Recent History of Soy in Cuba

by Alvaro Garcia Uriarte and Alberto Ortega

Interviewed by William Shurtleff (Jan. 1996)

Overview: Since 1995 Cuba has become the rising star among developing countries in the use of soyfoods - and especially dairylike products. Cuba is the first Third World country to realize the potential of dairylike soy products to enhance the nutrition of the population while dramatically reducing costs and imports of feeds required by dairy animals. In the last 2 years, the Cubans have constructed about 34 "soy dairies" inside of inactive or partially inactive cow dairies. In 1995 they made 34 million liters of soy yogurt and soy yogurt drink, which they distribute free of charge to children ages 7-14. They are now also making delicious non-dairy soy ice cream and spreadable soy cream cheese. In addition, almost all of the regular ice cream made in Cuba now contains 50% soymilk.

This remarkable story was told during two long sessions, mainly by Alvaro, with Alberto adding many key points, in Alvaro's office. Alvaro is director and Alberto is vice-director of Cuba's Food Industry Research Institute (FIRI; In Spanish: Instituto de Investigaciones para la Industria Alimenticia - IIIA) near Havana. Catherine Murphy translated the first session and Dr. Gilberto Fleites translated the second. Shurtleff took notes and asked quite a few questions, but this was more the telling of a story than an interview. The meeting was arranged by Pam Montanaro, director of the Soy Cubano! program at Global Exchange, San Francisco. She has met with Alvaro and Alberto many times before and Soy Cubano! has helped significantly to further development of soybeans and soyfoods in Cuba. Soy Cubano! has given Alvaro and Alberto several of Shurtleff's books, helped them to exchange correspondence, and arranged and paid for Shurtleff's present trip to Cuba. The atmosphere is relaxed and friendly.

Alvaro begins: "We would like to tell you the complete story, in depth, of the development of soyfoods in Cuba from 1984 to the present. You are the first person to whom we have ever told the story in this much detail. Please feel free to ask questions." Shurtleff explains that he is not interested in commercial secrets. Alvaro laughs and says "Don't worry. We'll let you know if you ask about anything that is confidential." Cuba hopes to export some of the proprietary technology and processes they have developed.

This phase of Cuba's work with soyfoods began in early 1984, when Fidel Castro obtained a Mechanical Cow from Brazil. Note: This relatively small-scale soymilk production machine was developed in Sao Paulo, Brazil, by Dr. Roberto H. Moretti (of Vanguarda Mecanica and the Dep. of Food Technology, FEA/UNICAMP) starting in 1976 and it was patented in 1979. By Nov. 1980, according to Dr. Moretti, 80-90 Mechanical Cows were in operation in Brazil. Fidel has long been interested in and concerned about food, nutrition, and malnutrition worldwide, and especially in developing countries. It was for this reason that he obtained a Mechanical Cow - which cost about $40,000. After 48 hours without sleeping, Alvaro and his collaborators finished installing the Cow at the Food Industry Research Institute (FIRI). They began using it with much enthusiasm. One month later when the Brazilians arrived, they were to surprised to see it in operation, making soymilk and various products. Ten copies of the Cow were soon made at Cuba's Ministry of Mechanization. But despite much research and attempts to flavor the soymilk with various fruits, it continued to have a strong beany flavor. Soymilk from the Cow was first sold in 1984 at 15 outlets in Havana at non-rationed dairy products stores in the "parallel market." It was not well accepted by the Cuban people, who ended up feeding it to their pets. The product was withdrawn after 1 to 2 years, but scientists at FIRI began a new project to study soyfoods and flavor problems in greater depth. By the beginning of the 1980s partially defatted soy flour (expressed under pressure, but not texturized) was being used in Cuba as an extender in ground meat at levels of 2% to 5%.

