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Plumpy’nut: A Modern-Day CARE Package

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If you went shopping after World War II, you could walk into a store and make a life-saving purchase. Even if you were at home, you could do the same great deed simply through mail order. What was this mystery item people bought by the thousands after the war?

These were CARE packages to send to hungry people in countries lying in ruin. General Lucius Clay, commander of the American military government in Germany, made appeals to the public to send these packages. So did many others from all walks of life. This is how America reacted to the plight of those suffering overseas.

CARE Packages were sent to the hungry after World War II and this continued even during the Korean War and the early years of the Cold War struggle. In this photo, “Children of a refugee family from East Germany crowd close to get a better view of the foods in the CARE Package they received soon after they arrived in West Berlin.” See a CARE order form here (photo courtesy CARE)

General Clay wrote, “when a CARE package arrived the consumer knew it was aid from America and that even the bitterness of war had not destroyed our compassion for suffering.”

You had several options when buying a CARE package. There were general rations which you could send to a family, or you could have these sent to an orphanage or hospital. Another option was to buy a CARE package specially designed for infants, one with baby food.

Well, today that CARE package for infants would come in the form of plumpy’nut, the miracle food recently profiled on the NBC Nightly News. This is a life-saving food for small children.

Plumpy’nut is peanut paste that comes wrapped in a small package, like many foods you find in grocery stores; except plumpy’nut is food specially designed to provide quick nutrients to severely malnourished children. It is widely used in areas struck by conflict, natural disasters, or extreme poverty. Plumpy’nut is easy to distribute because it does not require special preparation and storage.

In East Africa, where drought has caused massive food shortages, plumpy’nut is being distributed to children. It is saving their lives. Infants need proper nutrition in what is called the critical first 1,000 days. Without the nutrients, they will suffer lasting physical or mental damage.

Thousands of children have already starved to death in East Africa because of the food shortages, but those that get plumpy’nut can be saved.

Mindy Mizell of World Vision says, “One mom told me how she arrived in Puntland, Somalia with a severely malnourished toddler who wouldn’t play, stand, or smile…he took the plumpy’nut for a few weeks and was just fine! He looks great.”

A full supply of plumpy’nut is needed in East Africa to prevent more deaths.

Edesia, a Providence-based producer of plumpy’nut, has been running its factory 21 hours a day producing the life-saving food. Navyn Salem, Edesia’s director, said shipments are leaving almost every day to head to the East Africa famine zone. The plant was also fortunate to keep running through Hurricane Irene which tore through Providence and many other parts of the East Coast in August. Salem remarked, “we were very fortunate to be in a spot that was spared, phew!!”

Packages of plumpy’nut ready for shipment from Edesia, one of the organizations which produces the miracle food. (courtesy Edesia)

Plumpy’nut in Bangladesh (photo courtesy of Save the Children and Edesia)

Plumpy’nut production has to keep running at Edesia and other factories that produce the miracle food. But funding is always an issue, as aid agencies continually face this challenge. Not enough resources are committed by the international community toward fighting child hunger. The UN World Food Programme and other organizations are well short of funding to meet the demand.

Plumpy’nut is needed in many more areas of the globe: Afghanistan, Yemen, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Pakistan, and Haiti, just to name a few. All of these countries have high rates of child malnutrition, and plumpy’nut and its variations are desperately needed.

After World War II, stores like the H. & S. Pogue Company of Cincinnati even had displays of CARE packages. The Cincinnati Enquirer reported that upon Pogue’s grand opening of their display in 1947, Captain Victor Heintz made the first purchase. Heintz was a World War I veteran who served on the front lines in France. Years later, he was again coming to the aid of France in the form of a CARE package.

Another Cincinnati resident, Siegfried Deutsch, got started well before Pogue’s CARE outlet opened. Deutsch bought at least 35 CARE packages. The Enquirer said number 35 went to a poverty-stricken mother and her young daughter in Vienna, Austria, Deutsch’s homeland.

Retail stores today could offer an outlet for people to buy CARE plumpy packages for starving infants overseas. As the CARE package made such a difference saving lives, winning the peace, and rebuilding Europe after World War II, plumpy packages can do the same today.

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About William Lambers

William Lambers is the author of several books including Ending World Hunger: School Lunches for Kids Around the World. This book features over 50 interviews with officials from the UN World Food Programme and other charities discussing school feeding programs that fight child hunger. He is also the author of Nuclear Weapons, The Road to Peace: From the Disarming of the Great Lakes to the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, Open Skies for Peace, The Spirit of the Marshall Plan: Taking Action Against World Hunger, School Lunches for Kids Around the World, The Roadmap to End Global Hunger, From War to Peace and the Battle of Britain. He is also a writer for the History News Service. His articles have been published by newspapers including the Cincinnati Enquirer, Des Moines Register, the New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle, Buffalo News, San Diego Union Tribune, the Providence Journal, Free Lance-Star (VA), the Bakersfield Californian, the Washington Post, Miami Herald (FL), Chicago Sun-Times, the Patriot Ledger (MA), Charleston Sunday Gazette Mail (WV), the Cincinnati Post, Salt Lake Tribune (UT), North Adams Transcript (MA), Wichita Eagle (KS), Monterey Herald (CA), Athens Banner-Herald (GA) and the Duluth News Journal. His articles also appear on History News Network (HNN) and Think Africa Press. Mr. Lambers is a graduate of the College of Mount St. Joseph in Ohio with degrees in Liberal Arts (BA) and Organizational Leadership (MS). He is also a member of the Feeding America Blogger Council.