In Haiti’s slums, round swirls of dough can be found baking in the sun. They look almost appetizing until you learn the ingredients: butter, salt, water and dirt…
And the dirt biscuits of Haiti – called “argile,” meaning clay, or “terre,” meaning earth – are not exactly a final cri de coeur against starvation.
Like the mice in Malawi, they are a staple of the very poor, somewhere between a snack and a desperation measure. Making them has been a regular business for years. The clay is trucked in plastic sacks from Hinche, on the central plateau. Blended with margarine or butter, they are flavored with salt, pepper and bouillon cubes and spooned out by the thousands on cotton sheets in sunny courtyards that are kept swept as “bakeries.” They cost about a penny apiece.
“They’re not food, really,” said David Gonzalez, a reporter at The Times who has visited Haiti many times. “People with hunger pangs eat them just to fill up their stomachs.”
Update: I wrote this post a few days ago, before the horrific flood. Flooding is such a severe problem in Haiti because of deforestation, brought on by poorly defined property rights to trees and forest.