Dirty Eggs for Ordinary Cubans

Isbel Diaz Torres

HAVANA TIMES — The overwhelming majority of us Cubans, who are poor, know that poor quality products are what are provided to us. This even applies to chicken eggs – a major source of protein for the lower class in this country. Most of the time they come to us still spotted with droppings and feathers, in addition to being very small.

It’s not that Cuban hens are particularly unclean; it’s that the eggs always end up in the same place as where the birds excrete their feces, as is commonly known.

What adds to this, though, is that there seems to be a selection process whereby the tiniest and dirtiest of these eggs are sent to the market for purchase by the general population in national pesos (MN), while the largest and cleanest go to the market that deals in hard-currency convertible pesos (CUCs).

Recently, I made friends with a moderate-income Mexican woman who was visiting the island for the first time so that she could see the “revolutionary Cuba of Fidel,” though she was on a bare bones budget for her experience in “revolutionary” tourism. She told me that she was surprised to find that Cuban chicken eggs were so small.

She had bought a carton of eggs, each of which was very dirty, in an establishment in Centro Havana that sold its merchandise in national pesos. To make matters worse, when we got to the place she was renting, we discovered that they were full of worms, due to lack of refrigeration.

I explained to her that our chickens were no worse than those in the rest of the world, and that to appreciate this fact all she needed to do was go to a place that sold goods in CUCs, where the “upper classes” of this country go to shop. There she would find eggs that were as large, white and as clean as she wanted.

In any case, it’s worth remembering all of the genetic manipulation that’s performed on chickens and/or their food to artificially increase the body weight of these birds and the sizes of their parts.

Another friend, this time from Spain, commented to me that in his country eggs are classified by size and whether or not they’re organic, which of course determines their final price. Cleanliness is something that’s taken for granted there.

Here, we also have various prices (with those bought through our ration books being the lowest):
• Eggs bought through the ration book = 0.15 peso MN (each person can buy five of these a month at a highly subsidized price)
• Additional eggs bought through the ration book = 0.90 peso MN (where each person is also allowed to buy five per month)
• Eggs sold at unregulated markets = 1.50 peso MN
• Eggs sold at unregulated EJT markets* = 1.10 peso MN
• Eggs sold on the black market: 2.00 to 2.50 pesos MN
• Eggs sold in hard-currency markets = 0.15 CUC (equivalent to 3.60 pesos MN)

Nor can we forget the eggs received by members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces (FAR) and the Ministry of the Interior (MININT). In addition to these people’s relatively high salaries, their regularly received incentive payments, and their leisure and recreational perks, these members of the Cuban military receive an additional allocation of 10 eggs for 0.15 peso MN each, and they can buy eggs for sale on the unregulated market for .50 pesos MN each.

The funny thing is that none of the prices in MN are determined by quality of the product (though I’m not sure about the quality of those going to the military) or by supply/demand or by prices on the international market. Instead, their cost is determined by an outdated bureaucratic model that at some point in history attempted to subsidize basic staples (or basic individuals… such as members of the military).

I still remember my childhood, when a carton of 10 eggs cost 1 peso MN. Some kids would even buy them to throw at passersby from the roof of their buildings (a practice that was perhaps learned by small children and later used in the egg-throwing attacks on the traitorous “scum” that abandoned the country in the 1970s).

I should take this opportunity to explain that right now the play “Huevos” (Eggs) is being put on in the capital at the Adolfo Llaurado Theater in Vedado. It’s very well done; I even cried when a young man on stage returned to hug his grandmother, who he hadn’t been able to say goodbye to twenty years earlier, when he left the island under a hail of eggs and insults from his neighbors.

With all of this, in addition to the injuries of the soul, we poor are left with these dirty eggs each month, which reminds us of the place we occupy on the social scale today.


* EJT: “Ejercito Juvenil del Trabajo” (English: Youth Labor Army), farmers markets supplied by companies that are run by the military and that sell produce for lower prices than other establishments. These are accessible to the general public but are located in relatively “upscale” residential areas.

Isbel Diaz

Isbel Diaz Torres: Pinar del Rio and Havana are my cities. I was born in one on March 1, 1976, and I’ve always lived in the other. I am a biologist and poet, though at times I’ve also been a musician, translator, teacher, computer geek, designer, photographer and editor. I’m very non-conformist and a defender of differences – perhaps due to always having been an ever-repressed “model child.” Nothing enthralls me more than the unknown, nature and art; these serve as my sources of mystery and development. A surprising activism has been born in me over the recent period. Though I’m not very sure how to channel it, I feel that it’s a worthy and legitimate energy. Let’s hope I have the discernment to manage it.


