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Pentagon's New Food Packet to Serve as Humanitarian Aid

September 30, 1993|ART PINE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

WASHINGTON — The Pentagon has come up with a new food-aid packet for the post-Cold War world--a modern-day version of military C-rations, designed especially for humanitarian airdrops in places such as Bosnia-Herzegovina that are under military siege.

Known formally as HDR (for humanitarian daily ration), the packet looks something like the time-honored MRE (for meal, ready-to-eat)--the version of the C-ration that was distributed to U.S. troops in Operation Desert Storm in 1991.

But the similarity ends there. HDR offers a decidedly lower-calorie diet than the MRE, contains no meat or fish and provides an entire day's nutritional requirements in one package, instead of only one meal's worth as the MRE does. And veterans who have tried both contend that the HDR also tastes better.

The new plastic-wrapped HDRs were developed in five months at the request of Defense Secretary Les Aspin, who wanted to overcome the problems that MREs often posed when they were used in humanitarian relief efforts.

Although the United States has distributed tens of millions of MREs in Bosnia and Somalia over the last few months, officials have found that their high-calorie contents--designed to sustain healthy U.S. soldiers in combat--often were too rich for starving refugees.

In Somalia, for example, relief workers reported that those suffering from malnutrition simply could not "process" the high-protein diet that the MREs provided. And Muslims in Ethiopia were reluctant to eat the pork and other meats that are part of the MREs.

"They would taste them, maybe pick a few things out, then throw them away," recalled Tom Getman, director of government relations for the private relief organization World Vision.

But Patricia Irwin, deputy assistant secretary of defense for humanitarian and refugee affairs, told reporters Wednesday that the HDR, designed to provide sustenance for a "moderately malnourished" person, avoids any such culinary faux pas.

To begin with, HDRs contain only about 1,900 calories--compared to 3,600 for a day's ration of MREs. They are made up entirely of vegetables, fruits and grains, providing a healthy dose of fiber. And they cost only $3.95 a day, compared to $13.80 a day for MREs.

Irwin said that the Pentagon has ordered 2.15 million HDRs for shipment to Rhein-Main Air Base in Germany in preparation for possible use in Bosnia.

A typical HDR contains "tangy beans" and piquant "savory lentils," crackers, granola, jelly, candied fruit and a small piece of pita-like bread. There are six different menu combinations.

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