Women, Children Resort to Eating Dirt Cookies in Haiti: The Global Food Crisis

This post is part of Bloggers Unite for Human Rights

If you live in the United States or North America and are reading this blog, chances are you’ve never known what real hunger feels like. Sure most of us have uttered things like, “I’m so hungry, I could eat a horse,” “I’m starving!,” or “There’s nothing to eat” while staring into a refrigerator or cabinet full of food (I know I’m guilty of all three), but the reality is that the majority of us always know where our next meal is coming from and we don’t truly want for much.

We may also complain about the rising food costs (again, I am guilty) and perhaps have had to scale back on the groceries we buy or forgo other luxuries, but we are still able to provide nutritious meals for ourselves and our families. We are very fortunate.

HaitiElsewhere in the world in developing nations, people are not so fortunate. The rising cost of food is taking it’s toll on the poorest of poor. In countries like Haiti, people are resorting to literally eating dirt in order to fill their bellies and stay alive. “Cookies” made from dirt, salt, and vegetable shortening have become regular meals for many Haitian men, women and children.

The price of food continues to rise and even the dirt to make the cookies, which comes from the country’s central plateau, has gone up in cost.

At the market in the La Saline slum, a two-cup portion of rice now sells 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 with food staples. About 80 percent of people in Haiti live on less than $2 a day.

I thought long and hard about what topic to cover for Bloggers Unite for Human Rights. Given that I’ve already written extensively in the past about maternal health both because of my personal interest and CE position with BlogHer, I wanted to step outside of my comfort zone and tackle something I didn’t have much knowledge about. While there are so many human rights crises going on in the world right now – the Myanmar cyclone and China earthquake just to name a couple of the most recent – I decided on something slightly less in the spotlight, though no less significant, in hopes of educating myself as well as others.

Emerson - age 1Clara (age 3)A friend of mine named Heather is personally invested in the situation in Haiti as she and her husband (along with their two biological children) have been trying to adopt two children – Clara (age 3) and Emerson (age 1) – from an orphanage there since March 2007. I took the opportunity today to ask Heather some questions about their adoption experience thus far and find out more about how the food crisis is affecting the lives of the children in the Haitian orphanage. She was kind enough to share personal information and provide me with some pictures of her children.

Amy: Have the living/food conditions changed between your first visit to the country (and/or orphanage) and your most recent visit? If so, how? And when, roughly, were those visits?

Heather: Our last visit was in January 2008. The visit planned for April 2008 was canceled due to the rioting in Port au Prince over the rising costs of food. We have also visited in July and October 2007 and plan to go again in July 2008.

We aren’t able to see much of the country during our visits as our orphanage only allows us to visit on escorted trips and we are not allowed to leave the hotel while in the country. From what we see driving from the airport to the hotel, Port au Prince seems cleaner and there are more functioning traffic lights. There are still canals filled with garbage and wild pigs eating that garbage. There is still the stench of burning garbage.

The conditions in the orphanage appear about the same since our first trip in April 2007 with the exception of there being 50-75 more children in the 3000 square foot house where they live. We believe there are now approximately 150 children living in what is a mansion by Haitian standards. There is no yard – the house is surrounded by concrete which extends about 10-20 feet from the walls of the house. The property is surrounded by a 15-20 foot tall cinder block wall topped with broken bottles. Laundry is done by hand and hung anywhere possible to dry.

The infants are all kept on the main floor of the house – probably in what used to be the living and dining rooms. Children who are walking up to about age five live upstairs. They sleep in double- or triple-decker cribs with at least two children in each. The orphanage’s directors and their children also live upstairs. There is one bathroom. Older children generally live in one of the other two buildings the orphanage leases in the suburbs of Port au Prince.

Amy: How is the current food crisis affecting the orphanage?

Heather: Parents are given very little information about the daily life of their children, however, we know that they usually eat two meals per day and one snack. This food is usually rice and beans – little to no protein, dairy, or fresh fruits and vegetables. Their water is rationed as they do not have a safe source of water other then bottled water which is expensive. Infants are weaned off formula well before they would be in the US as the costs of formula are astronomical compared to rice and beans.

