Honey Nutribar: The Future Disaster-Relief Snack

In a country where natural disasters happen often, food that’s both filling and nutritious is a necessity. Unfortunately, most relief packs from donations consist of either crackers and biscuits, canned goods, or things like noodles or rice which require potable water. The last two options have downsides to them, which are the problem of artificially made preservatives, as well as the lack of sustainable potable water or water-filtration systems in evacuation centers and in ground zero.

If my guilty pleasure of watching people who eat military or civilian Meals Ready to Eat (MRE) has taught me anything, ready to eat foods need to meet certain criteria.  Since its purpose is to be ready to eat even after a year of storage or more, an MRE pack should remain edible despite being stored  for a long period of time. It should be easy to transport without crumbling apart readily. And most importantly, these should have a healthy amount of calories and nutrients to make one survive the grueling day or have a substantial meal in a pinch.

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While we don’t have locally-produced MRE packs like in the US or Indonesia, I would have to say that the Honey Nutribar is a step in the right direction.

Created by the Department of Science and Technology – Philippine Nuclear Research Institute (PNRI), the Honey NutriBar is made out of pinipig (pounded glutinous rice), honey, rice krispies, dried fruits, and pectin. What sets this bar apart from the commercially available ones is the process that’s involved in preserving it.

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Each bar is vacuum-sealed in laminated aluminum foil, and then irradiated at a dose of 1 kilogray gamma radiation at the PNRI’s Multipurpose Irradiation Facility. Now one asks him or herself, “Irradiated? Isn’t that toxic?”. Unlike what happens in nuclear meltdown and accidents like Chernobyl or Fukushima, the irradiation process does not turn the food radioactive, and in fact makes it safer for consumption.

Now what is irradiation exactly? It is the process wherein the food (in this case, the Honey NutriBar) is exposed to electron beams or gamma radiation. Here are some benefits to the irradiation process.

  1. Preservation by destroying or deactivating the organisms that speed up spoilage and decomposition.
  2. Elimination of disease-causing bacteria such as Salmonella and E.Coli.
  3. Sterilization. Sterilized food last long in storage and a useful source of food for patients with severely-impaired immune systems.
  4. Irradiating does not change the taste or consistency of food.

Currently, the said product is still in development. The team at PNRI has managed to get the Honey Nutribar’s shelf life at nine months, but the staff in the PNRI conference area told us that the team is aiming to make it shelf-stable for two years.

With a bit of help from individuals and groups willing to invest in this research, the Honey Nutribar will soon be able to provide a readily available and tasty source of food during natural disasters and other emergencies. Since these are packed with nutrients and sufficient calories, these snack bars are also great for athletic events and outdoor activities.

 

For more information on the Honey Nutribar, please contact:

Ms. Zenaida M. De Guzman

Head, Biomedical Research Section, Atomic Research Division

Department of Science and Technology – Philippine Nuclear Research Institute

Commonwealth Avenue, Diliman, Quezon City

Tel. No. 929-6010 to 19 loc. 273

Email: zmedguzman@pnri.dost.gov.ph

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Food in the Time of Conflict: The Marawi Siege Crisis, and How We Can Help

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© Mike Gonzalez, 2005.

Photo By Mike Gonzalez (TheCoffee) (English Wikipedia) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Bullets and bombs are the most well-known, but not necessarily the most widespread of weapons during times of war and conflict.  Displacement, disease, and hunger affect both combatants and civilians, with the latter often winding up as refugees forced to make perilous journeys to safety away from the ‘Ground Zero’ of war zones, places that had once been home to them. In different parts of the world, refugees from all parts of the world are forced to make do in crowded temporary housing, camps, and evacuation centers. In these places, they often face shortages in basic necessities such as food, potable water, clothing, and medication.

One such ongoing crisis is the siege in Marawi City, Lanao del Sur, Philippines. Marawi was a beautiful city, the provincial capital with a rich history because of the heritage of its Muslim and Christian inhabitants. On May 23, 2017, a group of extremists known as the Maute group attacked Marawi City, leading to clashes with the Armed Forces of the Philippines. Most of Marawi’s 220,000 residents were forced to flee to neighboring cities and municipalities such as Iligan City and Cagayan de Oro City to escape the continuous firefights and airstrikes between government forces and the extremists.

At present, more than 55,000 refugees are staying in Iligan City and neighboring municipalities. The Department of Social Welfare and Development, as well as other agencies involved in the relief and evacuation efforts have to stretch limited supplies of food and other relief goods to meet the needs of refugees already being housed in 37 schools, multi-purpose halls and other buildings converted to evacuation centers, as well as newcomers who have just been rescued from or escaped the conflict zones in Marawi City.

One of the most immediate needs of the refugees is food, whether ready-made or in prepackaged forms. What makes this food crisis more challenging is that food donations for refugees from Marawi must be halal or prepared according to Islamic dietary laws. Halal foods are free from pork or pig by-products, therefore even vegetables and other foods fried in pork lard or fat are not permissible for consumption. Halal foods must also be free from blood, alcohol, and also involves a specific means of humanely butchering animals to be used for food.  

Apart from the Department of Social Welfare and Development, other groups involved in the relief efforts for the refugees from Marawi include the Red Cross, Alagang Kapatid foundation, Save the Children, Kaya Natin! Movement for Good Governance and Ethical Leadership, and the Office of the Vice President. Universities such as the University of the Philippines, Ateneo de Manila, Ateneo de Naga, De La Salle University, and La Salle Academy in Iligan are also accepting and coordinating donations for the refugees. One group directly involved in preparing and distributing halal food to the refugees is the Art Relief Mobile Kitchen. The Art Relief Mobile Kitchen (ARMK) at present prepares 10,000 to 12,000 meals each day for the evacuees in Iligan City.

Art Relief Mobile Kitchen is no stranger to feeding refugees from calamities after all. Starting all the way back from the aftermath of Typhoon Yolanda (International Name: Haiyan) in 2013, ARMK set up a mobile kitchen near the area where refugees landed from Leyte and other typhoon-hit areas, with the efforts from volunteers and donations either in cash or in kind helped feed the multitude coming to Manila for safety.

Now the same case is happening in the evacuation centers in Illigan and Cotabato City almost a month in with the fighting in Marawi, where there are still reports of people in need of assistance and relief. Let’s not sit back and allow hunger to become a weapon of terror, help out in anyway you can, especially with addressing Art Relief Mobile Kitchen’s herculean task of feeding of our brothers and sisters in Marawi during Ramadan.

To learn more about Art Relief Mobile Kitchen and how to donate, one can visit their Facebook page by clicking here.