Thursday February 1, 2007

“A city-sponsored party at the Orange Bowl would annoy many Cubans on the island who once supported the Cuban dictatorship, and who — while critical of it now — have fears about their future. And a more subdued, official ‘‘public event’‘ without a clear focus would not be much better, since it would inevitably turn into a party. Instead, Cuban exiles should hold a prayer service for the victims of Castro’s military regime. In addition, they could use the occasion to expose Cuba’s disastrous economic policies by collecting food for the Cuban people, who — under their food rationing cards — do not have access to any red meat; only three quarters of a pound of soybean picadillo per person per month.” — Oppenheimer’s thoughts.

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  1. greentreehugearthguy    Thu Feb 1, 11:44 PM #  

    No humans should eat cows.

  2. alesh    Fri Feb 2, 06:42 AM #  

    Michael Polland distilled the wisdom of The Omnivore’s Dilemma into a NYTimes article which everyone should read (Actually everyone should still read the book . . .). He further distills his instructions into seven words which open the article:

    Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.

    (He distinguishes “food” from “other edible foodlike substances in the supermarket.”)

    So yes, Oppenheimer’s using the steak as a tool to illustrate his point is vivid, but not the best example.

  3. Alex    Fri Feb 2, 07:37 AM #  

    It is actually the best example because of its symbolism. Vegetables are more or less available in Cuba. Meat, particularly steaks and ham, is very had to procure. The words for steak and ham have become part of the vernacular to designate prosperity, for example, when one’s life is not going well we say “esto no es jamón” (this is not ham) or the US is referred to as “la tierra del jamón” (land of ham). Sometimes when people leave Cuba for good we’ll simply say “se fué pal jamón” (he left for the ham).

  4. Babe    Fri Feb 2, 08:38 AM #  

    Alex, I resemble those remarks.

  5. Alex    Fri Feb 2, 09:05 AM #  

    You know, I didn’t even know ham was a part of pork. I tought it was processed meat, like spam. I’ve never seen a ham, just slices. When I had my first Thanksgiving and saw the bone, it was a total “ahhhhh” moment.

  6. alesh    Fri Feb 2, 01:58 PM #  

    Yeah, you’re right. BUT. From the article I link:

    in America during the war years, when meat and dairy products were strictly rationed, the rate of heart disease temporarily plummeted.

    So while the symbolic value of a steak works very well for the example, well, you know.

  7. Alex    Fri Feb 2, 03:54 PM #  

    Believe me, Cubans in the island have a long way to go before consumption of red meat becomes a problem. BTW, a few years ago there was an epidemy in Cuba of toxic optic neuropathy (gradual blindness) caused by, among other things, nutritional deficiencies including lack of vitamin B due to absence of animal protein in the diet.

  8. mkh    Fri Feb 2, 04:35 PM #  

    That brings up an interesting idea. I wonder how things would work out if we enforced government rationing of meat again to make Americans healthier, and then subsidized the bloody end of agribusiness by shipping most of the meat overseas to our enemies where they could get fat and die of heart failure.

    Of course, given that most other nations are our enemies these days, we might have to step up production a bit….

  9. nonee moose    Sat Feb 3, 06:40 AM #  

    I like mine with lettuce and tomato…

  10. alesh    Sat Feb 3, 11:39 AM #  


    I wish I could laugh at that. But the trans-fats bans that are sweeping the nation now (they were talking about it for Florida on the JCooper show the other day!!) is some of the scariest fucking shit I’ve ever heard. It actually frightens me more then a lot of the absurd anti-terrorist paranoia security theater we’ve gotten caught up in.

  11. Manuel A. Tellechea    Sun Feb 4, 02:23 AM #  

    In Western civilization, the consumption of ham has always been viewed as an indicator of prosperity. This was so in Cuba and I am sure that it was also so in Alesh’s native Czech Republic. This is the meaning of the English expression “To live high on the hog.” Alex’s admission that in Cuba he didn’t even know that ham came from a pig demonstrates just how disconnected Cubans have become in the last 48 years from the food chain. It is not an apocryphal story but one that has happened thousands of times and to which all Cuban exiles can attest: the experience of finding themselves in an American supermarket after years of deprivation often causes the new refugees to break down in uncontrollable sobbing.

  12. Manuel A. Tellechea    Sun Feb 4, 02:34 AM #  

    Once Cuba is free, what an experience it will be for Cuban children (all Cuban “children” born after 1959) to see let alone eat an apple or taste butter for the first time. Thousands of products that have never been seen on the island after 1959 but which were staples before 1959 will no doubt bring an entire nation to tears at the realization that for 48 years they have been fed the swill that would have gone to pigs if humans didn’t need it to survive.

  13. alesh    Sun Feb 4, 09:09 AM #  


    Actually, chicken was the big scarce luxury; beef was sort of plentiful. (I might point out also that a hog is pork, not beef.) But this is a case where the devil is most certainly not in the details, and a crappy food supply, in terms of quality, quantity, variety, is one of the hallmarks of communism. (Of course the situation is much worse in Cuba then it ever was in Czechoslovakia.)

