In a few short weeks I will be heading to Havana and beyond to meet with Cubans who are striving to preserve their food traditions among imminent change, and to witness how Cuba’s edible culture is moving toward economic and environmental sustainability. This has been a trip long in the making. Like many, I have been fascinated by an island seemingly stuck in time (even as I knew that the people were never stagnant, even if many of its visible trappings appeared to be). Yet while I fantasized about planning a trip as a curious tourist, it wasn’t until my interest was piqued as a storyteller and researcher that I finally make my flight reservations. My recent look at craft food production in the United States in my book Small Batch taught me much about “artisanal” industries in America – but as I wove together these stories I realized that they represented only a small fraction of the experiences of those striving to keep traditional food preparation and preservation methods alive and relevant in the world today. I wanted to tell those sometimes overlooked stories too. And as the barriers to travel to, and do business in, Cuba fell, I felt the urgency to learn about this culture – specifically this food and drink culture – on the cusp of certain change.
I am in the process of creating my itinerary, with visits planned to the lush urban farms of Havana, and a not-for-profit group whose mission is to teach the younger generation how to cook and preserve their local bounty using traditional recipes. I also hope to visit paladares (small, in-home restaurants) and meet small batch food producers, and am excited to meet people whose passions are, like mine, often consumed with food that can say so much about who they are and where they come from. I welcome recommendations and look forward to sharing these stories with you, both here and in future projects.