It takes something pretty shocking to make my head snap up and focus on the televised news these days. This evening, NBC aired a segment with just such an effect. Reporting on the food riots in Haiti, the story featured footage of “dirt cookies,” edible clay cakes created to fill empty stomachs. These cookies have been around for a while, and have been reported on before, but NBC’s segment was particularly disturbing because of interviews with people who discussed the pain of eating dirt. 

Yolen Jeunky sold mud cookies in Cite Soleil last fall. Even the prices for the edible clay, collected in Haiti’s central plain, have risen as oil costs have driven up agricultural basics. (ariana cubillos /associated press)

For many in Haiti these cookies made of dirt, salt, and vegetable shortening constitute  a regular meal. Although they are filling, they can cause illness and stomach pains. NBC interviewed a women who had dirt removed from her stomach at the hospital, after becoming ill from eating the cakes. 

The present riots in Haiti are part of an ongoing food crisis. The Boston Globe observed in January, 

Food prices around the world have spiked because of higher prices for oil, which is 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 increases, together with floods and crop damage from the 2007 hurricane season, prompted the United Nations Food and Agriculture Agency to declare states of emergency in Haiti and several other Caribbean countries. 

A interesting perspective on the food shortage, from Haitian aid worker Prospery Raymond, can be found here