Skip to comments.In Hungry Haiti, Dirt Is Food
Posted on 01/29/2008 3:25:32 PM PST by decimon
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti - It was lunchtime in one of Haiti's worst slums, and Charlene Dumas was eating mud.
With food prices rising, Haiti's poorest can't afford even a daily plate of rice, and some take desperate measures to fill their bellies.
Charlene, 16 with a 1-month-old son, has come to rely on a traditional Haitian remedy for hunger pangs: cookies made of dried yellow dirt from the country's central plateau.
The mud has long been prized by pregnant women and children here as an antacid and source of calcium. But in places like Cite Soleil, the oceanside slum where Charlene shares a two-room house with her baby, five siblings and two unemployed parents, cookies made of dirt, salt and vegetable shortening have become a regular meal.
"When my mother does not cook anything, I have to eat them three times a day," Charlene said. Her baby, named Woodson, lay still across her lap, looking even thinner than the slim 6 pounds 3 ounces he weighed at birth.
Though she likes their buttery, salty taste, Charlene said the cookies also give her stomach pains. "When I nurse, the baby sometimes seems colicky too," she said.
Food prices around the world have spiked because of higher oil prices, needed for fertilizer, irrigation and transportation. Prices for basic ingredients such as corn and wheat are also up sharply, and the increasing global demand for biofuels is pressuring food markets as well.
The problem is particularly dire in the Caribbean, where island nations depend on imports and food prices are up 40 percent in places.
The global price hikes, together with floods and crop damage from the 2007 hurricane season, prompted the U.N. Food and Agriculture Agency to declare states of emergency in Haiti and several other Caribbean countries. Caribbean leaders held an emergency summit in December to discuss cutting food taxes and creating large regional farms to reduce dependence on imports.
At the market in the La Saline slum, two cups of rice now sell for 60 cents, up 10 cents from December and 50 percent from a year ago. Beans, condensed milk and fruit have gone up at a similar rate, and even the price of the edible clay has risen over the past year by almost $1.50. Dirt to make 100 cookies now costs $5, the cookie makers say.
Still, at about 5 cents apiece, the cookies are a bargain compared to food staples. About 80 percent of people in Haiti live on less than $2 a day and a tiny elite controls the economy.
Merchants truck the dirt from the central town of Hinche to the La Saline market, a maze of tables of vegetables and meat swarming with flies. Women buy the dirt, then process it into mud cookies in places such as Fort Dimanche, a nearby shanty town.
Carrying buckets of dirt and water up ladders to the roof of the former prison for which the slum is named, they strain out rocks and clumps on a sheet, and stir in shortening and salt. Then they pat the mixture into mud cookies and leave them to dry under the scorching sun.
The finished cookies are carried in buckets to markets or sold on the streets.
A reporter sampling a cookie found that it had a smooth consistency and sucked all the moisture out of the mouth as soon as it touched the tongue. For hours, an unpleasant taste of dirt lingered.
Assessments of the health effects are mixed. Dirt can contain deadly parasites or toxins, but can also strengthen the immunity of fetuses in the womb to certain diseases, said Gerald N. Callahan, an immunology professor at Colorado State University who has studied geophagy, the scientific name for dirt-eating.
Haitian doctors say depending on the cookies for sustenance risks malnutrition.
"Trust me, if I see someone eating those cookies, I will discourage it," said Dr. Gabriel Thimothee, executive director of Haiti's health ministry.
Marie Noel, 40, sells the cookies in a market to provide for her seven children. Her family also eats them.
"I'm hoping one day I'll have enough food to eat, so I can stop eating these," she said. "I know it's not good for me."
There's the problem.
I cannot believe that ample food could not be produced in Haiti.
Dominicans live on the same island and they seem to be doing OK.
A good friend of my husband and I’s was a Missionary in Haiti and so was his wife, it’s sad this country is falling apart and their government doesn’t seem to wanna help
The Dominicans have not stripped their half of the island of trees for firewood for cooking.
Haiti is a hellhole. When a country is dedicated to Satan, as this one was in 1804, the result is not surprising.
The George Soros vision for all of humankind?
I thought Clintoon fixed Haiti
There are a lot of Haitians in the Boston area, and --- I have to add this --- they're beautiful.
Every night for dinner
We got a big old chunk of dirt
And if we were really good
We didn’t get desert
When I was Your Age...
The government is the problem.
He fixed it alright.
Yes I am aware of that, thank you
A “Turd World” typical socialist paradise. Every democrat’s dream come true.
>> two cups of rice now sell for 60 cents
I really feel for those poor folks.
But 2 cups of rice for 60 cents sounds like Associated Press Bull$hit to me.
It’s inconceivable that private enterprise couldn’t deliver rice the short distance to Haiti for much less than that.
Or maybe those prices have UN corruption factored in.
[an old convict and H.I. lying on their prison bunks, passing the time]
Ear-Bending Cellmate: ...and when there was no meat, we ate fowl and when there was no fowl, we ate crawdad and when there was no crawdad to be found, we ate sand.
