Global Food Crisis

Israel's Ethiopians Forced to Give Up Traditional Bread

Mati Milstein in Bat Yam, Israel
for National Geographic News
June 5, 2008

Part seven of a special series that explores the local faces of the world's worst food crisis in decades.

The crisis that has sent food costs spiraling upward around the globe is causing Ethiopian Jews now living in Israel to give up something priceless: a piece of their culture.

Tens of thousands of the expatriates are being forced to abandon their traditional diets because of the skyrocketing cost of teff grain.

Teff, a nutritious and hardy cereal domesticated in Ethiopia thousands of years ago, is the primary ingredient in injera, a round flatbread that accompanies most Ethiopian meals.

A drastic shortage has caused the price of teff to jump by some 300 percent over the past year.

A 110-pound (50-kilogram) sack now runs at least 600 New Israeli shekels (about U.S. $179).

The price increases hit Israel's Ethiopian community particularly hard, as it is a struggling group with about three-quarters living below the poverty line, according to official figures.

"It just seems foolish to me. It doesn't seem logical to throw away so much money just to eat the same food that I ate in Ethiopia," said Ayelet Inbaram, an Ethiopian living in Bat Yam.

"We can get along fine with bread, pitas, spaghetti, rice," she said. "The preservation of our heritage is very important to me. I prepare injera and eat from one plate with my children.

"[But] I tell them how we lived, where we came from, how we walked to Israel ... There are ways to remain connected without throwing money away."

Drought and Trade

In the early 1980s, for a variety of social and religious reasons, tens of thousands of Ethiopian Jews began walking toward Israel. Up to half of them died or were killed during the months-long desert treks to refugee camps in Sudan.

Continued on Next Page >>


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