Eggs, Meat and Sugar: Cuban Rationing Tightens, People Suffer

Published on May 14, 2019

How much meat do you eat in a year?

How many eggs do you eat a year? How much rice? How much sugar? If you’re the “average” American, those questions have answers that would leave even the hungriest person satisfied. But if you live in Cuba, the answer is wildly different.

A History of Hardship

In 1960, the United States began a stranglehold embargo on the small island nation which receives 70% of its food through trade, dropping it into chaos. What was once available and easily obtainable became growingly scarce, until the local supplies ran out completely. Chaos and an unstable food supply rendered the country all but helpless. And like many countries facing such a crisis, in 1962, Cuba instituted mandatory rationing.

And this helped the problem. Rationing is a sound practice after all, and the United States has used it itself from time to time, the idea being to insure equal distribution of goods, so no one hoards, and so no one goes hungry. This system worked relatively well, with varying degrees of success until 1991. In 1991 the Soviet Union, Cuba’s main trade partner fell, and the trade path of supplies slowed, and eventually stopped which made the already isolated country even more friendless, and further limited the availability of goods.

As the Union fell, and as supplies and trade ceased, Cuba entered a period known as the Período especial, or the Special Period in Time of Peace. During this time, the average Cuban citizen lost around twenty pounds, and goods became even more scarce, while a widespread famine gripped the island. The period lasted around nine years, and by the year 2000, Venezuela and Russia began active trading with the island, and normalcy was largely reestablished, although rationing remained a part of everyday life.

Fourteen years of growing success and stabilization began a slow decline around 2014, when Venezuela began to destabilize. Venezuela’s struggle has been a culmination of years of hyperinflation, shortages of food and medicine, and other humanitarian crises, dramatically lowering the countries ability to maintain it’s own population, let alone provide support for another country. Over the past five years, supplies, including vital crude oil used to power most of the island have slowly stopped, leaving Russia as the one of the only main trade suppliers of Cuba.

Although the country has enjoyed warming relations with the United States, these events have worsened the situation on the island, and beginning in May, 2019, stricter rationing protocols where put in place to combat the long-term shortages and to attempt to insure continuity of services.

Rationing in Today’s Cuba

I asked, in the beginning of the article, if you knew how much meat you eat in a year. The answer, may surprise you: If you are the average American, the answer is around 222 lbs (100.7 kilos) or a little more than half a pound a day. We also tend to enjoy a variable smorgasbord of meats, from beef, to pig, to chicken, to fish. If you where living in Cuba, and where somehow managing to receive the full ration assigned to you (a rarity)  you would eat around 160 lbs (73 Kilos) of mostly chicken per year, on it’s face, a 27% reduction, and a major protein change.

In Cuba, meat is scarce and supplied sporadically and randomly, meaning you rarely get your 2 Kilogram’s of meat as allowed for every ten days. Instead, you perhaps enjoy the occasional chicken when the carniceria you are assigned to finally receives the shipment that was due days ago.

While meat rationing may sound extreme, the rationing of eggs is even stricter. Assuming, once again that you are the average American, every year you consume somewhere around 280 eggs, for many American’s, that number is dramatically higher. In Cuba, when eggs are available, you may receive your allotted five eggs for a month. Enough for two omelettes, or perhaps a cake. In the all but fictional scenario where one receives their full years ration, you would receive at most 60 eggs. As with meat, eggs are a highly sought after commodity, and the scarcity and limitations of supplies make this allotment of sixty annually unlikely at very best. In fact, most Cubans don’t see eggs for large portions of the year.

The rations include other allotments for things like rice, sugar, cooking oil, and a daily bread roll, and all in all, If rations where dispersed in full, every Cuban would be able to receive at absolute most 2829 calories per day. Now, on first bluster, this number seems to fall well within daily nutritional requirements. After-all, 2000 is what our own Department of Agriculture recommends, but even this is 700 calories below what the average American consumes. The problem comes from the distribution of the goods.

Across the nation many of these shipments fail to arrive, or arrive in smaller than anticipated proportions, on schedules unknown and unpredictable. For thousands of Cubans, this means that every day is lived in a kind of scarcity Americans never have to worry about.

The numbers quoted in this article are what the ration’s where before the new wave of restrictions, and it can only be guessed at what the new numbers will bring. Regardless of the severity of the changes, they are sure to injure those most venerable, the Cuban people. I quote above pure science, calculations and mathematics that illustrate what a human being can physically survive on, but that also leaves a hole in the soul.

Food: The Fundamental Unionizer

Food is the fundamental unionizer. From when we crawled from the primordial ooze and struck rock on rock and harnessed fire, the hearth is where we go to eat, and to share, and to be protected. It is a family affair, it is the way we retain sanity, it is the way we embody our ancestors through recipes and traditions, and it is a fundamental right for every human being.

Yet still, in a day you eat more variety than the average Cuban can expect to see in a month. You enjoy foods that will never be available for them, and we cannot take for granted the luck we have for the abundance which we enjoy. Far to often, in battles of kings, presidents, and emperors, in public debates and publications, we forget the humanitarian cost of our actions.

The people, who go without because of our very real decisions, decisions that seem so far removed from the spectrum of reality, are affected by our choices. So the next time that you eat a meal, or go shopping, remember that you don’t have to wait weeks for fresh meat, or months for eggs. Remember that our prosperity is a product of our countries work and diplomacy, and remember the Cuban farmer, who is trying to feed his family on less than $20 a month, and would love to eat the beef in your fridge.

Aaron Lee is a staff writer at Grit Daily. An activist, a foodie, and an author, he does a little bit of everything. Based in Milwaukee, Aaron is in a prime culinary epicenter, where the best and the brightest come to shine. Also a master of small space cooking, he once cooked a 14 pound turkey in a college dorm room.

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