Meatless Monday: The Eve of Pigs – A Cuban Vegan Crisis

Here in Latin America where meat is king vegan sympathizers are hard to find. For the month of January, Meatless Monday will explore the Cuban experience for vegetarians/vegans.
When I returned from a Christmas trip to Cuba, I was most looking forward to eating vegan poutine at Fresh restaurant, baking my own whole grain bread and eating copious amounts of vegan protein sources with a variety of vegetables.

Read our Cuban primer post  from our sister site Weal World Travel

When in Cuba be prepared to not eat gourmet nor very healthy. White rice and white bread abound whilst a variety of whole grains remain scarce. The method of cooking seems to be frying and/or boiling as ovens were difficult to spot. This is a meat centric country with some regions specializing in and noted for their seafood. Oh and pig is very popular here too, particularly at year-end for Christmas eve celebrations and New Year’s eve barbecues.

Bakeries are plentiful and easy to find throughout Cuba. They sell cheap bread that is baked fresh daily. I suggest bringing some nut butter with you so you can make your own lunch sandwiches or breakfast food. Complete your DIY meals by finding a local market or street vendor for fresh fruit and a bag of nuts. If you have access to catering facilities you can also purchase some vegetables to make your own salad.

In Cuba vegetarians can subsist on a diet of pizza with cheese, ice cream and tortillas (i.e. omelette) while vegans will find themselves eating a lot of rice with vegetables and perhaps the occasional spaghetti with tomato sauce. Soup, salad and rice with beans are usually suitable for either vegetarian or vegan.

My travel advice?
Bring along energy bars, pack some portable protein and have whole food bars, supplements and vitamins with you to ensure you get some decent nutrition during your trip. And persist in your commitment to a vegan/vegetarian diet. It is challenging but it is possible.

The food:

  • Grains:
    -Bread is widely available and there is even ‘Cuban bread’ (more on that later…). Bread here is often eaten alone or with guava paste and/or cheese. Beware as butter or lard may be lurking in the bread.
    -Just white rice, often cooked in some sort of oil.
  • Fruits:
    -pineapple, guava, oranges, the occasional apple, bananas, coconut
  • Vegetables: 
    tomatoes, cucumber, cabbage, green beans, white sweet potato, pumpkin and sometimes onions if you’re lucky
  • Dishes:
    -While vegetable and/or bean soup exists on many menus, it is a bit iffy as an animal based stock may be used.
    -Rice with beans is widely available but is sometimes served with meat and may be prepared with animal product.
  • Dessert:
    -Cake most likely contains dairy and eggs which is fine for vegetarians.
    -Chocolate! (More on that later…)
    -sesame seed bar, peanut bar often made with honey
    -sugar cane
  • Protein:
    eggs, nuts i.e. almonds and peanuts
  • Specialty:
    There seemed to be some sort of love affair with Italian food. Pizza and spaghetti were widely available just about everywhere, in small towns and big cities, as street food and in higher-end restaurants.






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