Searching for Food in Cuba

Last week Bill and I were in Cuba with First-Hand Aid, the organization that brings medicine to the people there. Another way we help people is by assisting a food program called Meals on Heels, for which we bring lunch to elderly people who can’t leave their homes. I asked the program director how he shops for the food and he told me he spends Friday, Saturday, and Sunday each week going from market to market trying to find all the ingredients he needs to make lunch for 30 people from Monday through Friday. That’s 150 meals. And, in Cuba, sometimes no hay. Translation: there is none.

It’s not like in the U.S. or other industrialized countries where you can go to a supermarket and load up for the week. In Cuba, you have to go to the meat market, then the produce market, then the fish market, but the problem is there may simply be no fish that day. So you continue walking to other markets in the city until you find it (or don’t), sometimes logging 20 kilometers in a weekend.

Here are some images from our visit to a couple of the produce markets, where we were able to find onions, carrots, tomatoes, cucumbers, and squash–items on our shopping list for the week.

The corn, however, did not look so good. So we kept looking….

But no hay comida–no food here–at this market. So we kept on walking….

We did find some spices at the next market but no corn that was acceptable. Maybe tomorrow….

It’s a common problem in Cuba. Even when tourists eat at restaurants, sometimes the menu items are simply not available. Bill and I were in Havana a week and could not get rice and beans, a common Cuban staple, until the last night when we had dinner.

It just reinforces how lucky we are in the U.S. to have access to so much food from all over the world and, in particular, in Michigan where we have a rich bounty of local produce available even in the winter.

(If you’re interested in learning more about the Cuban economy as it relates to food, check out the article “Thirty Days as a Cuban” in Harper’s magazine. Sorry, but you’ll have to pay for it to access it online!)


4 responses to “Searching for Food in Cuba

  1. Looks like cuando hay comida, esta buena. Reminds me of the Mexican markets–but they’re always full of lovely meat, fish, and produce.
    Glad you had a good time.

    • Yes, cuando hay comida, esta buena! We love the food there. It’s muy sabroso! The meat and fish were offered at small stores–if they had it. We were able to get picadillo but not fish on our shopping day. Such is life there….Thanks for your comment, Kate!

  2. I so appreciate your humanitarian side. You are an inspiration! How did you get involved with the organization, and can anyone do this? I think everyone who has the ability should partake at least once in their lifetime in something like this. Me included!

    • I agree, Leesie. Everyone should do something like this at least once. I know of many domestic humanitarian efforts, too, for people who don’t want to go abroad or prefer to keep their dedication local.
      The way we got involved with First Hand Aid is because the founder owns a bar/restaurant that Bill and I go to in Grand Rapids, MI. We kept hearing him talk about his trips to Cuba and finally we just asked if we could go. Even though most people are from around here, really anyone could go on a trip. They’re always looking for travelers. You do pay your own way, so the commitment for airfare, papers, accommodations, and meals is at least $2,000. But it’s so worth it. Have you checked out the blog Bill and I have written for on FHA’s website? It shares a lot about our experience:
      Thanks for visiting, and for your continued support!

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