Lissandra has a great post on Cuba’s ration book system and its stark realities:
For all who do not know what a ration book is, it is a little book that tells you what you can buy and when. From a toothbrush to a pair of shoes and everything in between. The same goes for any appliances, housewares and food. At first that doesn’t sound so bad to a person with absolutely no knowledge of all that this book represents. Then you learn that each family gets assigned a number and a letter, and you may only shop on the days assigned to that letter and number. Then you find out that your letter and number get called twice a year for clothing. Once you’ve fooled yourself into thinking that buying clothing once a year is not so bad, you’re told that although there are 4 people in your household, you’re only allowed to buy two articles of every type of clothing. Such as two pieces of underwear. Two shirts, skirts or pants. Two pairs of socks or a pair of shoes and a pair of socks, never two pairs of shoes.
Next is the food. Your number and letter get called more often for food and it goes something like this. If there is nobody in your household who is under seven years old, there is no milk for you. If nobody is on a doctor assigned special diet, there is no red meat for you. Chicken is available at a pound per person per week. Rice is 4lbs per person per month. The last one doesn’t sound so bad until you remember that the chicken runs out and there are no vegetables to go with that. The rice itself often comes with dirt and other unmentionables, so in the end you have roughly 3lbs of rice. Beans are a staple of Cuban cuisine, and they’re not always available, and if they are, they’re the same beans for months and months and months, such is the case with lentil beans. Black beans are rare commodity at the store. Two blocks down from that Cuban store are tourists at a restaurant ordering a Surf & Turf lunch, where Cubans aren’t allowed to linger outside, not even to catch a whiff of that wonderfully delicious aroma.