Kill a Cow, Rot in Jail


Pretty good Chicago Tribune article, despite the over-reliance on nameless "experts," about how Cuba went from being one of the biggest beefeaters in the Caribbean to an island where cow consumption can earn you jail time. Excerpt:

Cubans have not always been hard up for beef. Before the 1959 revolution, Cuba was said to have as many cattle as people - about 5 million - and one of the region's highest per-capita consumptions of beef, experts said.

But Fidel Castro's revolutionary government nationalized the large land holdings of U.S. and other ranchers and slaughtered many of the cattle to make up for falling food production in other areas.

The beef industry never recovered, but dairy herds were built back up through huge investments and imported animal feed, experts said. Years later, when the Soviet Union collapsed and ended $5 billion in annual subsidies, Cuba lacked the money to import feed, and much of the dairy herd also was lost.

Today beef is found almost exclusively in state-run restaurants catering to tourists and dollar-only markets beyond the reach of most citizens.

The problems have been exacerbated by severe droughts and by what some experts describe as Cuba's ill-fated attempts to breed a superbovine that could thrive in a tropical climate. [?]

[P]er capita beef and veal consumption in Cuba has fallen from about 3.7 pounds per month in 1961 to just over 1.2 pounds per month in 2001, according to the United Nations. That compares with about 8 pounds of beef and veal per month consumed by the average American.

When I visited Cuba in 1998, a favorite way of getting beyond the grim, mostly meatless food rations was to raise a pig -- illegally, of course -- in your apartment. The only problem was the squealing, so Cubans would simply cut the little porkers' vocal cords.