What's in the Boxes of Aid Being Dropped Into Iraq?

Members of the 8th Expeditionary Air Mobility Squadron palletize halal meals for a humanitarian airdrop. Members of the 8th Expeditionary Air Mobility Squadron palletize halal meals for a humanitarian airdrop. Staff Sgt. Vernon Young Jr./U.S. Air Force

By now, we've seen images and video of U.S. aircraft delivering food aid to Yazidi refugees trapped on a mountain in northern Iraq, providing relief to the men, women, and children who have run out of food and water there. But what do these hungry refugees see when then they open the packages falling from the sky?

The boxes contain "Meals, Religious, Ready-To-Eat, Halal," which are made up of an entree and sides, seasonings, and condiments, all Halal-certified, according to a Defense Department spokesman. Halal food is religiously acceptable for Muslims to eat, as defined by the Quran. Yazidis are not Muslims—they have many of their own dietary restrictions, including pork (which is also forbidden for Muslims), fish, and certain vegetables—but none of the menu items appears to include ingredients forbidden for Yazidis.

True to their name, each package requires little to no preparation before eating. Everything can be eaten cold, or can be warmed with the accompanying "flameless ration heater," a small pouch that heats up when water is added. Each meal even comes with a napkin.

The meals also conform to strict nutritional requirements: each provides at least 1,200 calories and is made up of 11 percent to 13 percent protein, is not more than 35 percent fat, and is not less than 48 percent carbohydrates.

The menu is varied, and many options will be unfamiliar to those on the receiving end of the aid. Indian meals like lentils dal masala and saag chole with lamb might be somewhat familiar to the Iraqi refugees, while they are less likely to have encountered other options such as chicken pesto, penne pasta, or ratatouille.

As of Wednesday, U.S. Air Force cargo planes have dropped 85,000 ready-to-eat meals and 20,000 gallons of fresh water onto Mount Sinjar in northern Iraq, according to the Pentagon. The airdrops are targeted at the tens of thousands of refugees that have been stranded on the high ridge since last week, besieged by ISIS fighters.

As aid continues to be delivered, the U.S. is reportedly considering mounting a rescue mission to remove the Yazidis from the mountain where they are trapped.

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