14ymedio, Havana, 2 December 2021 — Pork legs from the United States, Spanish milk and Mexican beans. At the tables of Cuban families, imported products outnumber the number and quality of the few foods that come out of the nation’s fields and industries. Simply writing “imported” next to an offer to makes customers feel more confident and seduced.
“My sister bought me the plantain tostones from a place that brings them frozen from the United States,” says a 45-year-old from Havana. “Luckily she sent them to me, because here there are no longer large plantains that are used to make good tostones, and with this I am guarantee to have at least one fried food for Christmas.”
In the same digital site that sells the frozen product, one can also buy fried ripe plantains, ready to warm up in the pan and serve. “One grew up believing that the banana was something from here, we even made fun of those clichés that they saw us as people who were always eating bananas, and now we have to bring them from abroad.”
Where the needle of preferences points more strongly to what is imported over the national is in sausages and meat products. The nosedive in pork production, the ups and downs of livestock, which has not quite raised its head despite the most recent flexibilities in the sector, and the deep mistrust of diners reinforce this trend.
“Pork takes on the flavor of the food you give the animal,” says El Pana, a pig producer from Alquízar, in Artemisa, whom 14ymedio has tracked since he started in the sector until he ended up, last year, dismantling his corrals, tired of not getting feed and affected by the entry restrictions to Havana due to the pandemic.
“When I was able to get fishmeal and the animal spent its fattening time eating that, then you threw a steak in the pan and it seemed that it was frying claria,” he says. “People have lost their reference and don’t even remember what pork tastes like, but I’ve been in this business for many years and I know when a pig ate garbage and when they gave it something else.”
“In the fat and meat of the animal a lot of what it has eaten accumulates, as soon as you cut a leg or a shoulder blade, you can notice it by the tone of the upper. Imagine when you put it to cook, all that smell comes out and fills the house. I cannot sell what I myself would not eat, and here feeding a pig correctly is impossible.”
In El Pana’s opinion, this is one of the motivations for opting for the imported product. “You realize that they are younger pigs, because they managed to reach the weight for slaughter in the time it should be and not like it happens here that, as it does not have feed, tie passes and the animal is still skinny. You can’t kill that way.”
“Not to mention chicken, it’s been a long time since almost everything has come from abroad,” acknowledges the producer. “Here in the area surrounding Alquízar we had several poultry farms, there is nothing left of that. Even the roofs and fences have been stolen little by little.”
Something similar happens in livestock. The stores that only accept payment in freely convertible currency (MLC) and the digital sites that offer their merchandise for the emigrants to feed their families on the Island are full of cuts of beef coming mostly from Spain and Uruguay. An inquiry in one of those portals about the possibility of buying national meat yielded a brief answer: “We do not offer Cuban beef. It does not meet the quality requirements.”
In the same message, the customer was offered the possibility of buying a package of “chopped veal meat, ideal for skewers” or a tray of “ground beef fillet,” imported from Spain. Another “cheaper” option is “a kilogram of totally Iberian beef skirt.” Crossing the Atlantic seems to add more symbolic value to the merchandise.
While in many countries there is an increase in movements favorable to local commerce, which favors local products, in Cuba consumers are opting for imported food. Local consumption is barely concentrated in some produce, seasonal fruits and vegetables, but with the rise in prices in recent months, sometimes a canned or frozen product is cheaper.
“A pound of beans is above 90 pesos when you can find it,” says Victor Manuel, a retiree who frequently visits the agricultural market on San Rafael Street in Havana. “To give it flavor, I have to buy just a little chorizo or bacon, as well as add onion, garlic and other seasonings. When I take out an account, a fabada — bean stew — for my wife and for me comes out at more than 180 or 200 pesos.”
“My son, who lives in Miami, buys me cans of Asturian bean stew through stores and on the internet, which cost less than four dollars each. My wife and I eat with two without going back and forth to the agri-market and without so much mess with the pressure cooker. Cheaper and it has nothing to envy compared to what I could do in my kitchen with what little there is.”
“Before, at Christmas, almost everything that was eaten was from here, though perhaps the nougat or cider came from elsewhere, but now the table looks like the United Nations,” jokes Víctor Manuel. “What does not come from Mexico, comes from New Zealand. Crazy.”
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