When I was little my mother forced me to eat all my food. The phrase used to clear my plate was, “Don’t leave even a spoonful, there are other children in the world who have nothing to put in their mouths.” Within just a few years the profound crisis caused by the collapse of socialism in Europe totally changed the landscape of my table. Rather than evoking those who had less, we would ramble on about the delicacies others might be eating. These were times in which we talked constantly of lost flavors and products disappearing from the market. My parents stopped pressing me to eat more, but rather berated me for wolfing down the bread we received on the ration too quickly.
The crisis came into our lives but it didn’t leave. After more than twenty years of living with a collapsed economy, our skin barely reacts to the stings of difficulties. The world is frightened by indicators of economic catastrophe but my generation, raised among the rigors of scarcities, can’t imagine waking up in the morning without the distressing question, “What am I going to eat today?”
The financial debacle plaguing the world has some analysts predicting the end of a system. We are survivors of the long agony of another one, so the death rattle doesn’t frighten us. Our experience in living with the minimum will surely be useful if the problem continues. We may have to revisit the incredible recipes from the worst moments of the Special Period* such as “steak” made from grapefruit rind, or “chopped beef” made from banana peel. We will put these monstrosities on the table without pressuring our children to improve their appetites, for fear they may gulp down the rations for the whole family.
Special Period: Fidel Castro referred to the years of economic crisis after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the loss of its financial support as a: “Special period in a time of peace.”