Food Distribution, Production, and Consumption in Haiti (Part 2)

Food preparation specialists have helped popular class Haitians adapt to deepening poverty while still allowing them to obtain high calories at low cost. In the process they invigorate the local economy and earn income to support themselves and their families. But alternative sources of prepared food have emerged over the last two decades that compete with the local food preparation economy. The earliest of these foods were sugar and malt based beverages (sodas, juices, and maltas), cheese cubes, condensed milk, precooked sardines, and corn flakes. More recent snack foods incled cookies, salted crackers, and cheese puffs. These foods not part of an integrated local adaptation to poverty but rather a global one. Most are prepared, not in impoverished Haiti and not with Haitian produce, but rather with low cost ingredients from industrial producers in other countries. Some of these countries are geographically near to Haiti, such as the Dominican Republic and Guatemala; others on the far side of the world, such as India and Pakistan. All are developing countries.

There are problems with the current RUF (Read to Use Foods) sold in Haiti that should not be ignored. The foods are imported and sold on the streets, in open-air markets, and in stores, where they come into competition not only with local produce, but also with the cottage food preparation industry seen in the previous section and arguably lead consumers away from success in the quest for affordable and, if not nutritious, at least high caloric foods. The issue is not so much that Haitians are eating the low nutritional foods—such as extruded corn snacks like cheese puffs, made from degermed corn meal (meaning most of the nutrients are stripped away–but that they forego opportunities to spend limited resources on more nutritious fare. As seen in earlier sections, sometimes the problem is simply that higher quality foods are not available, as they have short shelf lives and do not ship well. But now that popular class Haitians have access to these low- nutrition snack foods on nearly every street corner, they are being used as quick substitutes for more balanced, true meals and for the oil laden but often hi-protein street foods.

That is not the worst of it. At least some of the earliest imports were high quality foods. Condensed milk sold in cans, powdered milk, and cheese cubes were three RUFs that offered popular class Haitians an affordable high protein food supplement. But high level entrepreneurs, almost entirely local individuals and corporate entities, have increasingly taken over the market with introduction of imitation brands concocted from low cost and low quality ingredients, most commonly palm oil and soy byproducts. The nutritional threat food substitutes and disingenuous advertising is a problem anywhere. But in a country like Haiti where close to 50% of the population is comprised of a nutritionally stressed and extremely poor people induced to spend scarce cash reserves on junk food the problem is especially acute and should be considered and issue of humanitarian concern for everyone, Haitian and otherwise. Indeed, given the flaunting of accepted international standards and the impoact on consumers, the international justice system should take special note. In the sections that follow we attempt to provide as complete a picture as possible of the complexities of the problem.