Thursday, September 17, 2015

Why I Post About Haitian Food

The causes of food insecurity in Haiti are large and complicated, and the impact is real, individual and personal. But some Americans simplify this reality to an idea that Haiti cannot feed itself due to problems with the culture and the people. Put simply, this is misguided and narrow thinking.

Those who are friends with me on Facebook might notice I post about the Haitian food I consume A LOT.

I do this first and for most because it's delicious, and it will increase your desire to suddenly go on vacation in Haiti and even buy Haitian products. (Most significant is peanut butter. I used to be a choosy mom, but no longer. Natural, spicy Haitian peanut butter even beats creamy JIF.)

The second reason I do this is to shift perceptions about Haiti. Though sharing what I eat on Facebook isn't academic or fully representative, hopefully these posts publicize raw, value added and even branded products that are grown, produced and refined right here in Haiti.
My friend Loosakimg, in Cange, at his high school graduation dinner. His mom, on the left, went to culinary school. In the foreground is a goat, cooked perhaps like Americans prepare turkey on Thanksgiving.
There's significant room to grow agriculture related production and business in Haiti. That is a big motivator behind the revitalization of the St. Barnabas Agriculture Center that I'm involved in with the Episcopal Church. As I've shared before, the long term plan, together with Fresh Ministries, is to expand the capacity of that center in improving agriculture production around northern Haiti, equipping farmers and entrepreneurs with the training and tools necessary to begin and grow small businesses, and providing services to nearby farmers using the best available techniques for production and environmental protection.

So what can you do? From in the U.S., in addition to seeking out and buying Haitian made products, you can support this sector of the Haitian economy by communicating with your representatives in the U.S. government to encourage legislation that is more fair to the Haitian producers. Let me explain.

The political actions of the U.S. are one reason food insecurity is an issue in Haiti. This is just one element adding to the complexity of this problem. Here are two examples: 

In the mid 1990s, President Bill Clinton essentially forced Haiti into lowering their tariffs on imported (read: U.S. made) food stuffs, including rice. Haiti at one point in history exported rice, and now it imports much of what it consumes. In 2010, President Clinton made the following statement, seen in the following excerpt from Fran Quigley's book How Human Rights Can Build Haiti:
A second example, from the 1980s, is the extermination of the Creole pig by USAID and other international actors. Because of a fever identified in a pig population in the Dominican Republic, fear grew that it would spread into Haiti and then the U.S., effecting the businesses in the U.S. So the solution acted out was to simply eliminate the pig population in Haiti.

This pig was a significant staple of the rural economy in Haiti, not only as a source of food but as a source of income that, among other uses, provided stability in times of unexpected expenses. It also supported the presence of royal palm trees, whose seed was the principal feed for the pigs. Now, without the pigs, those trees have been cut down at higher rates, contributing to the already serious deforestation problem.

By staying engaged with the political activities in the U.S., and contacting representatives to tell them how to act on these issues, you can support fairer treatment of Haitian agriculture and improvements in the economy here.

So, what have I been eating? Take a look below:
Tahomey chocolate
Let Agogo yogurt, local bananas and peanut butter on local bread, Selecto brand coffee
Frozen cubes of mango two dous and passion fruit juices with Haitian cane sugar
All local yogurt, peanut butter, bread, sugar, coffee, and passion fruit juice
Rebo brand coffee
Grapefruit jam
Hot sauce
Vanilla extract
Mel'ange brand all natural tea

Bon apeti!