Friday, February 08, 2008

Dirt Cookies

It was lunchtime in one of Haiti's worst slums, and Charlene Dumas was eating mud. With food prices rising, Haiti's poorest can't afford even a daily plate of rice, and some take desperate measures to fill their bellies. Charlene, 16 with a 1-month-old son, has come to rely on a traditional Haitian remedy for hunger pangs: cookies made of dried yellow dirt from the country's central plateau.
The mud has long been prized by pregnant women and children here as an antacid and source of calcium. But in places like Cité Soleil, the oceanside slum where Charlene shares a two-room house with her baby, five siblings and two unemployed parents, cookies made of dirt, salt and vegetable shortening have become a regular meal.

"When my mother does not cook anything, I have to eat them three times a day," Charlene said. Her baby, named Woodson, lay still across her lap, looking even thinner than the slim 6 pounds 3 ounces he weighed at birth. Though she likes their buttery, salty taste, Charlene said the cookies give her stomach pains. "When I nurse, the baby sometimes seems colicky too," she said. Food prices around the world have spiked because of higher prices for oil, 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.
INSIGHTS: Why Ethanol Production Will Drive World Food Prices Even Higher in 2008;
We are witnessing the beginning of one of the great tragedies of history. The United States, in a misguided effort to reduce its oil insecurity by converting grain into fuel for cars, is generating global food insecurity on a scale never seen before.

The world is facing the most severe food price inflation in history as grain and soybean prices climb to all-time highs. Wheat trading on the Chicago Board of Trade on December 17th breached the $10 per bushel level for the first time ever. In mid-January, corn was trading over $5 per bushel, close to its historic high. And on January 11th, soybeans traded at $13.42 per bushel, the highest price ever recorded. All these prices are double those of a year or two ago.
Lester R. Brown in his office. (Photo courtesy Earth Policy Institute)

As a result, prices of food products made directly from these commodities such as bread, pasta, and tortillas, and those made indirectly, such as pork, poultry, beef, milk, and eggs, are everywhere on the rise. In Mexico, corn meal prices are up 60 percent. In Pakistan, flour prices have doubled. China is facing rampant food price inflation, some of the worst in decades.
This is what happens when the bubble making machine breaks;
the next great bubble will be a $20 trillion "alternative energy" bubble. In fact, Wall Street's already hustling biofuels, solar, wind, nuclear, geothermal and hydroelectric as the new alternative energies destined to replace oil, gas and coal in this next new economy. Timing? The new "alternative energies" bubble will last about 8 years, from a 2005 launch till a peak around 2013, when it will "creatively destruct," when all possible "fake wealth" is squeezed out, when investors wise up to the scam, when that new bubble pops.