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Beef, what’s that?

Beef, what’s that?
LOURDES GÓMEZ | Santiago de Cuba | 20 Oct 2015 – 4:31 pm.

The dearth of protein in Cuba is already endemic. There is almost
nothing available, even in hard-currency stores.

“Chicken for fish and fish for chicken,” it says on a beat-up blackboard
at a butcher’s in Veguita de Galo, a community in Santiago de Cuba. The
products are due to go bad soon, and on the same board one can read, in
large letters at the bottom: “Just 24 hours, NO REFRIGERATOR.”

“What came in?” Orlando, a 79-year-old retiree, asks Raphael, 81:
“They’ve brought fish for chicken.” Orlando stares with resignation at
the crowd gathered in front of the butcher’s as he waits his turn.

After disappearing for months, fish has become part of the Cuban diet
once again, with mackerel in Santiago de Cuba, and sardines in
Guantánamo. The crowd anxiously awaits its 17 oz. They’ve gone a long
while without fried fish.

It’s the ongoing challenge of protein, as one might call the ceaseless
struggle to integrate it into the average Cuban’s daily diet. The
protein sector has been the hardest hit by the food shortages. Not even
hard-currency stores are safe from the scarcity; previously stocked with
chicken, turkey, offal and some sausages, now, to their customers’ great
dismay, their refrigerators have been empty for weeks.

The unexpected shift from fish to chicken, though mollifying many, is
not expected to last. The government-regulated monthly dose of chicken
had become the Holy Grail when it came to proteins in Cuba. It is the
“preferred” meat of the younger generation – which knows nothing else.
The fact that it is imported from the United States or Canada makes it a
delicacy, as opposed to pork, more accessible and cheaper.

Never mind that this imported chicken is fattened like a pig, oozing
with fat. Most Cubans eat the skin, make cracklings from the big ones,
and use the fat to cook with. In fact, one of the most coveted varieties
at shopsis “chicken carapace,” consisting of the bird’s dorsal skeleton.
There’s no fear of high cholesterol. Once a month doesn’t hurt. The
poultry supply for the domestic market consists of hen, when it appears,
so these chickens have no competition.

According to many, the sea has dried up – a national joke alluding to
the absence of fish in shopping carts. The selection at state fish
stores is disappointing: crab claws, fish croquettes and sausage. The
little fish sold is left for the weekend, tench and catfish mainly,
invasive species that have exterminated the native tilapia.

We are vegetarians by necessity. Rice is the dietary mainstay,
accompanied by some other simple food, or eggs, when possible. Expensive
meats are also exclusively weekend fare. It is not surprising that young
people have poor eating habits. Their ignorance is such that many have
never eaten shrimp or rabbit, let alone much-prized beef.

It was hoped that Cuba’s recent accords with its powerful neighbor would
improve this essential aspect of daily life, but so far things have been
getting worse, a fact documented by a Cuban national who resides in
Miami. Astonished by an empty refrigerator at a shop,all she could think
to do was get out her camera and “I must put this on Facebook.”

Source: Beef, what’s that? | Diario de Cuba –
www.diariodecuba.com/cuba/1445351466_17602.html

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