Funny how we can rewrite history to suit romanticized notions of what might have been. We see that now, as relations with Cuba have shifted and many want to reinvent a nostalgic period that—quite possibly—existed more in the imagination than anywhere in the island nation.
The heritage recipes of Cuban families, the cooking techniques and culture—these are the realities to preserve and explore with renewed passion. But, as our cover story reports (page 46), Cuban chefs returning to their homeland discover that basic ingredients like flour and sugar, even eggs and coffee, are hard to come by. Cooking in Cuba requires creativity and improvisation.
Things are different here in the land of plenty, where chefs can craft Cuban cuisine that surpasses all historical precedents.
Reflections of bygone times were unavoidable in the context of the Cuba feature, but surprisingly, I found myself also thinking in a historical sense in the story about Cheap Eats (page 40). That story, about pricing as a business strategy, addresses the concepts of value, affordability, and profitability. One key takeaway: Become less wasteful.
In the micro-sense, yes, it’s worthwhile to note that minimizing food waste benefits business. But from an even more important macro-perspective, we need to address issues of food waste to help feed the hungry. That’s hardly a new concept as childhood recollections of the Clean Plate Club will attest. It never made sense how eating all the food on my plate could benefit starving children but, like Cuba, that idea was a misrepresentation of reality as well. The Clean Plate Club actually dates to the early 1900s, when food was in short supply in the U.S. and everyone was encouraged to eat everything on the plate, but in smaller portions so there would be plenty to go around.
Now our country has plenty, but not all of our people do. Roughly 70 billion pounds of “good, safe food” goes to waste each year, according to the Feeding America organization. Through this service entity a network of food banks provides aid to the roughly 48 million people in the U.S. who face “food insecurity.” That includes some 15 million children plus about 7 million seniors. Feeding America also estimates that more food goes into landfills and incinerators than any other single material.
It’s a hunger problem and a sustainability issue, one that the Green Restaurant Association is addressing: Restaurants that donate weekly to a food bank or shelter, or that offer half of their entrées in portions that are 25 percent smaller, earn points toward green certification.
Perhaps it’s time to be just as improvisational with the abundance of food we have in America as Cuba has to be with its smaller supply.