Did the U.S. government get anything right in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria? You go ahead and think on that; I’ll wait. (New data suggests the government couldn’t even get the hurricane’s death toll close to correct.) The latest revelation of governmental ineptitude comes in the form of new research from an assistant professor at George Washington University, who found that the emergency food relief provided to Puerto Rico was—in a nutshell—a bunch of shitty junk food.
The professor, Uriyoán Colón-Ramos, will present his findings at the American Society for Nutrition annual meeting this week. His team analyzed photos of the food-aid packets sent to a FEMA distribution center in Barranquitas, Puerto Rico, approximately six weeks after Hurricane Maria. After calculating the nutrition of each of the 107 food items, they found that much of the food contained above the daily recommended limits for sodium, saturated fats, and added sugars. Photos show bags of M&Ms; the researchers also noted an abundance of Twizzlers and sweetened fruit cups. Other accounts from Puerto Rico show Air Heads, Cheez-Its, and Baby Ruth bars.
In a release from the nutrition conference published on EurekaAlert, Colón-Ramos says that federal disaster relief food should comply with the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, but that often there’s little information provided about the types of food being distributed in the wake of a disaster.
Based on the nutritional analysis, Colón-Ramos’ team concluded that about 10 percent of the food items sent to Puerto Rico were of very low nutritional value, like candy and chips. But “analyses revealed that even when excluding candies and chips from the meal plans, people would not be able to follow the Dietary Guidelines for Americans without exceeding the upper limit for daily sodium, added sugars or saturated fats.” Colón-Ramos said in a press release he hopes the team’s findings encourage agencies to work harder at protecting the health of communities as they recover from natural disasters.
At least one American was a positive food ambassador in the wake of Hurricane Maria: chef Jose Andres—the guy who unfurled the Puerto Rican flag at Oscars—himself showed up in Puerto Rico mere days after the hurricane and started cooking. He and his team prepared real, nutritious, cooked meals, serving up to 100,000 Puerto Ricans each day for a total of more than 3 million meals. And there was nary a Baby Ruth bar among them.