Detainees Eat Well, Gain Weight on Camp Delta's Muslim Menu
By Rudi Williams
American Forces Press Service
NAVAL STATION GUANTANAMO BAY, Cuba, July 3, 2002 "The hotter the food, the better they like it." But Navy mess specialist Chief Petty Officer Colleen M. Schonhoff said preparing tasty, nutritious, spicy hot food for the Muslim detainees here at Camp Delta isn't her major concern.
"We have to make sure that the food is halal approved," said Schonhoff, overseer of the galleys at Guantanamo Bay that feed the detainees and U.S. service members. "Meats for the detainees have to be handled a certain way under Muslim requirements. When I order meat for military people, I just say I want 50 pounds of chicken, and it doesn't matter how that chicken has been handled as long as it's USDA approved. For the Muslims, I have to have a certificate from the company that says it's halal approved. I'm required to keep the certificate on file in case I'm ever questioned."
For instance, a certificate of Islamic slaughter must accompany every shipment of meat for the detainees. The Islamic Services of America must certify that the meat is halal beef that was handled according to all Islamic slaughter procedures and guidelines.
The 564 detainees at Camp Delta represent 39 countries, mostly where Islam is the main religion. Joint Task Force 160 is responsible for their security and care at the camp.
Muslims use two terms to describe food - halal and haram. Halal is an Arabic word, which means lawful or allowed, but it is sometimes translated as acceptable or not forbidden. Haram means the opposite - unlawful or prohibited. Halal foods are foods that are permitted for consumption under Islamic law. It is sinful for a Muslim to consume haram foods.
Haram foods include pig, dog, donkey, and animals having fangs, such as monkeys, cats and lions. It also includes amphibians such as frogs, crocodiles and turtles. Alcohol, harmful substances, poisonous and intoxicating plants or drinks are also haram.
"You have to have halal certificates on chicken and beef, but there are no strict requirements on fish," she noted.
"My galley prepares two meals a day for the detainees -- breakfast and the evening meal," she noted. "They eat a vegetarian meal ready to eat, or MRE, for lunch. The menu that the dietitian prepared for us is about 2,300 calories. Add the MRE and they get about 2,600 calories per day. I like to believe they're eating a lot better here than they were wherever they were before they got here. We take pretty good care of them."
Bob Barkley, the building manager of the Seaside Galley, where food is prepared for the detainees, said naval hospital dietitian Lt. Donna M. Sporrer created the menu.
"We were furnished with basic recipes that give general guidelines as to how to season the food," Barkley said. "We just follow those and they seem to be happy.
"My main goal was to make sure they got all the nutrition requirements they need -- proteins, vitamins, minerals and carbohydrates," Sporrer said. "I had to look at the budget, too, so it's primarily a vegetarian diet, rice, beans, fruit and vegetables. They're getting almost everything they need from two meals a day."
A typical breakfast consists of pita bread, rice, curried eggs and peas, milk and fresh fruit, or hash browns, pita bread, a boiled egg, milk and fresh fruit. A typical dinner consists of rice, pita bread, meat and vegetable curry, milk, fresh fruit and margarine. A variant is rice, baked fish, stew sauce, spinach, orange or orange juice, milk and bread and margarine. JTF 160 provides the lunch vegetarian MREs.
"We serve them two special meals per year," Schonhoff noted. "For example, we served them lamb stew, rice, loaf bread, baklava and tea at the end of Ramadan in April. The Joint Task Force tells us when to serve the special meals."
Sporrer said before the detainees started arriving last January, she gave Schonhoff guidelines about acceptable ingredients for Muslim diets. She also provided recipes that follow halal guidelines. The previous Muslim chaplain helped by giving Sporrer a Muslim cookbook.
She said purchasing meat for the detainees is much like buying kosher meat, "except you're buying halal-approved meat that's blessed by a Muslim chaplain before it's slaughtered."
Schonhoff said the cooks didn't have to have any special training to prepare food for the detainees. They just follow the recipes and use different spices to season the food.
"In their culture, they like food a little more spicy than we traditionally cook for our troops," Schonhoff said about the detainees. "We usually put hot sauce on the table and let the troops add their own. For the detainee meals, we use curries and a couple of other spices we bought for them."
Schonhoff said when she arrived at Gitmo about three years ago, it was a quiet little duty station with one galley. That ended with the detainees' arrival.
Before the enclosed Seaside Galley opened on June 14, the only galley, other than the one in the hospital facility, was the Quick Hall Galley in the Marine section of the base.
"Before the big influx of detainees and troops, we fed about 300 meals a day," she noted. "Then we went to more than 3,800 meals a day and were still doing it out of Quick Hall. We shipped containers of food all around the base."