When France occupied Haiti in the 1800s, the colonists built Fort Dimanche along Port-Au-Prince Bay. The fort was converted into a prison in the 20th century by the brutal president François Duvalier, who crammed political opponents into 12 square foot cages and subjected them to torturous conditions, resulting in 3,000 deaths. Since being converted into a national monument in 1987, however, the story of Fort Dimanche has become no less grim.
Today, the area surrounding the fort is filled with vendors selling dirt cookies, a circular morsel of hardened clay, locally known as Bon Bon Tè. Haiti is one of the poorest nations in the Western Hemisphere, and food prices continue to skyrocket. In the slums the situation is so dire that one of the major sources of food are these cookies made from mud.
While the process of making dirt cookies takes place all throughout the city’s slums, one of the main epicenters is the area surrounding Fort Dimanche. Vendors line street after street, carrying large canisters of dirt to the streetside, where they mix salty water with the clay. The cookies are then patted down into small circles and left to dry in the sun before being sold to local families living around Fort Dimanche, who use them to temporarily stave off their children’s hunger.
Unfortunately, the health impacts of Bon Bon Tè are disturbing to many of the nutritionists of the region. Although some people believe that the dirt is rich in vitamins and minerals, in reality the cookies provide little to no nutritional value, and worse, can be contaminated.