When I was in the Army, we didn’t have MREs, we had C-Rations. And we were happy to have them. Ok, so they came in cardboard boxes full of cans, which made them a pain to pack. So we’d empty them out and put the cans in socks and hang them from our web-gear. And they were heavy, because they came in cans. But we were still happy to have them. Because they were better than starving.
And no box actually had a really good meal. You had to know what to trade from one meal to get stuff from another to put together something that worked. The ham slices didn’t come in the same meal as the cheese spread. But trade for it, and combine them, and it wasn’t half bad. The trick was knowing what to trade for (and not to trade for the yucky pineapple jam). I remember when I went to the Air Force Academy one summer to attend their SERE (Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape) school (I was a cadet at West Point). During a field exercise, they brought out cases of C-Rats. The zoomies had never had them before, but us USMA folk were quite familiar with them, and knew exactly what trades to make. I suspect the zoomies didn’t get as good of a first impression as they might have if they’d known what was worth having and what wasn’t.
BTW, there are no MREs from the 20s, they only came out in the 80s or so. So I’m guessing you’ve seen SteveMRE eating something that predates MREs (and I suspect predates c-rations since I think they only came out around WWII).
I only had MREs once while I was in the Army, and they were pretty good in comparison. They’d still be my last resort in a post-cataclysm situation though, just because they keep for years.