Guncrank Diaries:
Food of the Gods


We used to call MREs “Meals Refused by Ethiopians.” However, nowadays they are actually quite good. Image: Ashley Pomeroy

Ambrosia is the technical term. In Greek legend, ambrosia sustained the gods. For a mere mortal to taste of such was an indulgence beyond compare.

I’m a 55-year-old man who should know better. A significant fraction of my professional day is spent trying to stave off the inevitable results of poor life choices. I know this sounds ghoulish but were it not for cigarettes, unhealthy foods and booze, my family might starve.


When I finished med school in 2002, one in every 12 adult Americans had diabetes. Today that number is one in 10. By 2050 it will be one in three. Half of all African-American children born after the year 2000 will have diabetes. We fret over North Korea, a nuclear Iran and rampaging anarchists. None of that matters. The thermonuclear bomb that is about to go off in America is diabetes.

In the timeless words of the Apostle Paul, I am chief among sinners. My diet is simply ghastly, but I am living proof a guy can stay sufficiently active to eat garbage and remain thin.

I don’t much care for stuff like squash or okra. I can murder me some mashed potatoes, but that’s just fluffy sugar. My real kryptonite is breakfast cereal. In fact, there is one particular sort that stands out among all the rest. I am and always have been hopelessly addicted to Count Chocula.

Will could, and probably has, lived exclusively off of Count Chocula cereal.

A 6th Food Group?

The Monster Cereals from Quaker Oats: Booberry, Frankenberry and Count Chocula made up the vanguard. I never held much affection for the first two, but I could subsist solely upon the third. To name a breakfast cereal after a blood-sucking ghoul was a bold move. I am, however, living proof that it resonated.

Count Chocula has evolved considerably through the decades. Like most things, the old sort was better. Early on, the crunchy bits were quite porous and friable. They floated like little pieces of grey Styrofoam and were nigh heavenly. The modern versions are shiny and seem vaguely shellacked. I can live with that. The real tragedy was the marshmallows.

Those earliest Count Chocula marshmallows looked like grey pencil erasers and personified breakfast perfection. They had the perfect consistency and the ideal ratio of crunchy bits to marshmallows. The new ones look like bats and just aren’t the same. I will forever be vexed at the pervasive drive among humans to change things just for the heck of it. Had Michelangelo been similarly afflicted, the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel might ultimately have morphed into an advertisement for 16th-century Italian timeshare condos.

Modern military MREs are tasty and handy when dining conditions are subpar.

Practical Tactical

Modern T-rations and MREs are actually quite good. A guy could gain weight in the field feeding from American field kitchens. The most extraordinary component of field food to me back in the day was nuclear milk.

At least that’s what we called it. My understanding is they took regular milk, subjected it to intense doses of gamma radiation and shipped it off to us in the suck. It didn’t have to be refrigerated. I could leave cartons of the stuff out overnight underneath a Humvee in the desert or secure it in a sack in a mountain creek and have it seem right chilly. I hope you can see where this is going.

Bruce Banner got some gamma radiation on him and turned into the Hulk. I hoped the Army researchers at Natick Labs had thought of that. However, it never really seemed the Army’s primary mission was to create healthy, productive, cancer-free retirees.

Mail call was a holy thing back in the days before Facetime and Skype. Those letters and parcels from home were like cool water for a guy dying of thirst. I had been in the desert for some weeks already and got a package from my mom. I retreated to a quiet spot to skin the thing and dream of home. With fingers trembling in anticipation, I used my GI-issue Camillus switchblade to disassemble the box. I was greeted by the bucktoothed grinning visage of my favorite blood-sucking vampire. Those two family-sized boxes of Count Chocula might as well have been pure gold bullion.

I chilled a little nuclear milk and ate my ambrosia out of my canteen cup using one of those long brown plastic MRE spoons. If I closed my eyes and ignored the accumulated gratuitous filth, I could be transported back to a better place where there were hot showers, clean sheets and love aplenty. Moms. Wow.

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