In 1990 a series of disasters struck Cuba. Shortly after the dissolution of the Socialist/Soviet Bloc (Warsaw Pact alliance) in late 1989 and early 1990, Cuba suddenly lost at least 75% of its trade, which had focused on sugar bought by the Soviet Union through long-term agreements at prices well above the world market price of that moment. Food production dropped due to a severe shortages of fertilizers, agrichemicals, gasoline, and imported feed for animals. What Cuba now calls the Special Period was phased in. The situation grew even worse in October 1992 when the United States passed the "Cuba Democracy Act" (often called the Torricelli Act). The United States had had an embargo on trade with Cuba since 1960, but the new Act became essentially a blockade, in which the U.S. very effectively pressured foreign nations and companies not to trade with Cuba - in violation of the United Nations charter, the charter of the Organization of American States, and virtually all international law. The Torricelli Act also made it illegal for Cubans living in the USA to send dollars back to relatives and friends in Cuba.

In response to the Special Period, FIRI began to work first on the meat supply, by extending ground meat with textured extruded soy flour - which was 10 to 15 times less expensive than meat on a protein basis. Initially Cuba imported textured soy flour from Mexico. Two extended meat products were developed: Extended ground beef was sold in the neighborhood meat/butcher ration shops (carnicerias), and extended meat patties were sold at places called Saz (a chain of popular cafeterias) on the free market.

One traditional meat product that Cubans love is picadillo, which consists of ground meat, garlic, onion, and lemon, and which is sold at the meat ration shops. Instead of pure meat, FIRI now used a mixture of 70% textured soy flour and 30% ground meat. The seasonings in this picadillo extendido largely masked the soy flavor, but the reaction of the Cuban people was not very good. Of course, they had no idea of what was in the new mystery product, and how much of it. They were used to pure meat, yet the nation was paralyzed, so this was no longer an option. Even though food was in short supply, there was a large excess of money, so it was not an economic issue - the extended meat had to be sold only at the meat ration shops if everyone was to get a fair share.

The second extended meat product developed by FIRI, the patties, were sold like a hamburger, between buns, with catsup and mustard. The Ministry of Food Industry of Cuba (MINAL) got a patty-forming machine named Koppens from the Netherlands, and the patty-making operation was very successful. MINAL then bought 15 more patty machines, one for each province, and by 1990 Cuba was making 200,000 meat-soy patties a day.

After the problems with meat shortages were somewhat under control, the Food Industry Research Institute (FIRI) began to work on alleviating milk shortages. They had not forgotten their previous bad experience with soymilk from the Mechanical Cow, but Alvaro still believed that soya and dairylike soy products had great potential in Cuba, so he took the lead (and a rather big risk) by deciding to do more research on soy products to replace milk.

Note: At this point we must pause to take a look at the important role that milk has played, especially for children and senior citizens, after the Cuban Revolution. This information comes from Alvaro and Alberto, and from the excellent book No Free Lunch: Food & Revolution in Cuba Today, by Benjamin, Collins, and Scott (1989, Institute for Food and Development Policy, San Francisco). Page numbers refer to pages in that book. Before the revolution succeeded in Jan. 1959, only 11% of rural Cuban families regularly drank milk (p. 2). Almost one-third of the food consumed in Cuba was imported, including much of the dairy products (p. 8), and more than 70% of these imports came from the United States (p. 19). Just 3 months into the revolution, in May 1959, the new government set official prices for milk, rice, bread and beef (p. 20). Nationwide consumption of milk, and other long-coveted foods such as pork, soared, but the supply could not keep up with demand - for a host of complex reasons (p. 119-27). On 19 October 1960 the Eisenhower administration imposed the first U.S. embargo on Cuba, prohibiting all exports except nonsubsidized foods and medicines. Cuba set a goal to free itself from U.S. imports and to generally become more self-sufficient in food. In April 1961 the USA tried to invade Cuba at the Bay of Pigs - and failed. Then on 7 Feb. 1962 a second and tighter U.S.-imposed embargo on trade with Cuba (including food, but exempting medical supplies) went into effect. That same month the Organization of American States voted 15 to 4 to exclude Cuba from the organization and for member states to break all diplomatic ties. On March 12, in response to these painful measures, Cuba began a program to ration food via the new National Board for the Distribution of Foodstuffs (p. 22, 197-98). Initially, rationing was expected to be temporary, yet as of 1996 it is still in effect - as is the U.S. embargo, though both have changed.

