(Mi Tia’s neighbor fetching coconuts)
I’d be so wrong and would be renounced of my Latinhood if I ended the day without mentioning it’s been Hispanic Heritage Month for the last 29 days, ending tomorrow. I’m not exactly sure why I’ve failed to honor it somehow, but better late than never, so they say.
Yo soy Latina.
As I perused food blogs over the weekend, one recurring message I saw was World Hunger awareness. Like a sumo wrestler in his moment, it hit me. I wanted to be an open book for one day and speak my mind on something so important. Somehow it relates to HHM, so please bare with me. I’ll be quick and to the point.
One reader at someone’s blog stated how thankful she was for always having food at her table. I think it was Jen over at A2EatWrite. I agreed. But that’s not always been the case for my parents. As I child, I remember my parents always making sure we ate every.single.bite.of.food.on.our.plate.
I didn’t understand the incessant demand, but I finally learned.
You see in Cuba, as in other single standing Communist regimes, food is rationed. It was 40 years ago when my parents where young adults, and it still is today. Disgusting, but it is. I really couldn’t wrap my brain around someone telling me how much food I could eat. But sure enough, each month, Cubans receive their federal libreta, a small notebook bearing the family name, and itemizing what foods and how much of each, the respective family was entitled to.
Here is an example of what my parents received when I was a baby:
- 3 oz. coffee per person
- NO milk unless you had kids under 4
- 8 oz. can of sweetened condensed milk for child up to 10 yrs of age
- 2 lbs. cooking oil per family
- 1 whole chicken every 45 days per family
- 1 lb. beef every 45 days per family
- 6 eggs per person
- 1 lb.black beans per family
- 3 lbs. rice per person
- 1 dish washing tablet per person
There were a few caveats and exceptions. As a baby, I was entitled to a weekly formula called Bazal made up of filet mignon, plantain and malanga. How nasty, but okay. This was possible because my mother told “them” I was lactose intolerant.
My cousin, who now lives here in the States recently told me of her rationed amount per month, as recent as 8 years ago:
- 6 lbs. of rice per person
- 7 eggs per person
- chicken would come every 2-3 months
- meat was not available
Keep in mind that you still have to pay for this food. It’s not a handout by the gov’t. However, if you have American Dollars, you are allowed to go to the “American” stores and purchase an unlimited amount; that’s if you even had USD.
Can you imagine only having 6 pounds of rice and NO meat? No meatloaf or burgers! And 7 eggs?
I sure can’t.
But before my cousin immigrated here, I was in Cuba with her and my maternal family. Having been “briefed” on how life was, I was prepared (seeing as though conditions had worsened since my 1st trip 2 years prior).
So I thought.
I saw my frail aunt hustle our lunch and dinner everyday for two weeks. That meant bartering, selling panties, jewelry, socks, etc..or even agreeing to work a colleagues work hours, things we take for granted, in exchange for food. For 8 months before our visit, my aunt went as far as buying and raising a PIG in her backyard so that we would have pork to eat. I don’t need to tell you how I didn’t partake in the killing or eating of the poor little thing.
And then, I won’t even get into the unfathomable meat substitutions for dishes like croquetas or fried rice I saw all over the place. Nonetheless, mi abuela and tia were able to offer us food.
The image of my equally as frail grandmother, upon her return to Havana after her last visit with us here in States, was painful. She had gained 60 lbs. during her 12 month visit, all to lose it within 2 months on the island.
As an adult now, I have a deep-rooted issue with leaving food on my plate. I almost feel bad when I harass my friends for throwing food away or not finishing everything. I deem it an insult and make no apologies for it. If you’ve never experienced hunger, suppression, not having all the food you wanted to have or were subject to someone else telling you what you were going to eat, you might not understand.
I fully recognize that food goes bad and we are unable to use it all due to the demands of life. But if for a moment you can place yourself in the shoes of someone in Cuba or any 3rd world, impoverished country, where people are starving with NO ration system (ie, Haiti, most of Africa) (at least ration implies there is supply), maybe we’d re-evaluate our time, consumption and use of food. At minimum, the donation to a needy person, if we personally can’t get to use it all.
Just a thought to ponder.
So in light on Hispanic Heritage Month, I claim my pride for being a Cuban born Latina! I come from real poverty (food not being the only deprivation) folks, but am thankful for the incredible fight my parents fought (and still do!) to offer my 5 siblings a rich life, full of laughter, shelter, clothes (cute I might add), puppies, cello lessons, a white picket fence, a car at 16 for each of us, an extraordinary college education and good ass food, E.V.E.R.Y.D.A.Y.
And I send a shout out to every other Hispanic ethnic group in the world, for being resilient and beautiful.
World Hunger Must End. I’ll do my part in my lifetime to see it does.
What are you going to do differently?
Feel free to visit Jen’s site for a list of organizations that support and lobby for the end of world hunger.
PS: I know I said I’d be short and to the point, but I got carried away. And I could have kept going! 🙂
PLANTAIN CHEESEBALLS NEXT TIME FOR YOUR BELLY!
Eat well, love unapologetically, pray with true intention, and take care of yourself.