    I would be interested in a cookbook of native Cuban food from during the Castro years. Obviously most of what you get in Miami Cuban restaurants wouldn’t be in it; I wonder what would be? In the old country a lot of what my family ate was some degree of “poor food,” but it was always delicious anyway.

    One last caution: don’t pretend that everything will be fixed overnight when communism falls. It’s a shock to the economic system, and very likely things will get worse before they get better (although of course not if US aid kicks in). And get ready for some serious political bickering — if the Czech Republic is any example, Cuba will have a strong socialist/communist political party for decades after. It might not be so pretty.

  14. Steve    Sun Feb 4, 11:55 AM #  

    Alex, I had a similar epiphany regarding tequila. Until I visited Mexico, the only tequila I’d ever had was Cuervo, which, being basically crappy, I rarely touched. Somebody handed me a shot of a first-rate Reposado — don’t know which one — and now tequila is just about all I drink any more.

    Alesh: those 7 words from Polland pretty well sum up my diet for the last 30 years, which is one reason you see me wearing the same Jordache jeans you enjoy mocking that I bought in the early 70s.

    Still. If god didn’t want us to eat animals, why’d he make them so tasty?

  15. Wendy    Sun Feb 4, 02:09 PM #  

    Donde esta la carne?

  16. Manuel A. Tellechea    Sun Feb 4, 02:34 PM #  


    This will answer all your questions:

    Are you acquainted with the name Nitza Villapol? She is the “Julia Child of Cuba,” Julia, that is, with an empty refrigerator and pantry.

    Villapol is the author, of course, of that classic of Cuban cookery “Cocina al Minuto.” No book by any Cuban author has sold more copies in the United States than Villapol’s manual; yet she has never made a cent from it. Why? Because she chose to remain in Castro’s Cuba, where for 47 years she has run the Cuban Institute of Culinary Arts and hosted a cooking show on Cuban tv.

    For every recipe she has to suggest a hundred substitutions, knowing that her viewers don’t have at their disposal the original ingredients or the substitutes. Speak of surrealism in Third Dimension!

    Well, the indomitable Villapol published 15 years ago a new revolutionary edition of her classic cookbook. It was very “revised,” to be sure. Where shall I begin? I better not, for where should I stop? If you want to know the full extent of our national tragedy you have only to compare the pre-Revolution to the post-Revolution edition.

    The first edition of “Cocina Al Minuto,” was published in the 1950s when Cuba was the largest consumer of beef in the Western Hemisphere after Argentina and Uruguay. Of course, things have changed: cows in Cuba today are models for statues, not for human consumption.

    In fact, in the 1st edition Villapol chided her countrymen for eating so much beef and ignoring the island’s rich variety of seafood. For the latest edition of her book, published in Havana, in 1991, Villapol wrote a new “Introduction” where she now claims that beef was never a staple of the Cuban diet and that only 4 percent of the population consumed it on a regular basis. To prove her point she quotes several Communist economists and Blas Roca in what sounds like an introduction to “Socialismo Al Minuto.”

    She ends on the triumphant note that despite the embargo and all manner of U.S. predations Communist Cuba still exports food products. This should be a comforting thought for those who try to follow her recipes (where everything is a substitution of a substitution of a substitution).

    Would you like to make mayonesa without oil? Or perhaps you would like to make it without vinegar? Or without eggs? Well, she tells you how to do it. In fact, the only thing she doesn’t substitute is the air. By the way, nobody ever made mayonaisse by scratch in pre-Revolutionary Cuba. That’s what supermarkets were for.

  17. Manuel A. Tellechea    Sun Feb 4, 02:37 PM #  


    I always thought that in Czechoslovakia and all the Eastern bloc countries the most plentiful meat product was sausage (of whatever composition). Something that Cubans might well envy.

  18. Alex    Sun Feb 4, 03:13 PM #  

    “I would be interested in a cookbook of native Cuban food from during the Castro years. Obviously most of what you get in Miami Cuban restaurants wouldn’t be in it; I wonder what would be?”

    Other than the Nitza Villapol book, I don’t think there is one. Her recipes were published in sunday newspapers and a monthly magazine, she also had a half hour cooking show. I’m sure some of the recipes are scattered on the internet. She died an ardent Castro supporter, in 98.

    The food in Miami (I think we talked about this some other time) is very different than the food in Cuba. Some dishes, like “vaca frita”, are no longer made. Others have evolved out of necessity, for example “carne con papas” was made with russian canned meat, and known as “carne rusa”.

    BTW, not to start another flame war, but apples have been available in Cuba. During a particular period in the late 80s, you could find them everywhere. And state-produced butter was delicious, full of milk fat. Scarce, but similar in quality to Lurpak or Plugra.

  19. alesh    Sun Feb 4, 03:29 PM #  

    Steve~ Yep. I think God wants us to eat animals in moderation. So does Polland.

    Manuel~ Yep, sausage. Endless varieties of delicious, fattening sausage. Thanks for pasting in the Nitza Villapol info again; I sort of missed it in the beans and rice discussion . . . unfortunately, none of her books seem to be available anymore (one used copy of Cocina Criolla is on Amazon for $65).

    . . . hmm, actually, now I see this. Any thoughts?

