Based on our collective ethnography of Cuba’s socialist system for the provision of state‐subsidised food, this article explores manners in which the state weaves itself into the fabric of people’s everyday lives in state‐socialist society. Instituted by Cuba’s revolutionary government in the early 1960s, Cuba’s ‘state system for provisioning’ is still today the backbone of household subsistence, propelling individuals into direct daily relations with the state via its neighbourhood‐level network of stores that distribute food catering to citizens’ ‘basic needs’. Our ethnography brings together a series of studies conducted by the members of our team in different parts of Havana, charting the most salient aspects of people’s interaction with the state in this alimentary context. We argue that the state becomes pervasive in people’s daily lives not just because it is present in so much of it, but also as the basic normative premise on which people interpret and evaluate everyday comportments in the interactions food provisioning involves. Life in state socialism involves the constant and intricate comparison of its own realities against the normative ideals the state purports to institute. These ‘vernacular comparisons’ between life and state, as we call them, are the ‘local knowledge’ of state socialism in Cuba.