Sunday, February 21, 2016

Cuba redux-- food allergies etc

So we're back from Cuba and I have been thinking about the food-- which was delicious.
There are many items that seemed safe== and there were many items that were not safe.
Let me explain.
Many dishes in Cuba are shellfish and seafood-- it is an island after all. These dishes-- many of which I tasted-- were delicious and served family-style to tables.  Not that the lobsters and shrimp were served with the white flat fish ( like monk fish or snapper) or served with the chicken dishes. But that separation was at the table-- what happened in the kitchen?
  Because as Americans we have not had a lot of communication back and forth with Cuba and Cubans, although their medical system produces many extremely well-trained doctors and medical personnel, I have no clue if Cuba is aware of food allergies or not.  Looking on the internet gleaned me nothing on statistics or even research data-- again, because I think our countries were not exchanging information of this sort. Even searching the FARE website comes up with nothing on "CUBA."
   But back to the food: We did encounter peanuts as bar snacks-- like in US bars-- although very little food included peanuts as a visible ingredient.  A couple of times, we saw almond slivers. Cheese did not cover dishes, nor seem to be hiding in the mix-- there were lots of stewed dishes-- pork with tomatoes or lamb or shredded beef-- mostly with tomatoes and onions and peppers, not cheese.
I think soy is relatively unheard of in this country which imports much of its food and relies on basics.  We saw lots of the same ingredients mixed in different ways: peppers, eggplant, onions, chicken, lobster and shrimp, pork.  at some of the more elite restaurants, we sauce a cream sauce or two.
  I initially thought, this would be ok for people with food allergies, but as I spent a little more time, I did become wary-- also, I don't speak Spanish, that would help since the Cuban people we met were highly educated and well-read, and willing to help us for any reason.
  But, what if the lobster spoon is rinsed lightly and then spoons the rice onto a plate-- what if the sauces are shared from beef to fish or eggs are used, and not seen?  These are the risks I thought of-- although it looked safe, I could not be sure. But--that cuts both ways-- maybe it is safe if someone is only allergic to shellfish or peanuts; but maybe it's not for someone with many food allergies. I just don't know how to think about it.  ( I only had to worry about shellfish and tree nut allergies, which as I said, seemed very avoidable.)
However-- completely in another vein:, I kept thinking: IF there are no food allergies, big 'if', or a low low incidence of food allergies-- why? many other countries seem to have an increasing incidence of food allergy-- including the US-- why would this island which has been relatively isolated since 1959 have a low or non-existent level of food allergy?  A question I will pursue, since it seems Cuba, if food allergies are really low, could afford a "control group" possibly, in a natural experiment, for researchers to investigate.

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