Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Mud Cookies and Lenten Fasting

A woman sells mud cookies in Haiti's capitol city

Fast and Abstinence In Lent
All Christians are called to special prayer, fasting and caring for the poor in the season of Lent. Each person determines how he or she will personally live out these ancient Lenten exercises. In addition to personal Lenten practices, Catholics are also called to a communal practice of self-denial through fasting and abstinence.

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti - 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 used by pregnant women and children here as an antacid and source of calcium. But in places like Cite 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 also give her stomach pains. "When I nurse, the baby sometimes seems colicky, too," she said.

Ash Wednesday Is a Day of Fast and Abstinence
On Ash Wednesday, Catholics over 14 years of age are expected to abstain from eating meat on this day. Catholics 18 years of age and up to the beginning of their 60th year are expected to fast: taking only one full meal and two other light meals, eating nothing between meals.

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… At the market in the La Saline slum, a two-cup portion of rice now sells for 60 cents, up 10 cents from December and 50 percent from a year ago. Beans, condensed milk, and fruit have gone up at a similar rate, and even the price of the edible clay has risen over the past year by almost $1.50. Dirt to make 100 cookies now costs $5, the cookie makers say. Still, at about 5 cents apiece, the cookies are a bargain compared with food staples. About 80 percent of people in Haiti live on less than $2 a day and a tiny elite controls the economy.

All the Fridays of Lent Are Days of Abstinence
Catholics over 14 years of age
are expected to abstain from eating meat on the Fridays of Lent.

Merchants truck the dirt from the central town of Hinche to the La Saline market, a maze of tables of vegetables and meat swarming with flies. Women buy the dirt, then process it into mud cookies… Carrying buckets of dirt and water up ladders to the roof of the former prison for which Fort Dimanche is named, they strain out rocks and clumps on a sheet, and stir in shortening and salt. Then they pat the mixture into mud cookies and leave them to dry under the scorching sun. The finished cookies are carried in buckets to markets or sold on the streets. A reporter sampling a cookie found that it had a smooth consistency and sucked all the moisture out of the mouth as soon as it touched the tongue. For hours, an unpleasant taste of dirt lingered… Marie Noel, 40, sells the cookies in a market to provide for her seven children. Her family also eats them. "I'm hoping one day I'll have enough food to eat, so I can stop eating these," she said. "I know it's not good for me." (Jonathan M. Katz, Associated Press)

Good Friday Is a Day of Fast and Abstinence
On Good Friday, Catholics over 14 years of age are expected to abstain from eating meat on this day. Catholics 18 years of age and up to the beginning of their 60th year are expected to fast: taking only one full meal and two other light meals, eating nothing between meals.

If you are interested in reaching out to the poor in Haiti, I suggest you consider sending a Lenten sacrificial offering to the St. Boniface Haiti Foundation with whom I've shared a friendship and affiliation for nearly 20 years.  SBHF enjoys a spot on my sidebar all year 'round.

 

     
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