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How To Make Mud Cookies

By Maurice Dufour

06 May, 2008

Mud cookies are all the rage in Haiti today. The “rage” in this case, though, has been sparked by soaring food prices. The cookies have become a staple in poor households across the country because food is simply unaffordable. Everyone, it seems, is dying to get their hands on the biscuits.

The cookies are easy to make: the main ingredient, an “edible” clay from the country's central plateau region, is abundant, and salt and vegetable shortening are added in quantities that vary according to affordability. The cookies can be left out in the sun to bake. Besides being filling, they are dirt cheap.

At least they have been up until now. The clay used to make the cookies is rapidly going up in price due to increasing demand. It now costs about $5 to make 100 cookies, putting even the cookies out of reach of many poor Haitians.

While it may seem that Haitians have reached rock bottom, they may, in fact, be sitting on a gold mine. Through the alchemy of comparative advantage, their sludge-filled biscuits could become their most valuable commodity, propel the country into the ranks of rich nations and even provide a lasting solution to world hunger. After all, the logic of shifting more resources into the production of these biscuits is as "impeccable" as Lawrence Summers' proposal to encourage more migration of dirty industries from rich to poor countries.

Think of it. Clever marketers could label the exported cookies “organic” and “low-cal.” Ads could make comparisons with Twinkies in terms of nutritive value without violating any truth-in-advertising regulations. Bakeries could diversify their offerings: mud pastries, mud quiches, mud scones, and so on. Franchising could be hugely lucrative. Soon, door-to-door deliveries of dough-deficient donuts could displace Dunkin' Donuts' delicacies. To steal market share from the famous franchise, they could mimic the chain’s name by calling their outlets “Muckin Donuts.” Sales experts from MacDonald's could be brought in to coach vendors on the correct way of saying, "Would you like flies with that?" And catchy jingles with tie-ins to other products could be written for the TV, internet, and radio. Soon everyone around the world could be humming the familiar tune:

? “The perfect meal for down-to-earth folk; wash it down with a Diet Coke” ?

It's a win-win situation, really. Haiti could climb out of poverty through increased export revenues, and businesses could even become eligible for carbon credits, since the baking process relies exclusively on solar energy. As well, other Third World countries could be coaxed into producing their own biscuits to alleviate their hunger problems. If more and more of these countries started producing for export, the price of the cookies would eventually come down. The US would then be able to pare down its food aid to poor countries, freeing up money to spend on worthier pursuits, like bringing peace to Iraq. And, instead of handing out candies to Iraqi children, American soldiers could be distributing Haitian-made cookies, at a fraction of the cost.

Copyrighting the recipe would be unnecessary. Step-by-step instructions can easily be found in cookbooks such as Milton Friedman's Capitalism and Freedom or Freidrich Hayek's The Road to Serfdom. An abridged version follows:

Start by pouring dollops of any cheap American grain--say, rice-- into any poor country's market--say, Haiti. The imported rice should be heavily seasoned with subsidies from the US government. While pocketing millions in subsidies, be sure to sing the praises of “free” trade, peppering your verses with denunciations of government interference in markets. If the importing country resists, turn up the heat, withholding crucial loans until its leader agrees to cut tariffs on American rice imports. At the same time, force him to eliminate both domestic support programs for farmers and subsidies that are making food affordable to the poor. The flood of cheap imports will effectively destroy domestic rice production, push local farmers deeper into poverty, and make the entire population dependent on food imports. Reassure Haitian farmers with the old saying that expresses the great virtue of open markets: “A rising tide lifts all goats.”

To ensure Haitians get a balanced diet, you can add some “greens” in the form of grain-based ethanol. The biofuel should also be generously seasoned with subsidies from the US government (this could also be followed by condemnations of the market distortions caused by government interference). Ramping up ethanol production will drive up global food prices even more. Fortunately, the mud cookie industry has been well established by now.

Sit back and watch as the Haitians simmer with rage. Don't let the crisis boil over, though. If food riots erupt, toss in some troops with orders to crack open a few heads. After all, you can't make an omelette without breaking eggs. To prevent the American public from getting squeamish at the sight of blood-filled streets in Haiti, get CNN to focus its attention on the Dalai Lama. Before long, a collective feeling of detachment will set in, and images of a corpulent Buddha will draw public attention away from the skeletons walking the streets of Cité Soleil. Eventually, the crisis on the Caribbean island will move to the back burner all by itself. Mud cookies will continue to sell like hotcakes.

You can remove your apron now, but only after blaming out-of-control “Asian demand,” another way of saying the Chinese should not be eating as many hamburgers as Americans. Then claim that bad weather and bad harvests have left the global food pantry practically empty. Pay no attention to the fact that over two-thirds of the US corn crop, which was the biggest ever last year, is used for animal feed and ethanol production. Ignore the $40 billion in pet food consumed every year in the US alone. Also ignore the fact that Canadian hog farmers have recently been given $50 million by the federal government to kill 150,000 pigs to reduce the supply in order to raise the price of pork. Trust us...there's a real food shortage out there.

Remove the mix from the back burner. Invite chefs from Wall Street to whip up their favorite dishes: an alphabet soup of financial instruments (with an original turkey stock base), followed by a soufflé, leavened with the nostrums of laissez faire. The soufflé will expand enormously after government regulators shut the oven door and fall asleep. The soufflé will eventually deflate, once it's revealed that the pastry pros in pinstripes have adulterated their gastronomic creation with SPAM (Securities Packaged with Assets like worthless Mortgages).

Having gorged themselves on several entrées (inspired in part by the Ivan Boesky Culinary Institute), these “free” market manipulators will then line up in front of Chez La Banque Centrale, hoping to sample its delicious (wel)fare. There are often specials at this restaurant, like free lunches in the form of bailouts. The bailouts are in American dough, however, which does not relieve their hunger pangs, since the nutritive value of the dough has been declining as the soufflé has been deflating. Losing their appetite for the dough, the chefs will ask their chauffeurs to drive them to the commodities futures exchange, where they can feast on grain futures at the all-you-can-hedge banquet in the food court. Their voracious appetites will push up grain prices even more, forcing Haitian bakeries to add extra shifts to meet the demand for their cookies. This is market efficiency working its magic. To absolve speculators of any responsibility for escalating food costs, invoke "Asian demand" anew.

You can now hand over all responsibility for global food production to the head chef--US agribusiness. Already bloated from subsidies, this chef will take advantage of government-granted monopolies — patent-protected GM crops — to further consolidate his control over global food production. While delivering encomiums to unfettered markets, the head chef will assure the starving masses that he can feed the world. Pay no attention to the epidemic of farmer suicides in India; they have nothing to do with the debt-inducing purchases of fertilizers and pesticides that need to be purchased along with the costly patent-protected GM seeds. Remind yourself that the subcontinent could become a huge market for Haiti's cookies. If the price of the mud cookies themselves begins to soar, you can blame “Asian demand” once again.


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