Parents are attempting to collect 36,000 pounds of food to be sent by container ship to the orphanage in July.

Amy: Have your visits to Haiti changed the way you look at food and food waste in our country of plenty?

Heather: Every interaction I have with other people, every show I watch on TV, every news report I hear or read, every purchase I make reminds me of the overabundance we have in our country and how just a small fraction of what we have would provide Haitians with “luxuries” they’ve never experienced – daily protein, fresh fruit and vegetables, proper medical care, shoes, and so on. Listening to people complain about the hardships in the US makes it ever so clear that we have absolutely no idea what true need is.

Amy: Is there anything else you’d like to share about your children, the orphanage or your experiences visiting Haiti in general?

Heather: This is the most painful process I’ve even participated in – politics taking precedence over children’s lives, the different value placed on children in a country where it is common for children to die, the lack of urgency, difficult communications, arbitrary laws enforced (or not) at someone’s whim. Every day we live with the reality that our children might die before they come home. Clara, at age 39 months, weighs 18 pounds. She has not gained any weight in 15 months. She has TB. This is in the orphanage where her biological mother brought her to receive better care than she could provide at home. International adoption is not an undertaking for the faint of heart. I’m not sure I will survive it with my sanity intact.

Heather’s children are at Foyer de Sion orphanage. She doesn’t expect Clara and Emerson to get to come home to the United States until 2009. If you’d like to make a donation (PayPal accepted) to the orphanage, please visit Sion Fonds.

What can we do here at home to help with the food crisis?

Aside from making donations to charitable donations, there are other things we can do in our own part of the world that can have an impact on the global food crisis.

– I wrote a couple weeks ago about why growing even a little bit of our own food is so important. Even if you only start a container garden for some herbs and a tomato plant, every little bit makes a difference.

– We can also reduce our meat consumption. Meat is much more costly to produce than grains and energy is lost in the process of feeding grains to animals. “Though some 800 million people on the planet now suffer from hunger or malnutrition, the majority of corn and soy grown in the world feeds cattle, pigs and chickens. This despite the inherent inefficiencies: about two to five times more grain is required to produce the same amount of calories through livestock as through direct grain consumption, according to Rosamond Naylor, an associate professor of economics at Stanford University. It is as much as 10 times more in the case of grain-fed beef in the United States.” – Rethinking the Meat-Guzzler

– Become aware of your food waste and look for ways to reduce it. Take smaller portions and go back for seconds if needed. Buy only what you will consume so you aren’t throwing away produce once it goes bad. Teach your children about food waste and how to reduce it.

Compost your food waste.

I want to hear from you too. What do you think will help with the food crisis? What are you personally doing to make a difference?

26 thoughts on “Women, Children Resort to Eating Dirt Cookies in Haiti: The Global Food Crisis”

  1. Great post Amy! Really makes you think about what we should be grateful for and why we shouldn’t be so wasteful. My mom always told me to eat everything on my plate “for the poor starving children in Ethiopia” and it’s true. We’re feeding our animals, namely- cows before our children. The soy and corn produced to feed livestock could probably feed the children of Haiti & Ethiopia! What a backwards world we live in. Here at home, we try not to consume meat regularly- in fact I was a vegetarian for years- and am currently thinking about going back to being a veg! We try not to be wasteful and compost all of our kitchen scraps. We also grow a garden every year and try to preserve every bit of it! On occassion we make a donation at the grocery store for the food crisis and we’ve donated canned items during the holidays or whenever there is a need for it. Hey, we could become freegans and go dumpster diving for our food and rely solely on what the dumpster has to offer…and not that there is anything wrong with that because I do have much respect for people who can live that lifestyle. I mentioned it once to my husband and the grief I received…oh my! Wasn’t worth the dumpster dive I had planned at my local market. I’m also working on a program for my community regarding food waste…but I don’t want to spoil (lol) all the details- it’s in the works! Anyway, I’ve posted for Bloggers Unite too! http://recycleyourday.com/?p=39

  2. Our family is digging out a first garden for our own vegetables and herbs. My daughter and I are both vegetarian, and my husband who is an omnivore, eats meat only a few times a week. We also participate in Kiva.org, which gives small business loans to people living in poverty in the developing world.