As part of the 1962 ration, all children under the age of 7 received a liter of bottled milk daily, and senior citizens over age 65 could buy six cans of evaporated milk a month (p. 27), both at very low prices - part of Cuba's "right to eat" ethic. Since 98% of Cuba's children are born in a hospital, almost all them start being breast fed from birth, and the mothers drink the milk during this time. As of 1989, a liter of milk cost only 25 centavos on the ration, but 80 centavos off the ration in the so-called parallel market (p. 41). Families buy the bottled milk at the neighborhood dairy ration store (lechería) and the canned milk at the bodega. The Cuban government placed tremendous emphasis on expanding production of cow's milk - perhaps more than on any other food except sugar. Indeed milk production increased threefold from 1962 to 1979. In addition to the 800 million liters produced in 1982, some 600 million liters of powdered and butterfat milk were imported (p. 151-52). One tonne of powdered milk makes 10,000 liters when reconstituted. Yet Cuba's emphasis on milk was expensive, and substantial imports (such as feed for dairy cattle) had to be bought with hard currency (p. 111).

Cubans say that families mourn on a child's seventh birthday, for that is when they lose eligibility to receive one liter per day of low-cost milk. To ease the transition, in the 1970s the Cuban government decided to give ½ liter of milk per day to kids of ages 7-13, and to seniors over age 65. All people would also get one-fifth liter per day as fresh, powdered, or evaporated milk on the ration card. With the arrival of the Special Period in 1990, the whole milk program had to be re-examined from top to bottom. That year, in a speech on July 26, a famous national holiday, Fidel Castro said that Cuba would no longer be able to guarantee milk at traditional levels because milk imports would have to be reduced, and, more important, the money was no longer available to buy feed for dairy cattle. Between 1989 and 1995, consumption of dairy milk in Cuba fell from 1.3 billion liters to 390 million liters, a drop of 70%. This abrupt loss of milk strongly affected everybody in Cuba, except 1.2 million children ages 0 to 7, kids in nurseries, pregnant women, and hospital patients. The spotlight turned to Alvaro and his co-workers to try to solve this immense problem.

The first product they developed was named Cerelac. Introduced in March 1991, it contained 15% whole milk powder, 40% defatted soy flour (all imported), plus sugar, calcium, vitamins, and vanilla flavor. It was sold at subsidized prices to kids ages 7-13 and seniors over age 65. These people found the product acceptable. Soon 7,000 to 8,000 tonnes per year of Cerelac were being mixed in plants inside of ten of Cuba's dairy processing factories. Shortly four more mixing plants were added.

Then Alvaro and his co-workers thought about developing products from whole soybeans, but were cautious because of the bad experience with the Mechanical Cow 7 years earlier. It was then that Alvaro visited the Valsoia soymilk plant in Bologna, Italy. At this plant, which used Alfa-Laval soymilk equipment, Alvaro learned many important secrets.

Returning to the Food Industry Research Institute (FIRI), Alvaro worked with his colleagues to construct a soymilk pilot plant in the fruit processing building, where they already had a decanting centrifuge for separating fruit into its juice and pulp. They left this machine (the most expensive and important in the soymilk pilot plant) where it was, and built the pilot plant around it - with a capacity of 500 liters per hour. To get rid of the beany flavor, they added very hot water (above 90°C) to the mill while grinding the soybeans, then they ran the hot slurry into a horizontal chamber where they kept it at 90°C or hotter for 2 minutes to wholly inactivate the enzymes. At this point Alvaro drew a diagram of this stage of the process. Soon this plant was producing good-tasting soymilk. But would the Cuban people accept it?

