Judy Mandelbaum

Judy Mandelbaum
Brooklyn, New York, United States
June 01
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JANUARY 19, 2010 7:34AM

This side of starvation: The mud pies of Haiti

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  haitian mud pies
Haitian mud pies

It sounds like a bad joke, but the stories you’ve been hearing are true: poor Haitians actually do eat pies made of dirt. This staple food is not made from ordinary street mud, but rather from a yellowish soil taken from the country’s central highlands. In good times, Haitian women have always consumed small quantities of this mineral-rich earth as an antacid and a source of calcium. But mushrooming corruption, waning remittances, soil erosion, and hurricanes have ruined the country’s already frail food economy. Skyrocketing transport and fertilizers have done the rest. Today, when even a bowl of rice is an extravagant luxury, mud pies - known simply as "terre" in Creole - are increasingly becoming the only food many families can afford to put on the table.

The special dirt is trucked in to markets in Cité Soleil, La Saline, and other Port auf Prince slums. Haitian women purchase it, then mix saucer-sized pies from dirt, salt, and vegetable shortening. They then fry them or bake them in the sun and sell the fresh pies to customers across the capital for five cents each. In a country where two thirds of the population is living on around a dollar a day and half are literally starving, mud pies represent an affordable if largely indigestible diet choice. Customers report that the gritty cakes taste slightly buttery, but dry out one’s mouth right away and leave behind a dirty taste. Their biggest selling point: the way they keep hunger at bay for hours at a time.

  Haitian mud pies
Haitian mud pies are a major food staple

The soil frequently contains a variety of toxins and bacteria, although the pies may also have beneficial effects on the immune system and contain many nutrients pregnant women would otherwise lack. And yet they don’t seem to do much good – Haiti still suffers from the highest infant mortality rate in the Western Hemisphere, amounting to 59.69 deaths/1,000 live births in 2009.

Please realize that I am not talking about post-earthquake Haiti, where hundreds of thousands lie dead, where a million and a half are homeless, where there is literally nothing to eat, and where what little infrastructure that once existed has crumbled to dust. No, I’m talking about Haiti under what have passed for normal conditions in recent years. Yes, the country needs immediate emergency aid. But surely any relief efforts need to include long-term programs for stabilization and recovery with a focus on employment and nutrition – programs that need to be conceived with and implemented by the Haitian government and people themselves if they are to have any hope of success. It should be obvious to everyone that a country where people are reduced to eating dirt at even the best of times has no future. With nothing to fall back on, it can only tumble head first into the abyss.


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I'd heard of this before, but it's still hard to imagine that it's an actual industry.
Thanks for writing about something many of us have never heard about. r
This touched me. I had no idea it was that bad. Thank you for the informative post.
I thought this was very brave and smart. I've always been of the mind that it is very lame that we have "foodies" when so many have no food. Too many good liberals are spending too much time on thier palates and assorted gourmetisms and it's always seemed ... unseemly to me.
Thanks for your kind comments!

Yes, that was my point. I have no objection whatsoever to foodies and foodyism, but sometimes it does us all good to put things in perspective.
I actually do feel an inner objection, and often voice it, when someone is too into thier taste buds or calls themselves a "foodie" or thinks they have a "lifestyle" rather than just a run of the mill stinking life. But, then again, I'm often in trouble ;(
Yes, I knew about this. And it has shown up in literature for many years, too... Thanks for writing.
Unpleasant to admit but true: "helping" Haiti won't prevent misery there. If anything, the "help" grows to population to even more unsustainable levels, so a larger number of people are miserable. For example there are now twice as many starving Ethiopians as the 80's.