  3. To answer your question, I honestly don’t know. I haven’t given it a single thought until I read this post today. I will need to think about it.

    Normally I donate to causes I care about, but our giving budget for 2008 has been already stretched way, WAY beyond the planned limits.

    There is just so much pain, and suffering, and injustice in the world, you know? It breaks my heart to think about those little children.

  4. Wow. Wow. What a moving interview with Heather. T

    The problem seems so big that it i easy to say “Well, I can’t possibly tackle an issue this big, so i will ignore it and keep on doing my thing” But your suggestions are so simple and reasonable! It seems like it should be almost effortless for the general population of our nation to grow some of our own food and cut back on(or eliminate)meat consumption.

    The six of us here in my house are all vegetarians, and we grow some food when we can, and we always compost what we cannot eat…but I think we will really make an concerted effort to do even more on a local level.

    Thank you for your well thought-out and well-researched post on this important global topic!

  5. Thanks for this post! Wow you know that some people are less fortunate then us but wow eating dirt cookies how sad!

    I do grow a garden and raise some chicken to eat and compost just little part to help!

  6. Hugs, courage and hope to you, Heather and to your beautiful children as you all anxiously await being united here at home

    Excellent topic as always, Amy! The human right to food is on the forefront of my mind as I prepare to present on this topic in June. May all be fed!

  7. Great, informative post Amy. I wish we could give to every cause, and we try to do what we can. Last Saturday the letter carriers in our town collected food (was that National?) and I went through my pantry. I could have given so much more if I hadn’t had to throw away so much because the food was expired. I need to be more mindful of buying only what I need. That was so wasteful.

    In the summer I grow herbs and have plans for tomato and pepper plants this year. Now I just need to keep the darn bunnies from eating them! I want to have a raised and fenced planter garden in one area with poor drainage, but I’m not sure I can convince the hubby on that this year. 😉

  8. Hey thanks for raising awareness…this issue has gotten buried in the news. I’ve only seen it once before (at least seen news pics of the ‘cookies’ but it’s a very serious issue that we should ALL be concerned with.

  9. a wonderful post (worth waiting for, definitely). you really personalized the issue and made it real. i heard the piece on dirt cookies on npr and i sat in my car and cried. it does make you wonder how the world got this way…

  10. I too am guilty with complaining about rising food costs, gas costs, etc. When we realize how blessed we are only then do we open our eyes to what true poverty is.

    The interview added more depth to your post. Thank you so much for writing this and helping me to keep re-training my thoughts and beliefs.

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  13. Have you read The Omnivore’s Dilemma? It is an excellent book and continues to discuss the problems with how the food in America reaches our tables. It also addresses the problems created by feeding grains to animals like cows and chickens who should be eating grasses. Its a very interesting read!

  14. Oh, what a terrible story. I can’t even imagine the horror.

    I’ll have to send you an email to discuss, but I also go through feeling like “why bother” because what impact can it really make! Regardless, I keep recycling and walking instead of driving and taking old toys from friends instead of new toys and all that. But I do sometimes wonder if my trying to grow vegetables just ensures that more food gets thrown away! It is frustrating.

  15. I know the issues our generation faces seem overwhelming, but may I suggest a concrete way that you can help the children featured in this post?

    Some of the adoptive parents who have children waiting to come home from Haiti right now have banded together to start the Food Freight for Foyer campaign to ship a 40 foot container filled with food to Port au Prince.

    Read more about how you can help, and participate in a fun contest, here: http://chezartz.com/?p=259

    We really do have the opportunity to make a difference in Clara & Emerson’s lives, and the lives of the 300+ children in the Foyer de Soin orphanage with them.

  16. Food crisis were, are and will be…. what I am sad about, is that no matter how hard we try, we cannot change a lot… I don know if we can change little bit. All because people make money from the food crisis… and we know how human beings react on money… 🙁

    however, the USA and other big and rich countries, spend billions and billions for diet hospitals… people with a lot, a lot of food in them…. that is why i am sad…

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