Alvaro decided to make the soymilk into soy yogurt for various reasons: (1) Soy yogurt had acidity, which was important in enabling the product to be sweetened and flavored; (2) Dairy yogurt was popular among the Cuban people; and (3) FIRI had long experience making it. Dairy yogurt has become widespread in Cuba since the revolution thanks to a major Bulgarian aid project in the 1960s (Bulgarians are considered the "fathers of yogurt") and the Cuban government's view that it was a good way to add protein to the diet. Dairy yogurt caught on in part because it is served in work and school cafeterias and snack bars together with free sugar, and it is sold in lecherías. Per capita consumption of yogurt soared fifty-fold, from less than 0.1 kg per year in 1963 to 5 kg in 1980 (p. 112). There are two basic types of yogurt, and both are cultured/fermented: Stirred yogurt and set yogurt. Both types had long been made in Cuba, adding sugar for sweetness, in 29 factories. FIRI decided to try to develop both types using cultured soymilk and some of the principles of Bulgarian technology.

They transported the soymilk made in the fruit building at FIRI, to the dairy processing building, then worked with an interdisciplinary team. FIRI has its own culture collection of food fermentation microorganisms containing a large variety of strains for cultured dairy products. One of FIRI's mandates was to supply these to Cuba's food industry. They tested many fermentation bacteria and arrived at several - the names of which are top secret! One of the bacteria uses the oligosaccharides (complex sugars) in soybeans as a source of energy, thereby getting rid of this undesirable cause of flatulence in humans. But the researchers ran into two basic problems: the technology was very expensive, and the protein yield was very low. Only 50% of the protein in the soybeans ended up in the soymilk. The quality, however, was good. So they asked Alfa-Laval for a firm price on a soymilk plant that would produce 3-4 tons of soymilk per hour. The answer? $3 to 4 million. Too much!

Each year from 1990 to 1993 the number of calories and grams of protein, per capita, in the Cuban diet dropped as the food problems of the Special Period grew more serious. 1993 was the worst year of all. Malnutrition began to appear, and teams of health professionals arrived from abroad to study the problem and try to help. Something had to be done - soon!

Necessity is the mother of invention. In Havana there was a large dairy products complex named Complejo Lacteo de la Habana. It used Alfa-Laval equipment to make cheese, yogurt, ice cream, butter, and (most important) lactose and powdered whey. To produce the lactose required two centrifuges, that had cost $500,000 new. At the moment these two machines were standing idle due to the lack of cow's milk during the Special Period. So in late 1993, around these centrifuges, MINAL researchers built a scaled-up pilot plant with a capacity of 5,000 liters per hour of soymilk - ten times the output of the pilot plant at FIRI. The first soymilk that came out of the enlarged pilot planted tasted great. In January 1994 production of stirred soy yogurt began. It was a drink with the consistency of a milk shake. By early 1994 some 200,000 kids ages 7-13 in Havana were receiving 1 liter per week of this soy yogurt from their local dairy ration stores. The program was a great success. Also in January 1994, production of Cerelac was discontinued.

While this production was going ahead in Havana, the researchers continued work at FIRI on making a set soy yogurt, in part because they had a long tradition of making set dairy yogurt. But now a major problem arose. There was only one pair of the expensive Alfa-Laval centrifuges in all of Cuba. If the country wanted to set up similar soymilk plants in other provinces, it would have to invest millions of dollars to buy more centrifuges. This was clearly impossible. The only alternative was to start all over again, to develop Cuban technology to meet the challenge. A period of intense thinking began.

One Sunday morning in early 1994, at his home, a key idea came to Alvaro. He called Alberto and they worked together with a sense of urgency to try out the idea in Alvaro's kitchen. It worked! Bravo. On Monday at FIRI they began work immediately on the "new technology" (NT), a system that did not use centrifuges. This system also worked.

