Chicken for Fish on the Cuban Ration Book

Lisduania Victorero Reinoso

HAVANA TIMES — Here in Cuba, each family has a ration card with which members can go to a state-run neighborhood store to buy limited amounts of deeply subsidized food for the month. Most of those products are sufficient for only about 15 days, though others are only enough for a single day.

Among these latter items is fish. Years ago we used to be able to buy hake and mackerel. Hake has now disappeared (I don’t know what happened to it), and currently mackerel seems to be going the same route.

There are also state fish shops where the sales are unsubsidized and where they sell good fish like sawfish, marlin, snapper and others, but it costs almost a week’s wage to eat just one of them. I buy these when I can, but many people can’t afford to.

I don’t understand how a country like this, surrounded by the sea, has no fish.

Years ago are they started selling chicken as a substitute for the rationed fish. It got to where we felt like we were about to start growing feathers because they replaced everything with chicken – even mortadella sausage.

Only people on special diets could buy fish on their ration cards, meaning those who weren’t couldn’t. I imagine people’s phosphorous levels don’t even show up on the charts.

I like good fish, just like everybody else, but I love the strong flavor of mackerel. I don’t care if I’m told I have bad taste, everyone has their own likes.

Anyway, I wonder what’s happening to that fish, I can’t imagine that it’s being exported. Who would choose it when they have so many better alternatives? Or is that species becoming extinct?

You aren’t going to believe me if I tell you what some people are willing to do to get on the diet list so they can eat fish once a month.

I’ve learned that some people will eat a lot of pork rinds the day before getting their cholesterol checked by a doctor. This results in altered test findings that allow the person to be put on a fish diet.

Reflecting on this carefully, I should do the same thing. That way I could kill my desire to eat fish by eating fish.


Lisduania Victorero Reinoso: I’m 35 and live somewhere in the city of Havana. I am a middle-level graduate in economics and am self employed, preparing and selling food items. I am also a photography aficionada. I have never put myself to writing not even a kids diary, but I will try here in the most sincere and clear manner possible, always with a personal touch. I’m looking forward to your comments.

Lisduania has 4 posts and counting. See all posts by Lisduania

11 thoughts on “Chicken for Fish on the Cuban Ration Book

  • Thanks for your story. I will use it in my lesson about communism. You will get credit.

  • Hola! Simple reason in my mind. it has been hard to get protein because of the nature of politics. a great ideal ,but it doesn’t work. Fishing is easy to do and money is there .When you overfish ,then it takes years to bring the size and number of those fish back if you have a conservation plan in effect! Ciao y Happy New Year!!

  • Reasons:
    1) the BP Macondo oil spill
    2) dead zones caused by the oil and Corexit used to dissipate same
    3) reduction of fresh (if you can call it that) water from the Mississippi River occasioned by the U.S. Midwest drought
    4) commercial over-fishing

  • Perhaps the government is wary of giving too many Cubans the seaworthy boats necessary to catch fish? With their notoriously poor sense of direction, the Cuban fishermen might not find their way back to port…

  • Absolutely ludicrous the fact that an island paradise such as Cuba cannot feed its own people the harvest of the sea can only mean that the Castro regime exports for hard currency or reserves its bountiful supplies for the tourists it relies on to stuff their coffers from.

    Here in my small fishing village of Cortez, Florida, population of less than 1.500, in just one day last week our fishermen using cast nets landed over 130,000 pounds of mullet from Sarasota Bay and the Manatee River. It is unbelievable that a country as rich in natural resources and the bounty of the sea such as Cuba cannot or will not supply its own people with a plentiful and affordable supply of fish. It can only mean that its leaders are corrupt and interested only in furthering goals other than providing for their own populace, shame on those in power…

  • The same way that everything happens in Cuba, Griffin. Since 1959, Cuba’s national policy became “claridad para la calle y oscuridad para la casa” — That’s the same policy that doesn’t allow Cubans to stay at a luxury hotel but can’t give ’em away to enough foreigners. So much about the good ole “Cuba for the Cubans” eh?

  • It is too bad that Lisduania wasn’t en beca back in the roaring 70s, as I had the great pleasure of experiencing. She would have had a steady diet of Mackerel for breakfast, lunch, dinner and as a snack in between. In fact, the diet was so steady that they used to feed it to us when it was green inside (as in rotten) how they didn’t kill the entire school population with food poisoning I’ll never know. I guess we Cubans really have stomachs made of steel thanks to Fidel. One more thing we have to be grateful to El Comandante for. Although I seriously doubt he ever had one of ’em green Mackerel or the lentils that came with it. Or the white rice with borugas filled with maggots. Aaaaah, those were the good days indeed! Still, she’s complaining because of too much chicken. Back in the 70s we didn’t even know what a chicken looked like much less what it tasted like.

  • “As far as I know, you go out on a boat and drop a net.”

    Actually it’s not that simple. Maybe when you fish for your own consumption. Large-scale fishing involves infrastructure – from boats, ports, refrigeration plants, and distribution – and, above all, planning: you certainly don’t want to ‘fish all you can’ so that an entire population of seafood to be exterminated in an determined area. So governments employ biologists to constantly measure the density of certain species throughout the year, making sure fishing is limited during procreation times, and punishing those who practice predatory fishing.

  • I understand your uneasiness. I myself love fish too. I found a paper written by US and Cuban economists offering an overview of the Cuban fishing industry nowadays… seems to me that the Cuban distant-water fishing fleet suffers from serious lack of investment:

    Like all economy segments, fishing industry in Cuba has declined in an abysmally between the 80’s and the 90’s:

    For comparasion, per capita seafood consumption worldwide in recent years can be found here, as long with some interesting (I myself though that ‘ok Japan must be in the top’ but… no) statistics:

  • I share Lisduania’s question regarding the scarcity of fish to eat for Cubans. I can accept the argument that the food that must be imported because the ingredients are not available on the island would be hard to find and expensive to purchase when found. I also can imagine that even if the basic ingredients are available locally but require special processing to produce (like marmalade with fruit and sugar) that for a poor country like Cuba, it would not be a high priority. But fish? As far as I know, you go out on a boat and drop a net. During the years I lived in Cuba, I never found a Cuban who had a definitive answer as to why there is so little fish available to eat for regular Cubans. As is usually the case, there is always plenty of fish at tourist hotels. Not surprisingly, fish on the menu is usually the most expensive item, except when lobster is available. Interestingly enough, because nearly everyone who lived in my Central Havana neighborhood knew I was a foreigner, I was always the first stop for people looking to sell whatever black market product including fish. When fish was available, I was usually able to buy fish for about a dollar a pound.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.