Food Americans throw away would be enough for Somalis OPERATION RESTORE HOPE

December 11, 1992|By Robert A. Erlandson | Robert A. Erlandson,Staff Writer

In Somalia, food is delivered by the ton and consumed by th handful a day. Americans throw away that much food and lots more.

From Froot Loops to Big Macs and everything in between -- vegetables, poultry, fruit, cereal and meat -- Americans consume about 1,400 pounds of food each per year, according to the economic research section of the U.S. Agriculture Department.

By that measure, the contents of one standard supermarket tractor-trailer, 40 tons or 80,000 pounds, could feed 57 Americans for a year.

To people in war- and famine-ravaged Somalia, where the United Nations estimates more than 300,000 have died from starvation and war, such consumption would be incomprehensible.

According to Oxfam America, one of the relief agencies working in Africa, 1 metric ton of grain, 2,204 pounds, could feed 2,500 people in Somalia for a day, 83 people for a month or 7 people for a year.

Measures by the handful seem a more meaningful comparison. A handful of boiled rice, sorghum, beans or lentils is often the difference between life and death for as many as 3 million Somalis a day.

That's about the same amount as a side order of rice here.

Among the commodities being distributed are sorghum, lentils, rice, beans, wheat, corn meal, various soya blends and vegetable oils, most of which Americans consume in one form or another, although in a much different fashion.

Soya blends, with wheat and corn, are considered very nutritious, even though they appear unappetizing, as does Unimix, a porridge-like food given mainly to children and pregnant women.

"Adults won't eat it," said J. D. Deming, a USAID spokesman, who said Unimix "is a very potent powder made of different grains."

The mixture of skim milk, soya, corn and sugar has helped to save many lives, he said. It is rich, so children occasionally have trouble holding it, but eventually it helps to restore them.

Oxfam estimated that U.S. Air Force and Air National Guard transport planes -- including crews from Maryland's 135th Airlift Group -- have flown more than 200,000 tons of food into Somalia on 1,400 flights in the American airlift that began Aug. 21.

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