On Cuba’s ration book (from Repeating Islands)

Like many things is Cuba, food is a complicated subject. Variety is lacking, yet Cubans have an assured minimum food supply through the “libreta” – the Cuban ration book. The libreta was implemented after the 1959 Cuban Revolution as a way to equalize all citizens through food. In the beginning, the libreta covered most necessities. With time, items have been gradually eliminated from the libreta. Today, the libreta is used for bare necessities, prompting Cubans to supplement through the regular market. Moreover, there are ongoing conversations regarding phasing out the libreta, and replacing it with a more targeted safety net program. While the subject is not yet settled – changes will come sooner or later. This post from Repeating Islands provide an updated take on current debates on the faith of the libreta.

Repeating Islands

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A report by Hector Velasco for the Agence France Presse.

From one end of the island to the other, every Cuban can be sure of one thing: Their ration book, or “libreta,” will put at least the basics on their table at dinner time. When President Raul Castro tried several years back to do away with this enduring symbol of both equality and scarcity, he failed.

Next February, Castro, younger brother of the late revolutionary leader Fidel, will step down, and there is little sign that the ration book will go anywhere before he does.

Behind his failed effort was the major challenge facing whoever takes over running the Communist island once he steps down: how to open up the economy without a return to capitalism?

Is the ration book the greatest achievement of the Cuban revolution, or its most inefficient burden? The booklet encapsulates two very different views…

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Some Thoughts on “Eating Healthy”

“A new year, a new you” is the ever present slogan in commercials as 2013 comes to an end. A new year means a new “reassessment” of ourselves, and who we want to be. In concordance to this, weight loss is a very popular resolution in the United States, along with eating healthy, exercise and quit smoking. Health seems to be our personal responsibility, and it is tightly linked to what we eat and what we do in our spare time.

Last month, Food and Foodways published my article, “Local Notions of Healthy Eating and National Dietary Guidelines”. The research presented in the article was guided by the questions: How do people living in poor communities define what does it mean to eat healthy?  Are these definitions on par with those established by professionals? My motivation was to bring the points of view of my informants to policy makers and food and nutrition professionals. I wanted to question the assumption that “people don’t eat healthy because they don’t know or can’t afford it.” As well as the notion that only “if they knew better and had the means, their diets (and hence their health and lives) would be improved.”

What does it mean to eat “healthy”? The answers were as expected, reviewed below and further expanded in the article:

My informants were eager to talk about the importance of homemade foods for healthy eating, and talked about the unhealthy eating behavior of “others”. However, in more (rare) candid moments they confessed to their taste for sodas, treating themselves to fast food on special occasions, and the convenience of buying a pre-packaged foods and drinks. As I wrote the article and later finished my thesis, I thought of my own use of industrialized foods, how I have never cooked fresh or even dried beans, opting for the canned variety, or how we season our food with Sazón, Maggie or Knorr, instead of using fresh herbs and spices.

I finished my work in El Salvador (along with my thesis) about a year ago. And as it happens to researchers, upon the completion of this work, new questions came to mind as well as a reassessment of my own inquiries. I have become interested in the different perceptions and social acceptance concerning the use of processed, industrialized foods – different notions concerning the modernization of food systems. In addition, I am also thinking about the different conceptualizations of “good foods”, where do these come from and how they relate – or not – to definitions of “healthy foods”. By attempting to answer the question of how are healthy foods defined and perceived in contexts of scarcity, new inquiries came up on the the role of food in our lives and the need for more empathy when discussing or teaching what it means to “eat right”.