Pity the Russian Locavore

A correspondent for the Russian newspaper and website KP.RUKomsomolskaya Pravda, not to be confused with Pravda—lost a bet.

The terms of the bet: go a week without Chinese goods. She failed, and, as a result, had to take on an equally daunting assignment: go a week eating only food made in Russia.

The initial fridge survey turned out to be a shock:

My favorite lemon juice turned out to be made in Israel that I used for salad dressing instead of vinegar. And speaking of salads, my tomatoes were from Turkey, onions from Crimea, peppers from Bulgaria, and I had no idea where my cucumbers were from… I ended up giving a whole basket of fruit to the neighbor’s kids, as well as my Swiss candy and chocolate.

Visits to local farmers’ markets and student-targeted convenience stores yielded a pile of out-of-country goods and a consistent, shocking revelation vis-à-vis price: Buying Russian means paying more, sometimes much more. Price differences on the order of 20, 30, and even 40 percent were typical.

Beer? Forget about it. Even domestic brands are made from foreign-made concentrate powders. But bread may have been the most depressing part of the picture:

‘The flour is Russian,’ said Yury Katsnelson, the [Russian Bakers and Confectioners Guild] president. ‘So is the sugar and salt. But part of the sugar is made from sugarcane imported from Brazil and Cuba. It is, though, manufactured in Russia. Half the yeast is Russian, and the other half is Turkish or French. Almost all the oil is Russian. The cream and milk are rarely imported. But the raisins are all from Central Asia, Turkey or Iran.’

American shoppers can take a bit of morbid comfort from the story’s overall message: The tangled web of international trade that ensnares any given American shopping at Sam’s Club seems to be just as thick—or thicker—for our Russian counterparts.

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