Disparities in access to food are one of many social inequalities with significant impact on longevity and health. In the United States, food desserts and cheap, processed food have lead to an epidemic of obesity, diabetes and heart disease disproportionally affecting the poor who have little access to healthy, nutritious food or health insurance. This epidemic is spreading globally and many epidemiologists now consider food related disease to be a pandemic. In countries where poverty is absolute, the poor suffer from malnourishment and starvation due to inadequate supply of healthy food and calories to meet daily survival needs.
I became interested in the food sovereignty movement in Cuba after using research from Food First to write a research paper about hunger in Haiti. Haiti and Cuba have similar topographies and climates, though Cuba has done much to restore natural environments and soil to grow food. While Haiti has become increasingly dependent on aid from Western countries, Cuba has focussed on being food sovereign. The impact of food sovereignty has many social and economic impacts, so that the reach of this movement is much more significant than addressing hunger alone. For example, food aid can be used as a weapon where other economic advantages can be negotiated. A dependent, hungry nation is a cheap labor pool waiting to be exploited. The cost of desperation has significant social repercussions reaching far beyond the obvious.
When I learned that I could travel to Cuba with Food First to see the movement in person, I knew this was an experience not to be missed. When Barack Obama opened talks with the Castro brothers, I knew that I needed to see Cuba immediately. We just beat the First Family by two months, our trip spent ten days in Cuba in January of 2016.
Our Food First Food Sovereignty Tour was an incredible experience, never disappointing. We saw a UNESCO world heritage Biosphere, many urban gardens, permaculture sites, and organic farms. Everywhere we went we felt safe, people were happy and people were healthy. The food was unbelievable. We dined in many paladares and experienced farm to table dining made lovingly by families sharing the art of cooking and their connection to the earth. You learn as much from what you don’t see in Cuba as from what you do see. We saw no homeless people, no people with mental illness, and no guns. Cuba is the only country I have been to in the world, where you cannot see poverty in people’s bodies. Eyes were clear and white, teeth straight and white, no lesions on the skin and consistently healthy BMI.
Additionally, Cuba is a very highly educated, sophisticated country, unmatched in my travels in Latin America. Havana is a gorgeous, cosmopolitan city sometimes referred to as the Venice of the Caribbean, because when the sea is restless it splashes over the sea wall surrounding the city, flooding the streets. I read somewhere that only the French are brave enough to let their buildings fall into aging so elegantly. Cuba too has that feeling. Like a beacon of light in the Caribbean for all of us to learn from.