    Alex~ A quick google search turned up one desert recipe, plus the book link above. Not much to go on.

  20. Manuel A. Tellechea    Sun Feb 4, 05:16 PM #  

    Apples were available for a brief period in the 80s, Alex says. Eggs were plentiful for a period in the 70s. People should not have to eat foods by decades.

    If milk is not available in Cuba except to children under the age of 7, how widely available can butter be? It may be the best butter in the world, but it is also the scarcest. Dairy products are all but absent from the Cuban food pyramid (and what a monstrous edifice that is!) The only food scarcer is beef. In fact, possessing or consuming beef can put you in jail for a decade because all cows are state property and beef is not on the Cuban ration card. So if you are caught with beef you are presumed to have engaged in theft of state property.

  21. Alex    Sun Feb 4, 05:29 PM #  

    Alesh: your link it’s the real thing, but I think it’s a new edition aimed at tourism, not the 1980ish one in Cuban homes. BTW, that company, Publications Exchange, is where I used to work in Cuba. “Cocina Criolla” is the same as “Cocina al Minuto” name changed for copyright issues (the prducers of the pre-Castro show own the trademark).

  22. Manuel A. Tellechea    Sun Feb 4, 05:34 PM #  


    I have both editions of Nitza Villapol’s cookbook — the pre-revolutionary and revolutionary editions. If any recipe interests you, tell me and I’ll translate it for you. Frankly, reading the 2nd edition, I felt as if it was all about some bizarre foreign cuisine that I had never heard of, so little did it have in common with traditional Cuban cooking.

  23. Manuel A. Tellechea    Sun Feb 4, 05:54 PM #  


    It’s a small world. I purchased my copy of the Communist edition of Nitza Villapol’s book through Publications Exchange, which had a warehouse in Homestead (damaged in a hurricane, as I recall). In fact, I still have their old book catalogs. I purchased hundreds of books from them and may have been their biggest non-institutional customer. They used to advertise in The Nation.

    Of course, you cannot fight the enemy unless you know what the enemy is saying (or eating).

    And to think, Alex, that I helped to support you for all those years.

  24. Alex    Sun Feb 4, 07:51 PM #  

    Wait, you read the Nation?

    You’ll be happy to know that PEx is part of a MININT controlled, Cuban-owned enterprise. (I probably designed those catalogs). So not only you supported me, you paid money directly to Castro’s till.

  25. Manuel A. Tellechea    Sun Feb 4, 09:03 PM #  


    I have always sought to familiarize myself with what the other side is thinking and doing. I really do not see how it is possible to do otherwise if one wants to expose their lies. There is nothing that anyone on my side can teach me, but much that I can learn from the enemy about his methods and aims.

    I have no objection to paying for the books I want or need to read. This is, after all, a capitalist transaction: I pay for the books and the books are delivered. I can also add that these are the only transactions I’ve had with the Cuban regime where I was not a hostage or the victim of theft.

    It is foolish to think, by the way, that nothing of value is published in Cuba. In fact, if you are equipped to identify and dismiss the propaganda, there is much that is useful in their publications for someone who is interested in history and especially literature.

    I will shock you even further when I tell you that I maintain correspondence with the few Cuban writers of my generation still residing on the island.

  26. nonee moose    Mon Feb 5, 01:30 PM #  

    Cue the picture of a meadow in spring… Alex running from left to right, Manuel from right to left. String music wafting in the air…

    And then the earth cracked open and swallowed us all up.

  27. Manuel A. Tellechea    Mon Feb 5, 05:28 PM #  


    Very strange fantasies you have, nonee. When you say that “the earth cracked open and swallowed us all up,” do you mean that it swallowed the rest of you but left Alex and me standing on the meadow in a vain attempt to reconcile our irreconcilable worldviews? Such a fate would be the most horrible that heaven could design for me. But since dreams mean exactly their inverse, I will suppose that your dream means that the world will survive but Alex and I will perish, which would certainly be the better alternative, all things considered.

  28. Manola Blablablanik    Mon Feb 5, 07:27 PM #  

    Screw the meadow. We want mud wrestling!

    Since Steve has the Jordache jeans and tequila, he should be referree.

  29. Manuel A. Tellechea    Mon Feb 5, 08:17 PM #  


    Alex feels as if he’s about to be checkmated, so he has fled these precincts and taken refuge in his covert.

  30. Manola Blablablanik    Mon Feb 5, 09:04 PM #  

    Manuel, cada loco con su tema, no?

  31. nonee moose    Tue Feb 6, 09:09 AM #  

    You are meddling with the primal forces of nature. Use the handrail.

  32. Manuel A. Tellechea    Tue Feb 6, 08:44 PM #  


    At my age, I am myself a force of nature and whoever meddles with me is swept away in my wake, not even handrails will save them.

  33. jordan massengale    Wed Feb 7, 02:13 AM #  

    Las barandillas? Que tal campesino de muletas! I’ll smack you in the cabeza with a slice of canned peach from Alesh’s Fruit Cart !

  34. nonee moose    Wed Feb 7, 11:11 AM #  

    mr. jordan is speaking in tongues, again…