Read about Cuba and you won’t find much good said about the food. We wanted to find out for ourselves so we embarked on a private tour that I developed in conjunction with a local tour company in Havana. What we found was actually an amazing movement to fresh, organic foods and a link to Slowfood we had not known about before. In Cuba slowfood is starting to become known as a concept and as we travelled we saw many of the fundamentals of slowfood being practiced in vegetable farms, mixed farms and urban gardening programs. (This article is the first in a series about our tour.)
I had read about the massive changes in agriculture and food production that took place during the Cuban “special period” in the 90’s after the fall of the Soviet Union. But Cuba had embarked on a shift to more sustainable food production earlier than this when the Castro government called for nationwide action to promote intensive horticulture, using a technology they called “organoponics”. This was a technical term for creating self sustaining, productive soils without synthetic fertilizers and other chemicals. Changes also involved cultural practices like urban gardening in small plots of land, making use of roof tops, intensifying production of foods near the points of consumption (locally grown). The concepts were tried and tested in a living laboratory which continues today and our journey took us to meet some of the inventors, innovators and present day practitioners. In the process, we had some of the best food we’ve ever tasted and enjoyed the company of many new Cuban friends.
We had never been to Cuba before. The journey went without any hitches as Cuba has a well oiled tourism machine catering mainly to beach resort vacationers. Canadians make up the largest segment of visitors to Cuba and we seem to be treated well by the border agents.
At the arrivals area in Havana airport we met Adrian and Jorge from the tour company and we were more or less whisked away to Havana vieja and our comfortable guest house. Here in the heart of old Havana, just a half block from the Plaza del Cristo, we found no shortage of small outdoor bars and restaurants, street music and a lively night life. This was the start of a steep learning curve for us about the “real” Cuba that goes well beyond old 57 Chevy’s, pina coladas and cigars.
One of the most interesting discoveries: there are slowfood member communities in Cuba (11 in total) and that a group of dedicated members, farmers and cooperatives and held a national Terra Madre day in Havana 2012. Since then, new initiatives have blossomed under the gradual move to private enterprise in Cuba with farm to table restaurants, some of which we visited during our tour.
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