What I remember
I first visited Cuba around the year 2003. I spent one month studying at the University of La Habana and had some time to visit Trinidad and Pinar. I was a vegetarian back then, so finding something to eat was not a problem, even if you had to buy cheese and eggs at the black market. Meat was a luxury item, so it was not easy to find it in street food stalls. What really shocked me was the condition of stray animals: everywhere I went I saw miserable cats and dogs, ill with skin diseases , so thin you could see their ribs, and many of them had their ears cut, I really don’t know why. People of course got shocked and angry when I asked for meat for the animals, in a time when many humans didn’t have enough to eat. I left the island in deep sorrow because I couldn’t do anything for the animals, and nobody was going to do anything soon.
The situation now
After 15 years things have changed a lot, for better and for worst. On one hand, stray animals now are quite well attended (at least that’s what I saw in La Habana): you can find pet food in shops, people are more conscious about them, and there is also a NGO that cares for them; it is called PAC (Proteccion Animales de la Ciudad) and it is part of the Sociedad Cubana de Zoologia. They take care of injured animals, neuter and deworm them and look for a home for the ones in need.
On the other end, nevertheless, meat consumption seems to have increased to madness; certainly due to the lack of food of the previous years, now everyone wants to eat meat: in pizzas, in hot dogs, with rice… Everywhere you look you’ll find people eating and serving meat.
Of course we have to remember that in Cuba there are no fake meat alternatives or plant based milks (at least I didn’t see them), but talking to people it is really clear how meat is a status symbol more than a real alimentary need; anyway, many cubans will tell you that without meat they’d only eat rice, beans and fruit, that they don’t have a true alternative… and it may be partially true.
Vegan food in Cuba
In the picture above you can see a pizza “sin queso” (without cheese) from a cafeteria in La Habana: when I didn’t cook my own meals at home I used to eat in those places, as they are the cheapest ones; if you decide to eat in a more touristic place you’ll probably find more vegan friendly options but of course you’ll also pay a lot more.
You will soon see that it is quite hard to find something vegan here…I usually just asked for a pizza without cheese, making sure that there was no animal fat in the bread. Be careful with rice and beans, sometimes it is cooked with lard.
If you decide that you will cook most of your meals at home I strongly recommend you bring something from home: you cannot enter the country with fresh products, but you’ll have no problems with pasta, legumes, bread, jam or sweets. Apart from rice and fresh food, everything is so expensive and difficult to find in Cuba, don’t expect a supermarket around every corner.
The really amazing food you can find are, of course, fruits and vegetables, I wrote a post on the best markets of La Habana here!
Anyway, if you are in Cuba and you feel like you have nothing to eat, remember that this has been the feeling of a large part of the population for years: if we are in trouble we can decide to spend something more to eat what we want, but many people, still now, find it difficult to have a proper food selection in their daily life… so just enjoy the mangoes and the aguacates that you’ll have every day 🙂
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see you all soon!