The American Food Falling From the Sky Over Iraq Is a Special Menu
Emergency meals follow strict religious guidelines
In August, the U.S. Air Force airdropped more than 100,000 prepackaged meals and 30,000 gallons of drinking water to refugees in and around Mount Sinjar in Iraq. The food items came from a specialized menu that follows Islamic guidelines.
Of course, the majority of the individuals near Sinjar were members of the Yezidi faith, not Muslims. But the Pentagon didn’t take any chances. The military no doubt wanted to make sure nobody trapped on the mountain top went hungry.
Shari?ah law has very detailed rules about preparing meats and bans Muslims from eating pork altogether. Strict adherents of these restrictions must eat food that is halal—permitted by the Quran—unless there are absolutely no alternatives.
With these requirements in mind, the Defense Department’s Combat Feeding Directorate developed meals for both observant religious personnel and humanitarian aid. The resulting “Meal, Religious, Halal” consists of an entree and an accessory pack.
Halal-certified main courses include lamb and chicken dishes, as well as vegetarian options like cheese tortellini and pasta with vegetables, according to a U.S. Army fact sheet.
The accessory pack contains things like powdered drink mixes, condiments, utensils and napkins. More generic food items like granola bars, dried fruit and nuts and cereal are also included.
The Pentagon also has similar ready-to-go food for Jews who keep kosher. Some items are found in both the halal and kosher rations, but the two types are never boxed up together.
The unique rations are otherwise similar to other so-called Meals, Ready to Eat, better known as MREs—the U.S. military’s standard field ration. MREs last up to 10 months in a warehouse.
The contents can be eaten cold, mixed with hot water or warmed up with a special heater. Judging from the official documentation, the last item is clearly a point of pride for the military’s culinary developers.
A diner only has to add water to the flameless ration heater’s magnesium-iron filler. The resulting chemical reaction can heat an MRE to a piping 100 degrees Fahrenheit in fewer than 20 minutes.
As its name implies, this chemical heater doesn’t involve flames. Soldiers and civilians don’t have to worry about the dangers of an open fire—or the attention a blaze might attract.
The current shari?ah-approved meals also appear to address recent criticisms of American aid. In 2001, Afghan officials and non-governmental organizations complained that the contents of the all-vegetarian humanitarian daily ration were alien to local villagers.
Most notably, the halal accessory pack leaves out the much-maligned peanut butter and jelly. The Defense Logistics Agency says humanitarian rations remain in storage for emergencies elsewhere.
But the Pentagon will probably continue to choose the religiously-vetted rations for missions in Iraq.