NO FREE LUNCH: Food and Revolution in Cuba Today by Medea; Joseph Collins & Michael Scott Benjamin

NO FREE LUNCH: Food and Revolution in Cuba Today

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KIRKUS REVIEW

The IFDP's initial project was the massive 1977 manifesto Food First, written by Collins with Frances Moore Lappe; this modest and lucid study of the Cuban food system since the revolution, based on a five-year research project, suggests that the Coast-based think-tank has other important contributions to make. Benjamin, Collins, and Scott first briefly describe the present situation from the point of view of a typical two-job, three-adult family (husband, wife, mother-in-law) raising two small children. For all the bother of ration books, queues at four different stores, meat allotments that don't stretch through the month, and undependable supplies of various items, the authors plainly point out that people like the Garcias are being fed, and not too badly. The actual allotment of resources to the business of feeding people is, they show, rooted in the seat-of-the-pants learning process characteristic of the regime's fitfully achieved best aspirations. They discuss the evolution of the rationing system and its top-heavy bureaucratic baggage; examine the checkered history of land-distribution reform since the revolution gave title to ""tenants, squatters, and sharecroppers"" (and thus legitimized a class of private small farmers who will probably hang on for some time); and note the still-conspicuous inefficiency of the big state farms in comparison with a raft of stubbornly thriving private producer co-ops. The Cuban diet itself, while magnificent by third-world standards, is in the authors' opinion not as nutritionally--or economically--sound as it might be if key officials didn't largely ""accept uncritically the 'modern' western diet as superior."" The regime is also, they note, an unquestioning adherent of the ""Bigger is Beautiful"" school of farming and--after some impractical early efforts at diversification--has had to reconcile itself to a sugar economy. All this material is examined in a spirit of thoughtful curiosity: if the authors give great and generous emphasis to the regime's pioneering achievement in meeting a basic human need, but also quietly mark a number of costly boondoggles and comic-opera absurdities, there is a standard being applied, not a mechanical attempt at balance. Unassuming and exemplary.

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 1984
Publisher: Institute for Food and Development Policy (1885 Mission Street, San Francisco, CA 94103)