Would You Eat Dirt? Some Women Have no Choice

Before the economic crisis many of us were actively blogging about rape in the DRC, food shortages in Asia impacting women and girls health, nutrition, and safety, and the trafficking of women from the Middle East and Africa because of war and genocide. We were also talking more broadly about what the economic policies of the US has meant for sending nations (nations with high out migration) and for immigrant women, poor women, and women of color living in the US. We were developing a multi-sited blog based conversation about how violence against women is localized but in fact a global phenomena, including violence against LBTI women, immigrant women, incarcerated women, women of color, and white women. And we were also struggling through a multi-blog conversation about women’s writing, intellectual property, and the meaning of feminism in the internet age, even though many of the voices in that conversation have shame facedly back tracked as time moves on.

Now, many of us, myself included, simply write snark about the election. Our words and focus are occasionally elevated by our well honed feminist intellectual and activist training. The globe shrank away as Wall Street and Palin loomed large despite the fact that the same lending practices and conservative global and local politics that has gotten us into this mess is also responsible for the plight of the poorest women around the world.

In that loss of perspective, many of you no doubt missed an alarming trend in Haiti that is both a desperate attempt by women to make money to sustain themselves and their families and to not go hungry.

When the world supply of rice dwindled and the price doubled and/or tripled in many parts of the world, Haitian market women began selling mud cakes and mud cookies at market. The primary ingredient? Dirt.

Mud cookies are small, fat, rounds of dirt from the central plateau region mixed with salt, spices, and shortening. They have become a staple in the homes of the 80% of Haitians living below the poverty line, standing in for missing rice.

Mud cookies fill the stomach but provided limited nutrition. In some studies, the eating of dirt over long periods of time has also been seen to leech minerals from the body. Whether it is leeched or simply not replenished, the result of eating mud cookies as a main staple is the same: malnutrition and vitamin deficiencies.

The use of mud cookies has particular gendered implications. First, women’s traditional employment as vendors is threatened by a lack of food supplies and other related products to sell, so in order to make money for their families mud cookies becomes a mainstay for maintaining female incomes that may mean the difference between life and death. Second, girl children are often the last to be fed in households with male adults and/or male children, and mothers often eat after them. This  means that both women and girls are already undernourished and are therefore the most likely to feel the impact of nutrition-minimal mud cookies. Third, the health impact of long term consumption of dirt instead of food can be detrimental not only to all people but especially women and children. For women this means reproductive complications and or the inability to have children, the inability to nurse (no nutrition to pass on), loss of critical bone density, etc. as well as the issues that are not gender specific (hair loss, organ failure, heart problems, etc.). For children, it means exposure to heavy metals, cognitive problems, developmental delays, and higher incidences of cognitive disorders and physical disabilities. Such problems ultimately put girl children at high risk for abandonment, sexual violence, and sexual exploitation in the long run.

“I’m hoping one day I’ll have enough food to eat, so I can stop eating these,” Marie Noel, 40, said. “I know it’s not good for me.” (article: J. M. Katz, ABC News)

You can help by:

  • Donate to What if Foundation – children’s hunger relief and education effort
  • Joining Mercy Corp in the Take Action Against World Hunger Campaign and/or Donate to Heroes Against Hunger
  • Donate to Madre who partners with women in Haiti to address malnutrition, rape, and poverty
  • Donate to the Lambi Fund (You can also meet many of the women working to raise food, increase village nutrition, and end deforestation through Lambi funded programs in Haiti by going on their Haiti trip and then turn it into activism by re-telling their stories and doing targeted fundraising)
  • Host a Haitian awareness event – combine education about the hunger issue, the impact, on women, and raise money at the same time by asking for a donation or charging an entrance fee for the discussion (What If Foundation can help you if you don’t know how to get started)

Returning to Wall Street
and politics for a moment, the problem with our focus (mine included)
is not the attention to domestic political infighting but the scope of that attention. The global food
crisis is a direct result of deregulated global corporations who depleted water resources, patent growing techniques, and flooded markets with genetically modified seed. It is also caused bu global
financing schemes based on open borders and trade for global western corporations and cutbacks on any taxes, trading, or labor policies that would benefit the workers and loan recipients. Neo-liberal economics on the national scale has let to our financial meltdown on the global scale it has led to women and children so poor they eat dirt.

Nearly two-thirds of the 77 million dollar budget for food assistance
programs in crisis locations worldwide has been unfunded to date. This
leaves many women at the very bottom of a sinking program, with a
diminishing chance to receive any aid for food. (WNN)

As feminists and social justice advocates we have to expand our attention to global connections, so that when we look at local, state, and national elections we all so global impacts. And those global impacts have to be as far reaching as the women we hope to advocate with and the women we are, so that it is not just the hot button issues like reproductive rights or marriage rights that get our attention, but also food crises, unions, and child soldiers.

In the case of Haiti, as author and founding Editor of Haiti Information Project, Kevin Pina put it:

The recipe on the ground is one part dirt, one part shortening and half
a cup of water. The recipe internationally is one part charity, one
part neo-liberal Reaganomics and one part dependence.

Beyond Palin’s “you betch’ya” and even Obama’s “yes we can” there is a whole world unto which we are accountable. Beyond the cash donation, I challenge each of us, myself included, to take a moment before we post and ask if the thing we have written could be broadened to address global inequality as well.

Other ways to help:

  • write your Congress Person about the global hunger crisis, particularly in Haiti, and asking them to introduce legislation to support the world’s hungry
  • submit questions to the candidates about their economic and social policies that reflect knowledge of the connection between our policies here and the impact on women and children abroad
  • attend local election debates or rallies and ask your local leaders what they will do if they get to Congress
  • attend the “pub” events that have sprung up around the debates and pass out information about Haiti and other causes that matter to you
  • educating yourself, your friends, and your communities about the global hunger crisis, its impact on women, and what you can do to help turn the tide
  • if you belong to a faith community or are a college student ask for a space to start discussions about the hunger crises and the price of global capitalism, make it a book group, or a film series, etc.


2 thoughts on “Would You Eat Dirt? Some Women Have no Choice

  1. No I didn’t forget. I continued to blog about bodies that matter. At a time like this when the tendency is to focus on one issue, it is even more important to focus on the marginalization and exploitation of women globally. Yes the US election is important news but it should not be the sole topic of conversation. You are certainly right to point out that many feminist blogs have completely neglected not only Haiti but the plight of poor women globally.

  2. Hey Renee. I don’t know that I forgot but I certainly did get caught up there for far too long. This Haiti dirt story hit the regular news months ago and I completely missed it. That was a reality check to me and should be to most of the blogs I read. Thanks for staying on top of things.

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