Sunday, January 1, 2012

Cuba’s Vegetable Rage

Cuba's Vegetable Rage
December 31, 2011
Janis Hernandez

HAVANA TIMES, Dec 31 — In Cuba, the trend toward vegetarian diets is
becoming more popular. Though it has been fueled by the mass media and
health food advocates, it still hasn't been easy to motivate most people
in this regard.

Cuban dining culture has historically been sustained by the consumption
of meat, fish and carbohydrates (with this latter having been the basis
of the diet since the advent of the Special Period crisis starting the
early 1990s).

Likewise, the inconsistent availability of vegetables and their high
prices in state-run markets have dissuaded many from vegetarianism.

We should remember that barely ten years ago the vegetarian rage broke
out in Cuba as vegetarian restaurants sprouted up in cities and towns on
the island. Nonetheless, it proved to be impossible to sustain these
establishments, with their homeopathic plates and naturopathic dishes of
solely fruits, grains and vegetables.

Their menus begin to see green vegetables replaced by portions of
chicken and anything else that had nothing to do with vegetarianism.

There are, however, some individuals — because of the positions of
leadership they occupy — who can enjoy the luxury of vegetable-based
diet therapies (even rather exotic ones). An incident which I witnessed
a good while ago allows me to testify to that fact.

As part of a series of lectures and debates that I had to attend, the
main guest was a senior government official in a major ministry.

The confirmation of her visit created a major uproar, not only because
of the prestige of this scientist, but also because my co-workers were
responsible for seeing to her meal for that evening. As this was to
consist solely of vegetables, they would have to go around from place to
place looking for the most appetizing vegetables. In fact they enquired
as to what were his preferences.

But they were left with their jaws hanging wide open when they got the
response saying: "Anything, provided it's fresh. Oh, but not broccoli –
it gives her stomach acid!"

Needless to say, broccoli is not grown in Cuba; it is a native of
Europe, where it's consumed in all its varieties. Here it can only be
found as an imported product that is sold in markets that specialize in
products sold in hard currency, making it almost unattainable and
unknown to most Cubans.

In fact, if you asked about it, a good number of people wouldn't know
what you were talking about.

To the ordinary Cuban, that space on their plate is reserved for
lettuce, spinach, watercress and cabbage. Extravagant vegetables like
broccoli, asparagus and mushrooms are only available to those in high
positions, those who are able to enjoy the pleasure of choosing in the
middle of the vegetable rage.

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