Cuba: Searching for Eggs and Potatoes

Daisy Valera

String beans. Photo: Edwin Wiebe

HAVANA TIMES, Feb 24 — Obtaining food has become a personal battle for me. Every week it’s a struggle to find one or another eatable that’s in short supply. That’s how the month goes by.

Last week it was eggs.

Walking at full speed to the markets on Monte Avenue, the problem was that by the time I made it almost there I learned that all of them had ran out minutes earlier.

Within two hours, eggs had disappeared.

Although behind the counters several cashiers set aside more than a few cartons for themselves, the place was out of them.

I felt defeated. Eggs are a serious matter – believe it or not.

Along with packs of sausage (that go for about $1.25 USD) and ground turkey (for about $1.35 USD), eggs round out the sacred protein-filled trilogy for many Habana residents.

From Saturday to Saturday they might show up in a few isolated markets here in the capital, but to get a hold of them you need something more than money – sheer luck.

I say “luck” because with timbirichismo (food-stand-mania) now being all the fashion, lots of people are trying to make a living selling egg sandwiches – natural ones with cheese and onions – or really almost any way you like them made.

But it’s not only that. Thanks to eggs, more than a few resellers are able to scrape up a living.

The government sells eggs for 1.50 pesos each (about 6 cents USD), but if you don’t have any luck buying them for that price, you’re not going to find them for anything less than 2 pesos, meaning a cartoon of 30 is going to be 15 pesos more expensive.

But that was last week’s shortage. This week it’s potatoes.

If there’s one thing that our flourishing new businesses can’t provide, it’s a potato and egg sandwich.

When you can find eggs there aren’t any potatoes, and when potatoes appear everybody seems to run out of eggs. It’s magical.

I went running all over the Cerro neighborhood trying to come up with some potatoes. I found some in an agro (market) on Vive Street, so I planted myself in the line prepared to endure a wait.

Potatoes practically disappeared from the national food scene almost a year ago.

Some people, those with deeper pockets, found them for sale pre-cooked in hard-currency CUC stores.

Tubers are so popular that their absence created a stir. Folks even started talking about government ineptitude and theft.

Word had it that all of them, down to the seeds, had been sold last year, so this year we wouldn’t have any to eat.

It reached the point that they ran a report on the TV news to calm everybody down a few days ago. They talked about how expensive it is to harvest potatoes and how, for the moment, priority had to be placed short-cycle crops, but that now tubers are guaranteed to appear shortly.

I stood there in line for an hour and a half, yet I tried not to get my hopes up too much because there were still a lot of people in front of me.

I started thinking about cadmium (from my old chemistry classes), and how after using that heavy metal as a fertilizer for many years it builds up in the soil and becomes incorporated in potatoes.

So, I figured that even if I didn’t get enough potatoes, at least I’d be saving myself from a sure dose of cadmium. In that way I had found a positive side to my situation.

But in the end I was lucky. I brought home 10 pounds of potatoes.

Two weeks, two battles. One win, one loss.

5 thoughts on “Cuba: Searching for Eggs and Potatoes

  • Pablo, you can’t do that because of the cuban laws.

  • Hi Daisy,

    I am coming to Havana from the US next month. Can I bring you frozen eggs for scrambling? How about potatoes?

    [email protected]

  • ” I can’t believe there is a huge international market for Cuban toilet paper so stealig it to sell abroad seems extreme. I am not being the least bit sarcastic, I truly don’t understand and no one has yet to provide with an answer as to why this problems persists. Any ideas, anyone?”

    Think about it. HOW do you undermine your opponent ?
    You make him uncomfortable where he lives.
    Sort of like , as an analogy , playing very loud music day and night directed at those ‘holed up’.
    It somehow ‘messes with their minds’.
    It is pretty much common knowledge in the ‘security community’.
    ‘Someone’ may be covertly stealing all the toilet paper.
    I wonder who.
    Who has the most to gain by having Socialism NOT be thought to be a viable alternative to the present day Banks melting , countries going bankrupt ?

    The Australians.
    Just joking.

  • i liked your story, daisy. i have some memories of egg and potato omlettes very common in spain. daisy i have so many memories of my visits to agro mercado in santiago de cuba and guantanamo. for me too it was an adventure and then walking home in the hot sun to cook a nice dinner. we would buy a 2.00cuc bottle of soroa wine red from pinar del rio. and then it was a heavenly, happy meal. we would then watch a movie, falling asleep in our rocking chairs 30 minutes later. do you see why i love cuba – the instant satisfaction.

  • I have visited Cuba many times over the last ten years. I have personally experiended shortages there in potates, eggs, toilet paper, rice, milk, and although I did not miss it, feminine napkins have gone lacking several times as well. These are are products that will always be in demand. I have also noticed that at times there also seems to be surpluses in these items. During those periods, they are available in abundance on the street, not only in the government stores but for sale by private vendors on the sidewalks. Anyway, my question is why is this so? The math appears simple, if you know how much demand for each product is given population, time of year, even the weather, you plan for how much you need to have available for sale at any given time. Are shortages the result of incredible managerial incompetence or is it something else. If so, what else. I can’t believe there is a huge international market for Cuban toilet paper so stealig it to sell abroad seems extreme. I am not being the least bit sarcastic, I truly don’t understand and no one has yet to provide with an answer as to why this problems persists. Any ideas, anyone?

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