H.I.: You ate what?
Ear-Bending Cellmate: We ate sand.
H.I.: You ate SAND?
Ear-Bending Cellmate: That’s right!
Yeah, no kidding. It should be a great growing climate.
I am also surprised they wouldn’t be going after plant leaves (even grass) of some kind and eating these instead of dirt. The only thing I can think of is that they don’t have any of this around where they are. I’d go for plants and grass first. At least you may be able to boil them and kill off any bacteria/viruses (mostly).
If you weren’t really good—you got dessert! Pie-ala-mud.
I spent 4 weeks there on a medical missionary team. The only cure to Haiti will be to invade, completely take over the country, and run it as a territory of the US for at least 2 generations.
The problems are so systemic and so ingrained in the population that just bringing in a “new” Haitian government will result in zero change.
Truly a shame, because the country could be beautiful, a massive producer of sugar, coffee, wonderful tourist destination, and an economic success like many Caribbean nations. The people have so many generations of outright repression they have zero history - or even concept - of a free life or even a normal life. No one alive has even the slightest concept of what life could be like, because they - nor anyone they know - ever experienced anything but destitute poverty.
Truly a case of the haves and the have nots, and it will not change short of an external force.
In my case, every one of them was fixed on me. You know you're not dealing with healthy people when you see yellow eyes.
The only way for Haiti to ever get out of this self destructive cycle is foreign occupation. Haiti is simply a failed state that cannot function by itself. But it would be selfish to do that because it’s “neo-colonialism”.
Throughout the nineteenth century, Haiti was ruled by a series of presidents, most of whom remained in office only briefly. Meanwhile, the country's economy was gradually dominated by foreigners, particularly from Germany. Concerned about German influence and growing military presence, and disturbed by the savage public dismembering of President Guillaume Sam by an enraged crowd, the United States invaded and occupied Haiti in 1915. The United States imposed a constitution written by future president Franklin D. Roosevelt, and applied an old system of compulsory corvée labor to everyone. Previously this system had been applied only to members of the poor, black majority.
Nationalist rebels, called Cacos, waged a persistent guerilla warfare, headed by Charlemagne Péralte (until 1919) and Dominique Batraville (until 1920). Roosevelt was disenchanted with the burden and negative social aspects of attempting to impose U.S. influence on the population and proceeded to implement an earlier disengagement agreement, thereby ending the U.S. occupation in 1934.
Woodrow Wilson and FDR fixed Haiti.
Is that from Weird al yankovich?
Let them eat dirt. We need the biofuels to keep our import economy going.
A sad mess.
I have friends who used to go down there on missionary work 25 years ago and things were dire then, too.
I can’t recall a time in my lifetime when Haiti wasn’t a crumbling disaster in the making.
Gives a new meaning to chitting bricks.
I think that is the least of any food shortage problem they have.
Seems that I read somewhere that they have an astronomical crack addiction rate there as well.
“The only cure to Haiti will be to invade, completely take over the country, and run it as a territory of the US for at least 2 generations.”
The US Marines did that early in the 20th century and stayed there until at least the 1930s. It didn’t seem to help, though.
This is going to sound cold-hearted, but I have to say ...
I think one is very lazy to BUY DIRT to make cookies,
and the cycle continues...
It’s terrible and it’s sad, but the problem isn’t those of those who “have”. “Have not” is the natural order of things for the bulk of humankind and human history. With a capitalist system, the rule of law, and relatively low corruption, societies can pull themselves out of this state... unfortunately, with the encouragement of the world’s intellectual elite, more emphasis is placed on maintaining “culture” and “fairness”.
To be fair it seems to be some special kind of dirt that is trucked in. Not sure why it’s special beyond being yellow though.
I would hope that if we went in, it would be more along the lines of rebuilding Germany, Japan, and Iraq. The early escapades were more a means to keep others out, rather than strengthening Haiti itself.
Maybe you'll be lucky enough to have them take over your neighborhood.
Would that make AP happier?
Raising Arizona was one weird movie. Bill Rosz was even in it!
Put the U.N. in charge .... move their HQ there.
empty the local markets of every person that seems to understand running a business and issue them some land and all the supplies they need to start a farm... immediately plant every piece of gov’t owned dirt with citrus , mango’s , papayas and every other kind of fruit tree...
I suspect eating dirt in Haiti is more tradition than starvation.
Taking over Haiti isn’t the answer. We don’t need to mix that level of poverty into our society. (see tagline)
I recently saw cruise boats are returning to Haiti and I thought to myself WHY? I am thinking of booking one to show my kids how good they have it.
Example of Clintonista’s “Nation Building”.
Eating dirt or eating bark in NK. Sorry guys I’d have to go with the dirt - and wash that sucker down with some self-created “beer.”
Nah. We’re in East Tennessee. All we’re getting is Yankees.
I don't know if we're still messing around down but my ship went there in 2005 to pick up some Army units that were leaving. I've never seen anything like the incredible poverty on the hillsides of Port au Prince. We went in, loaded up and got the hell out.
I don’t see the problem here