A new week has dawned and a fresh task is quite literally on my plate as I continue with my rationing challenge. This week I will be trying to live on the equivalent of the rations Cuban citizens receive from their government.
When I think of the concept of rationing, I can’t help but automatically think of Britain in the Blitz, the Dig for Victory campaign and the types of World War Two recipes I inflicted on myself last week. But rationing has taken many forms around the world and the Cubans have had more than their fair share of it. They have been living under the rule of what’s known on the island as the Libreta de Abastecimiento, which translates as ‘supplies booklet’ – since 1962. Originally the ‘libreta’ was only supposed to be a temporary measure introduced during the crisis in 1962, so many Cubans are unhappy that it has lasted for nearly 50 years. While there have been rumours that the Castro regime plans to disband the rationing system, these have yet to become reality although potatoes recently came off the ration list. The government claims the system helps ensure each citizen receives a minimum level of sustenance, but critics say it’s unreliable and merely a way of controlling the Cuban people. Prison sentences for black marketeering or ‘cow killing’ can be harsh.
In the Cuban rationing system, each household has a libreta or ration book through which they purchase rationed items at the local bodega or shop. Similar to the system established in the UK during WW2, households have to buy most of their rationed items through the bodega with which they are registered and are unable to purchase them elsewhere. These items are sold at government subsidised prices and rations can vary depending on the age and health of the citizens in the household.
Cuban’s receive their rations on a monthly basis, although, that said, there are often seem to be shortages of certain foodstuffs, long queues and complaints at the quality of certain items. As I am only carrying out this challenge for a week, I have reduced the monthly rations to a week’s worth:
Rice – 675g
Beans – 143g
White sugar – 350g
Dark sugar – 350g
These and the meat rations mentioned below are thought to cover between one third and one half of Cubans’ calorie intake for a week. Other items have to be purchased outside of the rationing system, which can be tough as Cubans’ average earnings are around $20 per person per month. I will also have an extra £3.25 with which to supplement my rations – roughly a week’s Cuban wages at current exchange rates. Many Cubans also receive a free meal at work or school cafeterias at lunchtime.
Meat and poultry is distributed separately every 15 days and rotates between products. For the benefit of my challenge, I have allotted myself 113g of minced beef (1/4 lb) for the week. It doesn’t sound like an awful lot, but I should count myself lucky as the rationed beef in Cuba is often mixed with soya bean to make it stretch further. Apparently Cubans call these types of meat product, Objeto Comestible No Identificado, or ‘non-identified edible object’. At least they still have a sense of humour after 48 years of rationing. Whether I – a rationing weakling – will retain one after a week of Cuban rations remains to be seen…
Could you survive on Cuban rations? Do you have Cuban relations or friends who do so each day? How do they manage? Leave a message and let me know.
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