Kill a Cow, Rot in Jail

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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.

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  1. Well, since many of Castro’s Western defenders tend to support animal rights, they probably think tossing a peasent for dining on illicit beef is a good thing.

  2. Make that:

    …tossing a peasent in the gulag for…

  3. Is this really a “workers’ paradise” when beef if only available to wealthy foreigners? I’m always amazed when far lefties go around praising Cuba. No, I’m not tarring your average left-leaning person; 98% of the left-leaning people I know despise Castro. But there’s that fringe that still insists Cuba is some sort of paradise, and it baffles me how they can continue to stand by that party line when Cuba’s inequities make our capitalist society look like, well, what Communism was allegedly “intended” to bring about.

  4. “Meanwhile in the US, it’s illegal to test cows for Mad Cow Disease.”

    So offshore the testing: send a couple of pounds of meat from each cow to Cuba. Distribute the meat to each according to his needs, and monitor for Bad Stuff(TM) happening as a result.

    Except it’s probably illegal to export meat to Cuba.

  5. Meanwhile, Castro’s intellectual brethren here won’t let me super-size my fries.

    Cuba, I feel your pain.

  6. thoreau,

    “98% of the left-leaning people I know despise Castro”

    You must know a very distinct fraction of the left. I know of many politicians, actors, professors who love Castro. I have not heard of many people who “praise Cuba’s communism BUT hate Castro”

    Most of them respond with “Cuba’s universal healthcare and high literacy rate …blah …”

  7. Zorel-

    Most Americans who lean left are not affiliated with some sort of radical lefty group, they’re just ordinary people who happen to favor Democrats over Republicans. And those people tend to regard Castro as a dictator.

    Actors, politicians, and professors are hardly representative of Joe Schmoe Democrat.

  8. >Castro’s intellectual brethren here won’t let me super-size my fries.

    Amusing to see the makers of McDonald’s corporate policy cited as Castro’s brethren.

  9. Considering that this policy was a reaction to the various food-porn brigades and trial lawyers salivating over the possibility of super-sized settlements, I see quite a parallel to Castro.

    Or do you think it was just a coincidence that McD’s stopped super-sizing at the same time as these lawsuits were threatened?

  10. “…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.”

    Under such circumstances, Castro himself might have come up with the same solution.

  11. The fatties’ potential lawsuits are losers. It’s just good business on McDonald’s part to respond to market forces. The super-sizing was a gimmick whose time had come and gone. Their menus have always been driven by market forces.

    McDonald’s choosing to discontinue the the promotion is a far cry from the government stepping in and handing out jail time for serving portions too big.

  12. Serafina,

    Riiiiiight. It just happened to come at the same time as the lawsuit threats. Just a coinky-dink.

    I guess Wendy’s must be out of touch with the market, then, since they’re still biggie-sizing. 😉

  13. Wendy’s, I’m sure, is adequately in touch with its market, which is a bit different from McDonald’s. The fact is, as you so helpfully point out, that different businesses are free to make their own decisions on portion size and prices. People are perfectly free to waddle over to Wendy’s for the biggies if McDonald’s portions are now too stingy in comparison. I’m sure if enough customers moan and wail at their loss of the supersize and vote with their pocketbooks elsewhere, McDonald’s would come through for them. But I don’t see it happening.

  14. “You honestly believe that McDonald’s felt that its market wanted *fewer* meal options? That people didn’t want a convenient way of ordering a large soda and fries with their Big Mac?”

    Most McDonald’s customers would love to see $100 bills given away with Happy Meals. So what?

    The lawsuits are part of a larger movement of people changing their ideas (or developing some) about food and nutrition in general. A radical fringe files lawsuits, the rest of just order differently at the counter. McDonald’s is reacting to a changing consumer environment.

    Unless you consider the new medium-calorie, medium-fat flatbread sandwiches part of the conspiracy as well.

  15. Wendy’s, I’m sure, is adequately in touch with its market, which is a bit different from McDonald’s.

    Wendy’s knows that the number-one target in the fast-food lawsuits will be McDonald’s. Wendy’s can, therefore, afford to keep doing the “biggie-size” thing, because it knows that it won’t get nailed until well after McDonald’s does, and in the meantime has a shot at stealing some of McDonald’s market share (since people do, in fact, want biggie-sized meals).

    A parallel would be the numerous “morning zoo” shows that are routinely raunchier than Howard Stern, but which escape (a) fines and (b) pressure to clean up their acts because he’s the big target who gets hit with the big FCC fines, and they’re the small fish nobody much cares about.

    McDonald’s would come through for them. But I don’t see it happening

    You honestly believe that McDonald’s felt that its market wanted *fewer* meal options? That people didn’t want a convenient way of ordering a large soda and fries with their Big Mac? That’s pretty ignorant, Serafina.

    McDonald’s killed the “super-size” options because it’s trying to lower its public profile before the class-action lawsuits, with the inevitable multi-billion-dollar verdicts, start coming out of the woodwork. That’s only “market pressure” if you consider “fear of thieves and extortionists” to be a form fo market pressure.

  16. Immediately after announcing the change McDonald’s shares rose 56 cents, or two per cent, to a 52-week high of $28.99. Yeah, you’re right. It was a very bad business decision for those craven corporate cowards.

    And it was desperate news, I’m sure, for the rotund who might now have to pay a little extra to keep up their weight or expend a few extra calories pressing the gas pedal a little more to drive down the block to Wendy’s.

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