Our favorite part of the heating instructions that came with the MRE was the direction to lean the product up against a "rock or something." | Maria Maxham

It’s called Whoop Ass. It’s a brand of pepper spray. And it’s a great self-defense tool for women, or anyone who’s looking for an effective way to stay safe.

You can buy it, and other brands of pepper spray, at Military & Police Supply, 7351 Madison St., and owner Mike Cody says it’s a best seller.

“I recommend pepper spray for people who are looking for a self-defense tool,” Cody said. “Pepper spray allows you to keep a distance from your attacker.” Knives, he says, are “up close and personal,” though he’s been selling a lot of those lately too.

What he likes about the pepper spray he sells at his store is that it allows a 10-foot distance from an attacker as opposed to, say, a knife, which can only be used close-up. It’s 17 percent pepper, the highest allowed by law. Even police, said Cody, only carry 10 percent pepper sprays.

And no worry if your aim is bad; if you spray someone in the chest, said Cody, it will drift up into their face and eyes, causing irritation, enough to allow you a solid chance of getting away. The pepper spray comes out in a stream rather than a mist, so there’s little blowback which could cause irritation for the user.

Business for Military & Police Supply has been good. Cody said when the COVID-19 pandemic started, people swarmed to the store, buying up gas masks and MREs (Meals, Ready to Eat).

Cody said when the pandemic started, he sold at least 70 gas masks. He said he told customers, “I don’t know how effective these masks are for this pandemic, for this particular virus,” but people wanted to buy then. “I had to scurry for more,” Cody said.

Hunting knives sold out fast, people wanting them for home protection. And he sold a ton of MREs.

“I sold at least 80 cases,” said Cody. There are 12 meals per case. That’s 960 emergency meals. Customers also came looking for survival gear, like water purification tablets, canteens, first aid supplies, fire starters and compasses.

When riots began in neighboring towns, customer focus shifted to self-defense, and Cody always recommends pepper spray. Another personal safety tool he suggests is a telescoping baton. It retracts so it’s small enough to carry, and the motion and sound of someone expanding a baton can be a deterrent in and of itself.

But Cody also has advice on staying safe in general.

“Don’t act like a victim,” said Cody. So many people, he said, walk around with earbuds in their ears or looking down at their phones, completely unfocused on what’s going on around them. “Bad guys are looking for someone who’s not paying attention,” said Cody.

Taste testing an MRE

Although familiar with freeze-dried camping meals, I’d never eaten an actual MRE, the kind supplied to the military, so I bought one on my visit to Military & Police Supply. There were several flavors to choose from, and I decided spicy southwest chicken with rice and vegetables sounded good.

The meal was MRE Star brand, “for military, civilian and emergency preparedness,” according to the package. The package also says it’s a “Complete Meal,” and that’s definitely the case. The one meal was enough for two people to eat, although soldiers probably burn and need far more calories than two people who’ve been working from home on computers all day.

According to the MRE Star website, all meals contain “a pharmaceutical grade nutritional mix” that includes Vitamins A, D, K, B6, B12, C, and E along with added minerals such as zinc, copper, iron, thiamin and niacin.

There’s a water-activated heating element included, so you can make your meal hot, although it’s safe to eat cold as well. The second the heating element was activated, we heard sizzling and it began to steam. We waited about 10 minutes, and the food was nice and warm.

As a side note, the best thing about the heating element might be the illustrated instructions, which make it clear that after activation, you should lean the package up against a “rock or something.”

The meal, which cost $12, came with the following: the chicken and rice dinner, heating element, crackers, sesame stick snacks, a pack of four cookies, and a powdered grape electrolyte drink. It also came with a packet of extras, and the attention to detail was almost heart-warming. The packet included napkins, a spoon long enough to eat straight out of the package if needed, a moist towelette, a toothpick, salt, pepper, red pepper flakes, and a pack of Smarties.

As my co-taste tester said, “Something about the Smarties and cookies makes it feel like someone’s mom packed it.”

The food itself was good and filling. While perhaps a lack-luster substitute for a home-cooked meal, it was surprisingly edible. And the Smarties were a perfect touch.