With the yogurt he had produced, Alvaro had already convinced the Minister of Food Industry of the value of the new technology, and this minister then became a fervent supporter of the project.

After they had developed the technology on a laboratory scale, a period of intensive work began to develop the prototype equipment, made in FIRI's workshop with the participation of researchers, mechanics, electricians, and electronic specialists. A decisive factor in this step was the participation of Ing. Carlos Pérez, vice-director of FIRI, in charge of maintenance. By April 1994 they were ready to install the first prototype NT system in a large idle dairy products plant at Holguín (pronounced hol-GEEN) in eastern Cuba. This plant was chosen because the workers are a very enthusiastic group and also because it has a good workshop and qualified, hard-working mechanics. Thus, it could make a contribution to the successful and speedy installation of the first plant. At this point, the whole interdisciplinary team that had developed the technology and equipment moved to Holguin, where they worked night and day, sometimes 20 hours nonstop, with the men and women of Holguín, catching a little sleep when they could on the floor of the plant. It took, on average, 14 days to install each plant and get it running. This was possible thanks to the spirit and selfless dedication of these local people, who were willing to work so hard and with such great desire to help relieve the severe food shortages. When the soymilk plant was up and running, they tested it and the soy yogurt, made changes, and tested again. Finally in May 1994 the first soy yogurt for the people Cuba came off the line. Everyone tasted it and rejoiced. Viva la revolucion!

Again and again during 1994 the Food Industry Research Institute (FIRI) team went to dairy processing plants in Cuba. It was a marathon effort. By the end of 1994 a remarkable 14 new soy dairies making soy yogurt had been installed in the wings of existing dairy plants throughout Cuba. This mammoth effort was possible through the cooperation of the Ministry of Food Industry (MINAL) and local enterprises and governments. The NT equipment was built mostly by the Enterprise in Charge of Equipment Building and Installation. Most of the plants had a capacity of either 2,000 or 4,000 liters/hour; the smallest was 1,200 liters/hour. During 1994 the 14 plants churned out a total of 11 million liters of soy yogurt - 4 million liters from the one plant in Havana using the two large Alfa-Laval centrifuges, and 7 million liters from the 13 other plants using the new technology. By late 1994 about 400,000 kids ages 7-13 living in the provincial capitals nationwide were receiving 1 liter of soy yogurt a week. Alvaro and his co-workers at FIRI were so convinced of the superiority of their technology that in Nov. 1994 they eliminated the Alfa-Laval plant, replacing it the next month with two new NT production lines.

During 1995 eight more plants were installed, bringing the total to 22. These plants produced 33 million liters of soy yogurt (containing 3.0 to 3.2% protein), which reached about 500,000 kids. Though there are presently about 1,200,000 kids in Cuba, most of those not living in the capitals have access to milk from the nearby cows. Alvaro showed us a chart listing the location each plant, the date it began operation, and its capacity. As of mid-January 1996 four new plants are under construction, and 5 more are on the drawing boards, ready to go. One of the plants under construction in Havana will make only spreadable soy cream cheese (queso crema), a new product developed at FIRI.

Three basic types of yogurt were made in Cuba's many soy dairies: 50% of the total was set soy yogurt sold in bulk containers, which reduced packaging costs. Local people would bring their own containers in which to take home their portion of the yogurt. Another 25% was set soy yogurt in one liter glass jars - which were, of course, recycled after use. The last 25% was stirred soy yogurt, sold in one liter plastic bags as a drink having the consistence of a milk shake.

The plan for 1996 is to produce 76 million liters of soy yogurt - more than double the total for 1995!

