Yenisel Rodríguez Pérez
HAVANA TIMES – Weeks ago, Margaret Chan, the director of the World Health Organization, visited Cuba. While the official publicly praised the country’s pharmaceutical industry, she spoke of the need to pay attention to the issue of a healthy and balanced diet (with the prudence that such a pronouncement requires, of course).
She reminded the officials present at the meeting that the short-term profits generated by fast food are eclipsed by the high costs of treating chronic, non-transmissible conditions associated to their frequent consumption.
It is clear the official was well-informed about the high morbidity rates associated to the country’s poor eating habits.
Despite the relevance and timeliness of the issue addressed by the director of the WHO, the Cuban media made no reference to her comments at all, as part of what I consider to be a deliberate omission.
Despite the fact the issue is widely addressed by television programs dealing with health issues, I don’t recall ever seeing a public debate on the role that Cuba’s State food industry has played in the development of poor eating habits among Cubans, particularly in recent times, when the science of nutrition has made considerable progress.
Today, the menus at Cuba’s State food industry establishments are a litany of super-greasy processed cold meats, extremely salty minced meats, snacks fried in saturated oils that are several days old, soft drinks and rancid sandwiches.
This way, the commercial departments of the State food industry cut back on production costs and continue to offer a limited range of high-calorie products that are detrimental to the health of low-income consumers, which are the main customers of the State food industry.
This reveals a lack of a real political will aimed at designing healthier options that give consumers a broader range of choices.
There have been attempts by the State food industry to offer the public healthier options in recent times. Ultimately, however, they have proven demagogic strategies that have sought to conceal the precarious condition the sector is in and they perished when they ran into the habitual setbacks and absurdities of the system. An illustrative example were the short-lived vegetarian restaurants.
Some of today’s isolated initiatives, like the sale of natural juices, have only intensified the problem, as the facilities lack the infrastructure needed to store and sell these natural products. The juices become fermented in the dispensers before they are sold to the public, causing as many health problems as the most synthetic of soft drinks.
Of course, the Cuban State is far from assuming a responsible attitude concerniing this, and regional initiatives like Plato de buen comer (“A Healthy Dish”) implemented by the Mexican government to encourage healthy eating habits have eclipsed its efforts. Likewise, the initiative of the Ecuadorian government aimed at raising taxes on junk food as a means of discouraging the excessive consumption of these products.
Another example of the double standards that characterize our authorities is that, after rubbing elbows with ecological and alternative diet movements around the world, they end up validating the hegemony of economic interests through their social policies.