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The free market - Haitians resort to eating dirt

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  • stansfield smith
    By JONATHAN M. KATZ, Associated Press Writer Tue Jan 29, 7:43 PM ET PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti - It was lunchtime in one of Haiti s worst slums, and
    Message 1 of 1 , Jan 31, 2008
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      By JONATHAN M. KATZ, Associated Press Writer Tue Jan 29, 7:43 PM ET        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."  


      the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today -- my own government.
      Martin Luther King, Jr.


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