Living on rations in Cuba: Meals made up of rations and goods from farmers’ markets

By ANITA SNOW – Associated Press – May 31, 2007

HAVANA (AP) _ The ration book that determines most Cuban diets _ and that will briefly rule mine _ fits in my palm. Thick brown pages list amounts of foodstuffs to be checked, signed and stamped at “la bodega,” the local government distribution center.

In my eight years as Havana bureau chief for The Associated Press, I’ve developed great friendships and deep respect for the Cuban people. But as a foreigner paid in U.S. dollars, I’ve never lived the way most Cubans do, using their ingenuity to make sure there’s enough to eat at month’s end.

The foundation of the Cuban diet is the communist government’s ration book, or “libreta,” and as a foreigner, I’m not entitled to one. Cubans, meanwhile, are barred by law from selling or trading their deeply subsidized rations, which cost 33 Cuban pesos a month, about $1.30. That’s roughly 10 percent of the average government salary of 350 Cuban pesos, about $16.

But food is so central to life and culture that I won’t fully appreciate the Cuban experience until I eat as they do. So I’ve decided to spend June eating nothing but the rations and other food that Cubans earning an average salary can buy at farmers’ markets using Cuban pesos.