Grams

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And of course, no meal is ready to eat without a spoon, salt, pepper, Deep Rich Instant Coffee, creamer, two giant sugars, and the de rigeur moist towelette.

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Where the Hell is the after dinner mint?

So, I am thinking the same thing you are thinking. I need to get to a grocery store. Really, I’m going, so don’t worry about it. There you are, friends, an unusual tour through New Orleans. Come visit, we’ll have some junk food and drink a gallon of water each. After our mints, we’ll drown our sorrows with my new beverage, the "Booze: Ready to Drink" made from orange flavored Pedialac and Gin.


P.S. If you appreciate these kinds of observations, you might want to read this as well.

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