14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Generation Y, 6 March 2019 — Now that so many situations we are experiencing in Cuba remind us of those hard years of the 1990s, the stories of substitutions that were made in kitchens and in meals also return. People on the streets remember how they managed to cut a small bread into innumerable slices to eat during the day, how they dyed the rice yellow with pills from a food supplement, or turned a banana peel into fake mincemeat.
María is 43 and remembers very well those times when the national economy hit rock bottom. After petroleum and the buses, the next thing there was a shortage of was cooking oil. “My sister worked in a pharmaceutical laboratory,” she recalls, and this allowed her to bring mineral oil home, a product used as an ingredient in some medicines and one which has no smell or taste.
The problem of using mineral oil for human consumption, as happened in Cuba where it was substituted for cooking oil, is that it also worked as a powerful laxative. “When you put the food in the pan with the boiling oil it made a white foam, and after you ate it you had to put cotton in your underwear when you went out because it literally was dripping out of you like a broken car.”
“All my clothes were stained with grease and since there was no detergent and hardly any soap, that was also a problem,” recalls María. “Terrible things happened to me, like in my first interview I left an oil stain on the seat where I sat.” But now her concerns look not to the past, but to the present. “I don’t want my son to go through this, it’s shameful enough that I had to.”
María, with all the skills needed to adapt, currently prefers “to boil, steam or poach rather than fry,” something very common in Cuban cuisine, which has been impoverished in recent decades due to the lack of ingredients. “Specialists will say that it is healthier without oil, and perhaps they are right, but good nutrition is not imposed by scarcity, but rather by learning to choose,” she says.