Food in Cuba
The Pursuit of a Decent Meal
Hanna Garth


Contents and Abstracts
Introduction: In Pursuit of Adequacy
chapter abstract

This chapter introduces the central concepts of the book and outlines the Cuban food system. There is little to no hunger or malnutrition in Cuba, yet many household members in Santiago de Cuba say that their food system is insufficient and they cannot access enough of the foods that are central to their local culinary traditions. Drawing on long-term intensive ethnographic research, this chapter interrogates the questions: what makes a provisioning system adequate? and adequate to what ends? The chapter introduces the politics of adequacy as the central theoretical framework for understanding why Cubans struggle to access specific foods that they connect with nostalgically, socially, and individually. Situating Cuba's food system within larger systems of global and national distribution, it outlines the book's focus on food acquisition as an intervention into food scholarship.

1 La Lucha
chapter abstract

This chapter outlines the strategies and tactics that people in Santiago de Cuba use to acquire food. It analyzes the lived experience of the politics of adequacy and the ways skin color and class impact food acquisition. Drawing heavily on ethnographic data, this chapter details Cubans' everyday experiences with the food system. It analyzes relationships between the stressful experiences of food acquisition and participants' notions of an ideal or decent cuisine, which derive from memories of previous eras and remembered pasts told by those who lived through even earlier food systems. Although most households struggle to access food regardless of class or race, it is clear that low income and darker-skinned individuals face more barriers to accessing food. The chapter argues that a deeper understanding of processes of food acquisition across race and class augments our understanding of food distribution and its role in food security.

2 Antes
chapter abstract

This chapter focuses on how orientations to the past come to bear meaning on contemporary Cuban life. It draws on ethnographic data in which people from Santiago de Cuba (santiagueros) reference historical periods they recall as shaping their notions of a decent meal, a good life, and an adequate provisioning system. This chapter analyzes three historical periods commonly invoked: 1) the period of Cuban independence when the rise of Cuban identity and the notion of Cuban cuisine came about, 2) the period just before and after the 1959 revolution when food distribution and everyday life radically shifted as Cuba became socialist, and 3) the Special Period of the 1990s, a time of economic crisis after the collapse of the Soviet Union. The chapter weaves together ethnographic data referencing these periods with historical information to illuminate the ways in which nostalgia for the past influences how people experience the present.

3 Virtuous Womanhood
chapter abstract

This chapter focuses on household dynamics and the gendered dimensions of food adequacy, elaborating on the ways gender inequalities are exacerbated by the changing food system. Despite women's much improved ability to access education, work, and health care, as the Cuban food system shifts away from state provisioning, women take on disproportionate amounts of increasingly difficult, time-consuming, and unpaid household labor. It argues that when the gendered forms of care that are enacted through food preparation and provisioning are undermined by an inadequate food system we see the foundations of household and social relations being to unravel. Focusing on food and the politics of adequacy reveals that women take on much of the work to hold the food system together, and as this work becomes increasingly difficult the burdens on women have significant impacts on household dynamics more generally.

4 Community
chapter abstract

This chapter focuses on the dynamics of food adequacy and social relations in the community. The faltering food system has profoundly shifted ethical orientations to resource sharing in Cuban communities. This chapter reveals the ways Cubans turn to different tactics and strategies for acquiring food. These tactics and strategies are understood within a locally conceived ethics of exchange, a system built around reliance on a network of "socios" (acquaintances) and the "palanca" (leverage) to acquire goods and access services though informal channels. As the state provisioning system wanes, people must increasingly rely on social networks to access foods, and yet scarcity within those networks can lead people to turn to practices of food acquisition that undermine the very social connections that they rely upon to survive. This difficulty becomes a personal and social bind that demonstrates the ramifications of an inadequate food system.

5 Breakdown
chapter abstract

Building on the arguments about the connections between food acquisition, the community, and local understandings of ethical practices, this chapter examines the ways in which the changing food system can become extremely difficult and result in an emotional or social breakdown. The narratives detailed here illuminate the ways in which struggling is an ethical orientation and moral process in and of itself. The chapter draws on person centered ethnographic data to understand the affective states in which Cubans find themselves during this time of transition in Cuba. It outlines the ways in which the changing food system can lead people to breakdown. These breakdowns, which are often experienced as unwelcome and lamentable, become evidence of the inadequacies of the state provisioning system. Through these affective states Cubans grapple with the politics of adequacy and reflect on what basic needs are necessary for a good life.

Conclusion: The Politics of Adequacy
chapter abstract

The conclusion draws together themes highlighted throughout the book to argue that the waning of Cuba's socialist food provisioning system has had a profound influence on associated social interactions, placing strain on family and community relationships. This is interpreted locally as a "change in character." The chapter details how shifts in subjectivity impact how Cubans "imagine community" and imagine themselves within a nexus of national and transnational relationships. Building on the politics of adequacy, this chapter demonstrates how post-Soviet Cuban subjectivity contributes to a broader understanding of issues of adequacy and the politics of distribution.