“The Diet” in Cuba

Jorge Milanes Despaigne

Una panaderia donde los cubanos reciben su pan a bajo precio por tarjeta de racionamiento. Foto: Caridad

Diets in Cuba — in addition to being nutritional regimes that people follow to reduce or increase their body weight and to stay in shape — are assignments of extra food whose amounts vary according medical prescriptions.

It’s the government that approves these supplements which are provided through the famous ration book to sick people who require certain types of foods to improve their health.

Every month, according to the illness suffered, these men and women receive a small quantity of extra chicken or fish, malanga, bananas, beef and milk, among other products. It’s also true that every six months they have to repeat their medical exams to find out if there has been any improvement and, especially, to verify whether it’s necessary to continue the diet, though there are some people who receive these all of their lives.

But this has really become an issue that’s confusing me, because I always thought this was an effort that was taken seriously. It turns out that many who don’t suffer any particular illness have been able to get on these diets through illegal channels.

Listed in their ration books they have everyone from supposed children and elderly relatives, to people claiming to have diabetes, high triglyceride levels, etc., – not to mention deceased family members who are still counted among the family unit.

The doctor assigned my mother a chicken diet, so a few days ago I went to the butcher shop in search of this meat. When I arrived there was a crowd so large that it would frighten any mortal. Resigned to the long wait, I simply asked to see who the last person in line was. I then started paying attention to the butchers, who were taking such a long time to dispatch those ounces of much-appreciated poultry.

Some of the customers left with big packages, but then I’d immediately see others leaving with very little, perhaps less than what they should have gotten.

While I patiently waited my turn, my face was probably showing a little bitterness, defiant in the words I uttered to the butcher: “Measure carefully, and give me a good helping.”

Jorge Milanes

Jorge Milanes: My name is Jorge Milanes Despaigne, and I’m a tourism promoter and public relations specialist. Forty-five years ago I was born in Cojimar, a small coastal town to the east of Havana. I very much enjoy trips and adventure; and now that I know a good bit about my own country, I’d like to learn more about other nations. I enjoy reading, singing, dancing, haute cuisine and talking with interesting people who offer wisdom and happiness.