Going on vacation is hell on a diet, period. This is doubly true in a country where one has to be careful about what he eats and drinks — say Mexico, China and Cuba.
Two of the three above landed The Restaurant Dieter on an antibiotic. For the Mexico trip some years back, I thought those fears about the water were overblown. So I ate lots of produce washed in the local stuff and consumed water and ice cubes with abandon. I brushed my teeth with the bottled water the hotel provided and figured that was enough. Until it wasn’t.
For China in fall 2015, I followed the U.S. Department of State’s advice on eating abroad and returned without incident. But my diet was lacking in satisfying, uncooked and low fat fruits and vegetables. I came home heavier than I’d been in quite awhile.
Earlier this month, in Cuba, I took a Pepto Bismol before every meal and tried to strike a balance. At the start, I skipped the healthful vegetables and ate meat-and-carb-laden meals: pork, chicken, lobster, black beans and rice; and ropa vieja, the shredded beef that is the national dish.
But I missed raw vegetables and gradually added them back in as the week went on. The result? Cipro again.
The problem, of course, is that while the water in many countries is perfectly safe for those used to drinking it, there may be pathogens that our bodies cannot tolerate.
Of course, complaining about dieting in Cuba misses the point. Cuba’s economy is reeling from the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991 and a U.S. embargo that was strengthened in the 1990s. During that period, our guide said food was so hard to come by that every Cuban lost 25 percent of his body weight.
Although the Cuban state provides a guaranteed allocation of food for every person in need, it’s meager. The state-run ration store we visited had mostly empty shelves, and the extras were expensive. A can of beans cost 56 cents — in a country where the average wage is $20 a month. Cubans are pinning all their hopes for a stronger economy on President Obama’s visit and a subsequent thaw in U.S.-Cuban relations, but nothing is certain.
It makes you realize how much of a privilege it is to be eating from the cream of Cuba’s burgeoning restaurant scene and dieting at all.