Take a peek at this week's flyer, and you may notice that $637 for a lb of fish or $200 for a dozen and a half eggs are not prices you'd expect to see at your local Walmart. Rather, the prices reflect the cost of goods in Cuba, where food rations control the quantities and costs of certain goods. Despite being an island, fish are a rare commodity for locals, and typically reserved for tourists who can afford to pay the hefty price tag. I'd done prior research indicating that locals could not afford fish themselves, and became interested in food pricing in Cuba. Knowing that the cost of rations are heavily subsidized by the government, and that items such as coffee were considered a luxury, I wanted to figure out exactly how expensive it would be if I walked into a Walmart - the closest analogy I could think of to a bodega distributing rations - and had my coffee priced proportionately to what it would be in Cuba.
Calculating the cost of goods required a multi-step conversion process. The first step was to find an image for a board, hung at local bodegas, that list the products, prices, and quantities of ration items. I modified an existing Walmart flyer with item names, images, and weights from items in the Walmart catalogue to reflect the types of ration goods available for purchase.*
Once determining what goods were available through government subsidization, the next step was to convert between the quantity and units on the ration board (from pounds to ounces) and the Walmart catalogue to find the respective price in Cuban pesos, which was then converted to USD. The trick? The prices were normalized using the mean salaries for the US and Cuba. After a fair amount of math, yogurt seemed the most reasonable at $12.20 for 32 oz, while $25 per egg was shocking - without government subsidization the market price is $208.33 per egg.
The original work was done in November 2015; conversions reflect wages and prices at that time.
12 oz coffee - $405
18 eggs - $200
32 oz beans - $76.75
2 lbs pasta - $19.-
48 oz cooking oil - $16.17
32 oz yogurt - $12.20
28.8 oz chicken - $4.97
*One exception is that fish are not covered under rations, and I relied on a separate blog article discussing fish consumption in Cuba. In the flyer, fish is listed as "Market Price" to indicate it is not subsidized.