The shame of a woman who has to eat dirt in a struggle to survive
By Eddie Griffin
Let Them Eat Cake
Queen Marie-Antoinette: “If they are hungry, let them eat cake.” But the only cakes they eat to today in the slums of Haiti are cakes made of dirt. Poverty has reached a new low. Human beings are eating dirt because they are hungry. (“Hungry Haitians Resort to Eating Dirt”, by Jonathan M. Katz, Associated Press)
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.
"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.
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.
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.
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.
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."