Book pages 93-96
Over and over again in poor shacks I ate cornbread, grits, and baked beans
with a few lumps of fat. In better off homes I had more traditional soul food:
ham knuckles, hog maw, chitterlings, pigs' ears, feet, and tails, and similar
fat crumbs from the white man's table.
But hundreds of thousands today get even
less than the 3½ pounds of pork and bacon a field hand received weekly under
Such a diet makes people lethargic and leaves them open to all
kinds of diseases, which is one reason why life expectancy for blacks is seven
years shorter than for whites.
Senate hearings on malnutrition in the early
70's stated repeatedly that "this tragedy cannot be permitted to continue."
However, that was in the good years: soon afterward, Americans voted for
Reaganomics to expand the silent army of 10 million hungry Americans.
problem is that most Americans are unable to see the hunger. During the years I
traveled I found them increasingly blaming the victims for their lethargic
behavior, rather than Federal lethargy.
The worst hunger is still found on
remote back roads and among urban old people.
A hungry dog is a good sign that
there are hungry people nearby. The worst time is winter, when in the South you
can see blacks digging up roots in white-owned fields. Starvation also drives
many to eat dirt.
Throughout Alabama, Mississippi, and North Carolina many
black women – often close to 50% – eat clay. This woman, listless and
exhausted from anemia, led me to the slope where she usually dug for the "food"
which she shared with her son.
- Do you ever eat dirt?
Does it taste good?
Yes. (With surprise) Have you never eaten it?
No, but I would like to try. What do you call it?
We call it sweet dirt...
I thought it was called Mississippi mud. That's what they call it up north. Do
you ever eat laundry starch?
Who else eats dirt around here?
My mother and my aunt up in the white house. Everybody, I think.
Story in New York Times 1996
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