In September 1994, soymilk started to be used (together with dairy milk) in Cuban ice cream, made at the dairy plant at Pinar del Rio. In 1995 some 12 million liters of soymilk were used in Cuba's ice cream, accounting for 50% of the total milk used - the other half being cow's milk. However no soymilk is used in the most famous Cuban brand of ice cream, Copelia. This is made with only fresh milk and cream, using a traditional dairy formula and technology.

In January 1995 a cultured/fermented spreadable soy cream cheese was first made commercially in Cuba at the dairy plant in the province of Villa Clara. Resembling Cuba's traditional queso crema but containing no animal products, it is used as a spread on bread or crackers, in salad dressings, served as a dessert topped with marmalade or jam, or mixed with canned meat to make a pâté.

Soybeans were first cultivated in Cuba in 1904, and the climate and soil have always been good for growing them. Yet although Cuban scientists have done extensive research on soybean production over the last few decades and developed new soybean varieties that yield well under Cuban conditions, almost no soybeans are grown in Cuba today, in part because of the historical emphasis on sugar. Therefore Cuba has to import all of the 10,000 tonnes per year of soybeans used to make soymilk and soy yogurt, using precious foreign exchange. In the past, Cuba has also imported roughly 300,000 tonnes of soybeans (as whole beans or soybean meal) for animal feed. The food-grade soybeans come mostly from Canada and Brazil. Canada's white-hilum soybeans are considered the best for soy yogurt. For 45 days during 1995 no soybeans were imported into Cuba due to the lack of hard currency (U.S. dollars). The Soy Cubano! program of Global Exchange in San Francisco is working to help Cuba become more self-sufficient in soybeans. For Cuba to become self-sufficient at 1989 levels of consumption for the 11 million inhabitants, the country would have to grow about 500,000 tonnes of soybeans.

The development of new soyfoods products does not stop here. The FIRI team has two big projects on tap for 1996. The first is to expand commercial production of spreadable soy cream cheese, which will be made at existing dairy plants in 10 provinces throughout Cuba (Santiago de Cuba, Holguín, Bayamo, Las Tunas, Camagüey, Ciego de Avila, Sancti Spiritus, Villa Clara, Matanzas, and Pinar del Rio) and to finish the spreadable soy cream cheese factory in Havana with 10 tonnes/day capacity. At each plant they hope to make 500 to 1,000 kg/day, and a total of 5,000 tonnes in 1996; this will require an additional 10 million liters of soymilk. The second project is to make two types powdered soymilk. Type 1, which is spray dried, contains 85% soymilk and 15% dairy milk, plus cocoa, sugar, salt, and vitamin A. Type 2, which is roller dried, resembles a traditional Nestlé product called Harina Lacteada. The ingredients are similar to type 1 except that rice is substituted for cocoa. Cuban researchers are very interested in learning more about Japanese amazaké (a traditional non-alcoholic fermented rice beverage made from koji), about the various new enzyme-hydrolyzed rice beverages made in America, and about ways to mix soymilk with ricemilk. Cuba plans to make a total of 2,000 tonnes of powdered soymilk in 1996. They are also working on development of spreadable soybean pâtés with different flavors, among them ham, and chorizo (a paprika spiced Spanish-style pork sausage).

To summarize: In 1995 Cuba used 7,000 tonnes of soybeans to make 47 million liters of soymilk; 1 kg of soybeans yields about 7 kg of soymilk. Of this soymilk, 33 million liters were used for soy yogurt, 12 million liters for soy ice cream, and 2 million liters for spreadable soy cream cheese. In 1996 Cuba plans to use 76 million liters for soy yogurt, 14 million liters for soy ice cream, and 10 million liters for spreadable soy cream cheese. Total: 100 million liters, or roughly twice as much.

