According to dictionary.com one of the meanings of the word 'perspective' is: 'the faculty of seeing all the relevant data in a meaningful relationship'. So, in a sense, the word carries with it an analytical and rational message that underpins its relation between perception (seeing) and interpretation (the data).
That one's perspective is shaped by circumstances is beyond doubt. Theories that we held dear in our younger years, sometimes fall by the wayside once our attitude to life changes. And oftentimes, too, we find that our experience of past events has suddenly taken on a hue that goes from light crimson to pale reddish purple. That was certainly the case recently when I learned, via The Economist (10th October 2009 issue) that Cuba's famous 'free lunch' (please, note the quotation marks) was coming to an end.
Under the headline, 'Giving more than taking away', the state-run daily newspaper, Granma, highlighted recently an initiative by the Cuban government to shut down workers' canteens and provide instead a compensation package of 15 pesos per day (approximately 37p in the current exchange rate). The knock-on effect is a payrise in return for a lunch that was frequently derided. So, everybody's happy and we can go back to planning the next stage of that beautiful utopia: tropical socialism.
Well, hang on a second. With Cuba's black market playing the leading role in the country's economy, this idea is not only bad, but also dumb. If even government regulation fails as catastrophically as it did at the end of 2008 in Europe and the US, what can we expect of an illegal system in which prices fluctuate as often as people change their underwear (usually found, incidentally, in the black market)? The other reason why this scheme is plain silly is that it tries (once again!) to mask the real state of the Cuban economy, US embargo notwithstanding. Investment by foreign business has plateaued, imports have also plummeted and budgets for state-run companies have been cut. The solution, which was hinted at in the mid 90s, but since abandoned by the octogenarian ex-leader Fidel Castro, should be to encourage the - still - small private sector and the formation of social enterprises. Note, social enterprises, not cooperatives, unless the latter turn out to be different from their predecessors.
But let's come back to that 'free lunch' and my quotation marks. The reason for my rose-tinted view - just in case the colour described above eluded you - is that I benefited from that scheme once in my life. For six months, a small coach (what a posh name for an 'Aspirina', I hear you say, my dear fellow Cuban readers and bloggers) would take us, the Tricontinental editorial team, down to a small canteen in the heart of Vedado. I remember enjoying the journey as much as I loved the food. And the lunch? It was never free. You paid for it the day before. How much was it? My memory befuddles me, but it was definitely in the region of between two and five pesos. Was it good and varied? Skip the variety and the quality bit. It was 'jama' (Cuban slang for 'food') and that was all that mattered. This was '97. Some people went without eating for a couple of days, having glasses of sugared water instead. Or if they had some money left from their paltry monthly wages, they would buy overpriced pizzas in La Rampa. Some of those pizzas were made with condoms instead of cheese. Sorry, I know, it's Sunday morning, I don't mean to put you off your breakfast.
So, that famous 'free lunch'... will be heavily missed. That brings me to the second part of this post.
Still with that definition of 'perspective' in mind I read with interest that a debate was raging some time ago in the UK about 'flexitarians'. No, this is not a new club of long-limbed members doing the washing-up whilst performing the split. It is, rather, a term for people who don't eat meat but tuck into fish, white meat or anything, as long as it's organic. The Vegetarian Society was adamant in its response to this trend: 'VEGETARIANS DON'T EAT FISH', proclaimed its magazine recently. And so it goes on, the tuxedo-clad real veggies vs the casual-wear flexitarians.
Ahhh... the freedom of choice. I know, I know, that lumping the Cuba government's decision to close down lunch canteens together with a fashionable new term for the sushi-eaters is neither here nor there. It is also counterproductive and just downright unfair. At the end of the day people make their own decisions, but I just can't tear my thoughts away from the thousands of people who will be affected by this new measure Raúl and his comrades will implement, whilst others are wrecking their brains trying to figure out what label to stick on a particular foodie group. It is simple too meaty an issue to ponder upon, or should I say, it is a fleshy perspective for which my ability to see all the relevant data has, for once, failed me.
Next Post: 'London, my London', to be published on Tuesday 2nd February at 11:59pm (GMT)