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||1 of 6 hungry people in the slums
of Haiti are giving new meaning to the phrase "dirt poor."
As food prices soar, many desperate people are eating mud cookies
to stave off their hunger pangs. In Haiti children are able
to shoe dirt-streaked tongues after eating mud cookies. Click
|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
The yellow dirt
is trucked in from the country's central plateau and has long
been prized by pregnant women and children in Haiti as an
antacid and source of calcium. The cookies are made of dirt,
salt and vegetable shortening and in some parts of Haiti they
have become a regular meal.
Food prices around the world have spiked because
of higher oil prices, needed for fertilizer, irrigation and transportation.
Prices for basic ingredients such as wheat and corn are rising sharply,
and the increasing global demand for biofuels is pressuring food
markets as well.
The problem is particularly dire in Haiti, which
depends on imports and food prices are up 40 percent in places.
global price rises, 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. 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 markets in Port au Prince, two cups of rice
now sell for 60 cents, up 10 cents from December and 50 percent
from a year ago. Other food items such as beans and fruit have gone
up at a similar rate, and even the price of the edible clay or mud
has risen over the past year by almost $1.50.
Dirt to make 100 cookies now costs $5, the cookie
makers inform us.
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 into
Port au Prince where . women buy the dirt, then process it into
buckets of dirt and water up ladders to the roof 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.
The cookie have 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 risk 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.
"I'm hoping one day I'll have enough food to
eat, so I can stop eating these," a street vendor said. "I
know it's not good for me."
Extracts from Jonnathan M. Katz,
Associated Press WriterPosted Monday, January 28, 2008