At this point we were invited for lunch at a nice hotel on the Food Industry Research Institute (FIRI) compound. There we were served various flavors of three dairylike soy products developed at FIRI. Our group of two Cubans and three Americans was invited to taste each product and offer our comments. (1) A set soy yogurt in cups in six flavors: Caramel, coconut, banana, orange, vanilla, and strawberry. Caramel, the most widely distributed flavor in Cuba, comes, of course, from Cuba's abundant sugar supply. The soy yogurt's acidity is 0.4 to 0.5 (half that of cow's milk), and it contains 3.2% protein and 1.6% fat. By comparison, dairy yogurt contains 3.0% protein and 3.4% fat when made from whole milk, or 3.4% protein and 1.7% fat when made from low-fat milk. This set soy yogurt is now sold in all provincial capitals in Cuba.

The soy yogurt plant at Santiago de Cuba had an original capacity of 2,000 liters/hour. The plant was briefly shut down to double its capacity to 4,000 liters/hour. During this period, children in Santiago de Cuba were supplied with dairy yogurt and this caused them to complain, as they objected to the more acid flavor.

(2) Soymilk ice cream (caramel flavored). The ingredients are soymilk, sugar, soy oil, caramel (for flavor), and a stabilizer. (3) Soy Cream Cheese. This is like the traditional Cuban queso crema, with much the texture of American Philadelphia cream cheese. Spread on crackers, it is delicious. Our group of five tasters gave each of these three products excellent marks for flavor, texture, and color. Shurtleff (who has the most experience with soyfoods of the five) noted that this is the best soy yogurt he has tasted anywhere, one of the best soy ice creams, and the first fermented soy cream cheese. Also served at this tasting was queso blanco, which resembled the traditional non-fermented white cheese but made from whole buffalo's milk. No soymilk was added. It was served in slices about ½ inch thick and 4 inches square, to be enjoyed on toast or crackers. This delicious product might also be made some day from soy.

Alvaro says in summary that his team of researchers is proud of three major achievements: (1) Making soymilk with no beany flavor; (2) Producing it at relatively low cost on equipment designed and constructed in Cuba using middle-level technology; and (3) Making soymilk with a high protein yield (The figure for protein yield is a top secret).

What are the big lessons to be learned from Cuba's bold and very successful experiments with soyfoods? (1) Cuba is the world's first country (outside of the traditional soy countries in East Asia) to fully grasp and realize the potential of soyfoods, and specifically dairylike soy products. Countries with high population densities in East Asia (such as China, Indonesia, and Japan) have known for centuries that it makes much more sense in terms of economics, land use, the environment, and good health to get protein directly from plants (specifically soybeans and cereal grains) than to feed those plants to animals and then eat the animals. Since the 1960s experts in the field of Third World development and food resources have stated repeatedly that soybeans are the protein source of the future. Not only are they the world's lowest cost source of high-quality protein, but they are now known to contain a host of beneficial phytochemicals, not found in any animal products, that protect humans from cancer, heart disease, osteoporosis, and many of the unpleasant symptoms of menopause. Yet it took a major crisis to prompt Cuba to make the switch. (2) Cuba switched from dairy products to dairylike soy products largely for economic reasons and to make the country's food economy more efficient. The fact that Cuba has a centrally controlled economy probably facilitated the swift change. Yet with rapidly growing populations and declining incomes, many Third World countries may soon find it necessary or wise to follow Cuba's lead. Cuba has also become the world leader among Third World countries in sustainable, organic agriculture. Introducing a good food to a country under hardship conditions can pose a threat to that food's future. Will the people associate it so strongly with memories of the hard times that they want to get rid of it when good times arrive? (3) Cuba made the transition to dairylike soy products without constructing any new buildings, and with a relatively modest investment in locally designed, appropriate technology that actually revitalized flagging dairy processing plants. (4) By approaching the challenge with "beginner's mind" and plenty of creativity, Cuba was able to develop exciting new soy products especially suited to Cuban tastes and unknown in other countries. (5) Cuba's new soyfoods technology and processes offer the possibility of a new category of exports, which could earn badly-needed foreign exchange and, perhaps more important, offer new hope in the fight against malnutrition and hunger throughout the Third World.