HAVANA TIMES, May 2 — As a Cuban, I’m always surprised with the way my fellow citizens refer to hunger as a “thing of the past,” since we felt it sharply back in the 1990s. The fact is, however, that this isn’t always the case.
A brief review of that miserable decade reminds me that we used to eat bistec de toronja (“grapefruit steak,” consisting of breaded and fried grapefruit skins) as well as soy picadillo (the worst ground meat-like substance that any human beings ever tasted in the twentieth century, a “mystery meat” that survives up through today).
Some less fortunate individuals even got to the point of trying bistec de colcha de trapear (mop-tassel steak).
In the ‘90s we got used to cooking without oil — on those rare occasions when we did cook — sometimes without salt and using animal fat; bread was also scarce. In short, at times the Cuban diet reached extremely low levels.
Today it’s true that our normal food has reappeared, though not without much effort. One can commonly find oil, salt, an occasional chicken leg or a newly introduced ground-turkey product (which, though still expensive for workers, sometimes can afford the luxury of being edible). Oh, and some beans, which remain available pretty much all year round at the market.
Nonetheless, now it would be worth asking if the diet that we Cubans eat today is in line with the parameters accepted by the World Health Organization.
It’s no lie that the act of eating in Cuba has improved compared to the ‘90s. But to tell the truth, our diets are still very far from what’s acceptable. The low wages that Cubans earn make it impossible to balance their diets with fruits, cereals, fiber and protein, as can any worker earning an average wage in this world.
Without a doubt, Cubans today live in the “empire of carbohydrates,” with so much white bread and sugar at the center of our diets many of our diseases are caused by excessive consumption of these – oh, and of course those illness are still influenced by the nutritional deficiencies as a result of the mythic ‘90s.
Two years ago “El Panfilo” (literally “the simpleton”) — a resident of the Vedado neighborhood, with a few shots of rum already under his belt — had the audacity to interrupt a promotional video for the group Ogguere with his now famous call for “jama!” (food).
Many people around the world were astonished that in such a short time this unique video was seen by more than a million people on YouTube.
Yet and still, when I see my wages for the month and note that there’s nothing I can really buy with them, I always wonder: Did the hunger of the ‘90s ever end?