This project examines the ways Cuban families struggle to access food and maintain a decent quality of life in post-Soviet socialist Cuba. Drawing on ethnographic research in Santiago de Cuba, the island’s second largest city, the research reveals how Cuban families struggle to acquire food and assemble “a decent meal.” The research illuminates the social and emotional dimensions of the practices of food acquisition. With the collapse of the Soviet Union in the 1990s and subsequent loss of its most significant trade partner, Cuba entered a period of economic hardship known as the Special Period in Time of Peace. Although new trade agreements have significantly improved the quantity and quality of food, supplies have not returned to Soviet-era levels. Several years after the worst scarcities of the Special Period, many Cubans report that they have continued to live with food shortages and economic hardship. One of the most common ways of dealing with food scarcity was luchando la vida (struggling for life): the arduous task of finding ingredients seen as essential to what is considered a “decent” meal. To understand this situation, the project introduces “the politics of adequacy,” which detail how people resist and make sense of scarcity and the changing availability of basic life necessities, such as food. This work is based on fieldwork inside the homes of 22 families. Spanning neighborhood, social class, household income level, and skin color, this research captures previously undocumented details of household dynamics, community interaction, and individual reflections on everyday life in Cuba today.


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