Yes, I’m a bit of a foodie, so I’m fascinated by how people ruin cuisines.
Reason‘s December special issue marks the 30th anniversary of the collapse of the Soviet Union. This story is part of our exploration of the global legacy of that evil empire, and our effort to be certain that the dire consequences of communism are not forgotten.
In August 1936, Josef Stalin sent his commissar of food, Anastas Mikoyan, to the United States on the SS Normandie for a working holiday. The long-serving party member and diplomat was a natural fit for the expedition: He’d formerly served as trade commissar, and he took great pains to publicly profess his loyalty to Stalin, who rewarded him and Mrs. Mikoyan with the opportunity to travel from coast to coast sampling all sorts of luxurious American fare—popcorn, ice cream, hamburgers, bologna, cornflakes, and corn on the cob. The Soviet crew visited Midwestern dairies and slaughterhouses, fascinated by everything from meat processing plant capabilities to the griddles used to cook burger patties. Mikoyan soon became enamored with tantalizing new kitchen appliances and advances in refrigeration that had recently begun to proliferate in the U.S.—all inconvenient evidence of the splendor and efficiency brought by capitalism.
Over the course of the ’30s, Stalin’s government went to great lengths attempting to create, often through Socialist Realist–style propaganda, a cohesive national identity that could bind good Soviets together in service of the party. Part of the aim was to reimagine Russian home cooking via standardized, party-approved recipes.
Three years later, The Book of Tasty and Healthy Food was born. It was the fruit of Mikoyan’s grand adventure and an attempt to show comrades just how good they had it. The thick book, filled with glossy, full-page illustrations, was an exhaustive-seeming compendium of recipes organized by category. Its implicit message was that those who were loyal to the party would have access to the abundant delights depicted therein.