6 thoughts on “Dirty Eggs for Ordinary Cubans

  • October 30, 2012 at 4:25 pm
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    Isbel Diaz,

    I’m having trouble with what you write. I’ve been to Cuba where I shopped in local markets and I’ve always bought eggs at national peso prices, when they were available. In fact, I never saw them in a CUC store. I was not able to buy eggs at the stores only Cubans have access to but when truckloads of eggs arrived at the open market, I bought flats of eggs side by side with Cubans at the same price.

    The trucks did not appear at every market so I always overbought. It was not a problem as the eggs had not been refrigerated and eggs last longer if they have not – a month or more if you turn them regularly.

    They were of excellent quality. More than excellent quality by Canadian supermarket standards. Everyone we served them to – Canadians in Cuba – commented on it.

    Everything you write indicates you are not familiar with farm life. I assume you are resident in Havana. Perhaps it is time for you to ‘get out of Dodge’, as the saying goes. Life in cities have their own unreality.

    You refer to a Mexican woman who thought Cuban eggs were too small. You are obviously unaware of what determines egg size. Mature chickens lay big eggs, but organic farmers rotate out their laying hens before they become ‘too long in the tooth’ and beyond the time when they are best for eating.

    Young hens lay smaller eggs, until they mature. Capitalist countries try to ‘supersize’ everything for profit, no matter how much it flies in the face of natural reality. So big eggs are what their citizens have been conditioned to expect. And you seem to have been taken in by this.

    The locavore store I shop in has a week or two when eggs are not available until the ‘teenagers’ come up to speed. After that, it offers small eggs to customers which are quite fine for eating

    I repeat, I’m having trouble with what you write.

  • October 30, 2012 at 3:51 pm
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    I’ve seen eggs as cheap as $.99 a dozen in the US, sold as a loss leader at a big drugstore chain, CVS, limit 2 dozen per customer. A woman came up to me who was obviously having difficulty making ends meet. She had 2 dozen in her cart and asked me if I wasn’t buying eggs, would I buy her two dozen and she would pay me for them in the parking lot.

    I did it and cringed. Eggs at that price are ‘battery farmed’. Chickens are confined in a narrow space, never getting to roam freely. They are dosed up with antibiotics to ward off infections they will be prey to under these conditions and fed grains they would never eat otherwise.

    The incredible cruelty to them is one thing, but scientists recognise the health risks it brings when you eat eggs from highly stressed animals that are full of drugs that you end up ingesting.

    This is why I cringed. I don’t see people like this in Canada, living on the edge, coming up to strangers, asking them to buy products that compromise their health – why poor people in the US have shorter life expectancies.

    This is what capitalism in ‘Moses’ country, the US looks like, the side he doesn’t like to write about.

  • October 28, 2012 at 8:49 am
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    According to the USA bureau of labor statistics website, the average prices for eggs in USA cities is $1.89 for a dozen large eggs (which is about 0.15 CUC): so Moses was very lucky with the price he paid.

  • October 28, 2012 at 8:40 am
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    I paid £1.80 for 6 large eggs from a supermarket in the United Kingdom yesterday, which is roughly 0.50cuc each.

    I used to own hens; cleaning the eggs did not bother me. Also, eggs are never refrigerated in British shops, but admittedly, ambient temperatures here are generally lower than in Cuba.

    How would worms get inside an egg?

  • October 27, 2012 at 1:27 pm
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    I’m fairly certain, Isbel, that if Cuban farmers were allowed both land ownership–not usufruct–and the ability to market their eggs freely, in pursuit of profits, that the sorry situation you describe would quickly vanish.

    Competition between farmers would tend to make prices for quality eggs reach their true exchange values, and everyone would be the winner.

    What is needed in your country is a form of socialism that is different from the old, state monopoly form. Good luck.

  • October 26, 2012 at 5:54 pm
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    I just bought a dozen eggs today at the Safeway supermarket in the Marina in San Francisco. I paid $1.35 for a plastic carton of large AAA eggs individually stamped with a Halloween message like Boo or Scary. Needless to say they were clean and worm-free. What´s ironic is they cost less for me at 0.11 cuc than what they cost in Havana. Viva la Revolution!

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