Say Yes to Veggies, No to Meat

To march through Havana advocating ethical treatment of animals and encouraging local residents to eat more vegetables is an idea so silly that it is quite likely to increase the anxiety of many a Cuban living in the capital and become an object of their ridicule.

PETA Activists. Photo: Frank Correa
PETA Activists. Photo: Frank Correa

Yet, that was precisely the goal of PETA, American organization defending the rights of animals, when it sent a group of its female supporters to the streets of Havana several days ago to encourage the consumption of vegetables, fruits, legumes and salad greens and cut the consumption of meat products. The ladies walked the shabby streets of the city wearing only bikinis made of lettuce leaves. Trudging among potholes, rubble and rivers of sewage, they even fed stray dogs that came in their way.

Not that the idea itself wasn’t authentic and original, but promoting it in a country where vegetables and other garden products may only be “looked at, but not touched,” is ridiculous. This, however, is not due to any prohibitive decree by the Ministry of Internal Trade but is a result of both astronomical prices and a low quality of farming products for sale.

Moreover, the eating habits of most Cubans are miles away from diets in which green food predominates. Foods of red colour are much preferred on the island, and I’m not referring to tomatoes, radish or beet. The product that all Cubans dream of (literally) is beef, since one kilo can cost up to 20 USD, which corresponds to the average monthly salary in Cuba.

With regard to respect for animal rights, most Cubans don’t care. There’s not much to expect from a population whose only justification for keeping animals is the hope that perhaps one day, they will end up fried or roasted on the family table.

With some exceptions, many pet owners treat their pets roughly and are quite open about it. They often beat them or feed them insufficiently, which often results in abandonment. As a result, hundreds of dogs and cats live in the open, feeding on the rubbish they find in overflowing litter bins adorning the corners of many municipalities.

Sadly, the stickers distributed by the PETA ladies as well as the appeals they made to Cubans to eat healthily will soon sink into oblivion – as always and like everything else. Also, the call for humane treatment of domestic animals is quite likely to fail to have much impact on people living in conditions of “every man for himself”.

The fight for survival has laid the foundations for a pragmatic stance based on a carnival spirit gradually morphing into behaviours reflecting general barbarism, which seems to have settled in Cuba for ever.

Apart from individual culinary preferences, which should by all means be respected, Cubans clearly show reluctance to eat vegetables. I’m going to finish my brief article using the phrase I often hear in my neighbourhood: “Veggies are for goats. Give me meat, and if it is beef, so much the better.”

Jorge Olivera Castillo

Olivera Castillo is a former political prisoner. He published number of books. He lives in the old part of Havana.