News and Facts about Cuba

Cuba’s State-Run Food Industry and Culinary Traditions

Cuba’s State-Run Industry and Culinary Traditions
December 1, 2014
Yenisel Rodríguez Pérez

HAVANA TIMES — The greatest damage to Cuba’s food industry isn’t to be
found in the precarious working conditions and poor services in the
sector but in the destruction of the culinary traditions that were once
a part of the identity of the island’s main provincial capitals,
particularly cosmopolitan Havana.

Disastrous State management made it impossible for new generations of
Cubans to come into contact with a work-related imaginary that was
sustained by the sale of food products at grocery stores and bars,
croissant sandwiches, beer-on-tap and fried snacks of every kind.
Because of this, more than the products themselves, what we urgently
need to rescue is the spiritual dimension of the sector, the feeling of
belonging and professional ethic of those who work in it.

The undermining of national and local culinary traditions is not
something unique to State authoritarianism. Consumerist capitalism has
also dismantled popular culinary traditions and idiosyncrasies,
replacing these with homogenized fast-food franchises and other
transnational establishments.

What characterizes subsidized and bureaucratized managements like those
in Cuba is perhaps the fact that they are unable to be dynamic in any
way, that they are devoid of any logic (be it industrialist, neoliberal
or what have you). This way, we lose much and all we get is the filthy
aesthetics of seventh-rate cafeterias where one is hard pressed to find
anything save mere survival strategies.

Though individuals always have a degree of precarious autonomy through
which they can choose to distance themselves from the established
system, the bureaucratic system is most to blame for this situation.

Barbarism has triumphed. First came the expropriation of those who
embodied the country’s culinary traditions, mostly small business
owners. Many of these were forced to leave the sector or become
employees at State cafeterias.

Then, through the Sovietization of society, Cuba would renounce many
traditional foods and services – the preamble to the 90s, a period of
severe shortages that led to a radical break with tradition. It was a
coup de grace to popular food culture.

The timid recovery that followed reached a peak in 2006 and, today, it
seems to have come to a halt in a kind of no-man’s land. Free enterprise
hasn’t managed to create an authentic services culture, contenting
itself with a rustic economic rationality that ends up disdaining the
consumer much like the State does.

It is understandable that the methods and jobs created by the country’s
administrative bureaucracy should be undervalued, but there are other
realities that link us directly to the pre-Castro era, the reservoirs of
an exemplary culinary imaginary that many are unaware of.

Many of the barmen who work at State cafeterias are an example of this.
Most are elderly men who have been working in the sector for many years
and had some kind of contact with the legendary bars before the revolution.

Many of these gentlemen make an effort to have face-to-face dealings
with patrons at the bar, something that is hard to come by at other food
venues in Cuba. They are able to serve many customers at the same time,
offering a better and more efficient service than that offered by
waiters at adjoining cafeterias.

Of course, such details can only be appreciated through an unprejudiced
approach, as, despite their good intentions, these practices are
embedded in marginal social contexts.

In this connection, I’ve noticed – and not without surprise – that many
Cuban television programs address the figure of the barman and his
know-how. I hope this initiative will not become caricaturized and
nostalgic and that it will take on the political dimension needed to
rescue a very important part of our traditions.

Source: Cuba’s State-Run Food Industry and Culinary Traditions – Havana –

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Follow Us
Visit Us On TwitterVisit Us On FacebookVisit Us On Google PlusCheck Our Feed
December 2014
« Nov   Jan »
1 2 3 4 5 6 7
8 9 10 11 12 13 14
15 16 17 18 19 20 21
22 23 24 25 26 27 28
29 30 31  
Donate for Servers
We run various sites in defense of human rights and need support to pay for more powerful servers. Thank you.
Cubaverdad on Twitter
Tweets by @Cubaverdad