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Haiti’s poor resort to eating mud

February 1, 2008 | By More

mudcookies.jpgWith 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, cookies made of dirt, salt and vegetable shortening 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 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.

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 former prison.The finished cookies are carried in buckets to markets or sold on the streets.

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.

[AP]

Category: Food

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