Tuesday, December 13, 2011


Food is such an important topic in Haiti. There isn't a day that goes by that I don't think about it - what do we need to buy, how much does it cost, how in the world can my neighbours afford any?

For the past 2 years I've been trying to figure out what exactly the cost of food is in Haiti. It's baffling to me. It's baffling because I see how much I spend on food knowing full well that many around me live (barely) on a fraction of what I have. I do know that I don't eat like a typical Haitian. I eat like a wealthy Haitian. I have 3 meals a day. I eat meat at least once a day. I enjoy luxuries such as milk (canned or powdered), cheese (not the real stuff - highly processed, but nevertheless a luxury), etc. I would probably enjoy more luxuries if we lived in Cap where I had more regular access to the tiny grocery store that is there for ex-pats. For the most part, our food is bought at the outdoor markets in Limbe and Cap.

Thankfully, Cal's dad is more than happy to go to the market twice a week for us. You may think going to the market sounds fun - it is, for the first few minutes. But going to the market in Haiti is different than even countries like Honduras or Nicaragua. They don't have that romantic European or Latin American feel. Haitian markets are dirty, muddy, crowded, hot, dirty, loud, hot... get the idea?

Anyways, I thought I would give you an idea about the cost of food.

$1 US = $8 Haitian

The staple of a Haitian diet is rice. A 25kg bag of rice (American) sells for $200 Haitian ($25 US) right now. You may think - wow, 25kg's that'll last a long time! Wrong! Haitians don't eat rice like a side dish, it is the meal. I have seen children eat a heaping large dinner plate with no problem! 25 kgs doesn't last that long.

Eggs. Eggs (Dominican) are sold in cartons of 30 for $33 Haitian. A few weeks ago they were just $30. Inflation.

Iceberg lettuce (imported) - $7 Haitian

Chicken (Dominican) 6 drumsticks for $15 - $20 Haitian

Cooking oil, 1 gallon (American or Dominican) - $65 Haitian

Box of Cornflakes (American generic) - $21 Haitian

Coffee (Haitian Processed), 1/2 pound - $20 -25 Haitian. Local coffee is available in the markets for much less but is ground super fine and doesn't work in electric coffee pots or coffee perks, but tastes awesome if prepared in the the traditional Haitian way.

You might be seeing a pattern here. Haiti has a lot of imported food. It still amazes me how much of our food here is imported from the US and the DR. Unfortunately global trade rules have made it cheaper for Haiti to import food, then produce it themselves (a topic for a whole other post).

What can we buy that is local? Fruit! Yes, we have any amazing selection of fruit - oranges, grapefruits, limes, bananas, mangos, papayas, passion fruit, pineapple - it's amazing! Haiti does still grow rice - although it is hard to find, we grow some beans (congo beans are in season right now and are my favourite), sweet potatoes, manioc, okra, etc. 

Anyways, the point is, food is relatively expensive in Haiti if you consider the income (or lack thereof) that most Haitians have.


afternoonsncoffeespoons said...

Oh, Janelle, how I wish you and I could sit down for coffee (Haitian coffee, I might add!) and mull on these things together. There was a significant period of time where I was seriously considering moving to Haiti -- and, in the meantime, processing the very real issues of food, wealth, simplicity, etc., etc., etc. I enjoy learning, as I read your blog, how much you and I have in common -- and how ironic it is that we get to figure this out while neither living in Saskatoon (though this would have been the most likely place for you and I to meet!), but rather both in the prospective Caribbean nations of our husbands! :)

Thank you for writing, Janelle. I do appreciate your thoughts put into words.

Janelle said...

I know - it's crazy isn't it? Maybe one day we will get to sit down together and chat over coffee in Canada or somewhere else!