Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Peanut Butter

I read the blog excerpted below a week or so ago and I  have been very moved and a little unsettled by it.  I think it ties in nicely with the posts I did on poverty and illuminates starkly what harm misguided giving can do.  While this post is focused on American giving I don't think we Canadian fare much better and I know I am now more motivated than ever to ensure my giving is appropriate, sensitive to local conditions and getting to the people it is intended for........  Now over to Corrigan Clay who graciously agreed to let me re-post some of his thoughts (all bold emphasis is mine)...... the link to his full post and The Apparent Project in Haiti is at the end.

This blog is inspired by my wife Shelley's plea with a Wisconsin church to not send peanut butter to Haiti.  I thought a more in depth explanation might be helpful, interesting, and possibly motivational, so here goes...

Now that Haiti has dropped from fad-disaster-charity-icon status, it is good to see a few churches still caring, and more importantly, ACTING on behalf of the poor here.  After all,Jesus says he doesn't have much to do with people who neglect those without food and income. Yet, while I'm infinitely appreciative of churches that take seriously the Biblical mandate to prioritize the plight of the poor and suffering, I'm concerned that so many of us have neglected that mandate for so long that when we recognize our grave oversight, we rush into service without thinking through the impact of our actions or getting to know those we intend to serve.  My friend, once gave me some great advice about service:  "Don't just do something, stand there!  ...then do something."  We need to venture out into the deep, vital waters of serving the poor, but we can't do a cannon ball into a situation that deserves a swan dive. 

Landmark Christian Church in Lake Hallie, Wisconsin is passionately offering its time and resources in response to Haiti's malnutrition and hunger problems.  

The pastor of LCC says "What we are hoping to do is send about 28,000 jars of peanut butter to Haiti. The children there just don't have a good source of protein.  Peanut butter is a wonderful source. Ounce for ounce, about the same protein as pork."

I agree that many Haitians' have a diet with less than sufficient protein and I'm glad that this Church cares enough to do something about it, but, in unfortunate irony, the well-meaning pastor named two of Haiti's staple protein sources: peanuts and pork.  Mamba (peanut butter) and Grillo (salted fried pork) are beloved Haitian foods, both coming from native sources and farmed here on Hispaniola since before Columbus made his first landing.  What do you imagine 28,000 jars of peanut butter coming to this island and being given away might do to the local businesses of peanut farmers, mamba manufacturers, and retailers?  Good intentions to save Haiti have already all but ended the long legacy of the Creole Pig's positive nutritional and economic impact, and now the kindhearted, peanut butter-wielding, generous faithful of Wisconsin are posing a benevolent threat to Haiti's "pistache". 

Those of us who live in Haiti and frequent one of the hundreds of local markets or the scores of grocery stores here know that food scarcity in Haiti is simply not the issue.  There is plenty of food in Haiti... if you have money.  The food is not cheap and the produce is not always as cosmetically enhanced as what you may see in your American super market, but it's here.  All around.  And it's for sale.   If you have an income.  Oh... and 70-90% of the food is American.  That's a big part of why there are no jobs in Haiti.  The unemployment rate hovers hauntingly around the same percentage as the imported food rate.  As American imported goods, largely sent as food aid, have swept into the Haitian market, Haitian farmers could not compete with the low prices offered by U.S. farmed grains.  The prices of American grains have been lowered dramatically by excessive production and government subsidies.  Our cheap food is not only making us fat, but it's making the world poor and dependent.

Bill Clinton, in what has to be one of the most redemptive moments in international politics I've ever seen, publicly renounced American international food aid policies and apologized for the way in which his own tarrifs and relief strategies in Haiti effectively increased poverty and sapped the dignity of the poor.  He says, "
“It was a mistake. . . I have to live everyday with the consequences of the loss of capacity to produce a rice crop in Haiti."  Why?  Because of the rice we gave away to Haitians.  Clinton says our generosity helped Arkansas farmers while hurting the Haitian people. 
If just the shipping cost were invested into developing sustainable agriculture, developing compost programs, and purchasing seeds and irrigation technology, the aid rice would not be needed.  I'm not saying to cut off all aid, but that anybody involved in food aid ought, as a matter of conscience, be investing at least as much into development of sustainable food sources as they are into the expensive and unsustainable practice of shipping in foreign food.  They also ought to purchase as much as possible of the food they are contributing from the nations that they are trying to help.

After the earthquake we saw a charicature of Haiti: Merchants sitting trying to sell their produce while banks did not yet function.  Everybody was hungry, there was plenty of food, and nobody had any money.  That's not so different from the macroeconomic picture in Haiti today. 
Definitely contact your favorite orphanage or charity in Haiti and tell them that you want to help them find ways to spend your money to purchase local goods so that your giving doesn't further break the Haitian economy.  Make a big no-strings attached financial donation to show your unconditional support. (People don't make positive decisions for change when they feel controlled by somebody's funds, they make changes because you care and are committed to them, no matter what they do).  

If you want to help address the broad malnourishment and emergency food needs in Haiti, the best option, in my opinion, is to buy Medika Mamba for local distribution from Meds and Food for Kids, or to make a donation to their overall mission.  Medika Mamba ("Peanut Butter Medicine") is amazing stuff.  I have distributed this peanut butter after the earthquake and have seen my friends at Real Hope For Haiti save hundreds of lives using this completely Haitian-made miracle food.  It tastes like a cross between a Power Bar and a Reese's peanut butter cup, and it makes skinny kids chunky.  Best of all,  Medika Mamba undercuts the root causes of malnutrition by providing jobs and sustainable agriculture to Haiti.

Don't treat the poor like a problem.  When we hear "malnourishment" let's not think of skinny kids with gaping baby bird mouths grasping and gasping for food.  The only answer to this image is food.  But if we treat starving people as people before we treat them as an issue, we will get at their secret.  Let's ask, why are they starving?  More importantly, let's ask THEM.  Let's love people enough to speak their language and serve them according their needs and their requests.  Haitians are asking for education and jobs far more than they are looking for handouts.  Let's listen to them.  Poverty is almost always avoidable.  Our earth is too rich and ready to burst forth life for poverty and starvation to be natural.  God didn't abandon anybody to poverty... other forces have separated the poor from the bounty that is readily under their feet.  We must love the poor to get at their secret and team up with them so that they can liberate themselves from the internal and external forces that make them hungry. 

by Corrigan Clay
Apparent Project

Want to do something NOW.... I bought a great shopping bag from  Haitian Creations ........ if all the people reading this blog did the same......? 

Thanks for reading and considering!

1 comment:

  1. This is a great post and very thought-provoking. Thanks for posting.