Detsl, Roseanne, and Me

Detsl,  “Party at Detl’s House” (1999)

Victoria Andreyeva
Facebook
February 3, 2019

Detsl’s death made me recall a story.

In the school I attended, No. 157, we had this great thing, Model United Nations. All the dynamic pupils with a good command of English could be involved, first as staff members, then as delegates, and finally as committee chairs and even secretaries general, if they were smart and ambitious enough.

Delegates from all over the world came to the Petersburg Model UN, and even the youngest pupils at our school were given the chance to invite a delegate home for a an an evening “party.”

My friend Lyuba and I were assigned Roseanne Ooi, a girl from faraway, exotic Malaysia. At my house, we entertained each other by chatting. Roseanne was the most curious about Russian music, and she wanted to listen to Russian rap. As non-connoisseurs, all we could remember and let Roseanne listen to were Detsl’s songs, which blew Roseanne away.

Later, we gave her a Detsl CD. We would imagine her listening to Detsl in Malaysia, which we could not picture at all in our wildest dreams. We imagined how her compatriots were amazed and jealous of her.

Surprisingly, the second thing that made a huge impression on our Malaysian visitor were the bananas that were part of our modest repast. She was so staggered by their huge size she took one home to Malaysia to show to her mom.

On the contrary, Lyuba and I thought that if a person from such southern latitudes were amazed by our bananas, there must be something wrong with them.

Thanks to Victoria Andreyeva for her permission to translate and publish her story. Translated by the Russian Reader.

Are Russians Eating Well?

DSCN1832A fruits and vegetables stall at the famous Hay Market (Sennoy rynok) in downtown Petersburg, September 29, 2018. Photo by the Russian Reader

Eating Their Fill: Russia’s Food Security in the Wake of Crimea
Have Russians Eaten Better After the Government Moved to Defend Them from Western Food? 
Yevgeny Karasyuk
Republic
December 6, 2018

Soon after the embargo that was imposed four years ago in response to the stance of western countries on Crimea, analysts warned Russia itself would primarily suffer from food anti-sanctions.

“We won’t heighten the Russian Federation’s food security at all. In fact, we will reduce it,” Natalya Volchkova, a professor at the New Economic School, said at the time.

Of course, the criticism of the experts was ignored. No one in government questioned the policy of forced import substitution. Most Russians even imagined it was a rare instance when the government made a good decision. Only a few years ago, 71% of the populace [sic] spoke in favor of limiting imports.*

Time has passed, and the experts to whom no one listened have compiled figures showing where the policy has taken the country. A recent report, authored by a group of researchers from RANEPA, provides an analysis of its consequences.

Import substitution in the food sector was an obsession and, at the same time, a source of pride for ex-agriculture minister Alexander Tkachov. His replacement, Dmitry Patrushev, son of the Russian Security Council’s secretary and a none-too-successful state banker, has changed little in the government’s take on the situation. The new minister is certain Russia has reached a level of self-sufficiency above 90% in terms of basic food staples. Thus, Alexei Gordeyev, deputy prime minister for agriculture and an ex-agriculture minister himself, is convinced Russia has successfully carried out import substitution.

Food imports actually did slump sharply—by 46%—from 2013 to 2016. Although an unbiased analysis if how Russian producers succeeded in turning the tables and quickly saturating the market with their own products would point to the ruble’s sudden devaluation, rendering foreign imports uncompetitive, as had already happened in recent history, rather than to the success of the anti-sanctions.

Whatever the cause of Russia’s newfound food independence, however, it has not lead to food security. Citing the international standard, the authors of RANEPA’s report define food security as “the physical and economic availability of safe nourishment, sufficient for an active, fulfilling life.” In other words, there really are more domestically grown and produced food items in Russia nowadays, but the bulk of the populace has less and less access to them.

“Caloric Value of the Russian Diet.” The blue line indicates caloric value, while the dotted line indicates the recommended daily caloric intake per family member in kilocalories. The light purple area indicates the number of Russians who suffer from obesity, in thousands of persons, while the shaded dark purple area indicates the number of Russia who suffer from anemia, also in thousands of peoples. Source: Rosstat and RANEPA. Courtesy of Republic

Last year, Russia was ranked forty-first in the Global Food Security Index, compiled by the Economist Intelligence Unit, meaning that it ranked lower than it had in 2013, when it ranked fortieth. This was due, among other things, to insufficient funding of research and a reduction in the variety of food products.

According to official statistics, food accounts for approximately 35% of expenses in Russian household budgets, which is a high proportion when compared with the OECD countries, among which even the highest percentages, achieved by Poland and Mexico, fall short of 25%. Independent evaluation of spending on food, however, claim that the proportion of Russian family budgets spent on food is actually over fifty percent. Given the almost continuous drop in the real incomes of Russians, the selection of products has declined in quality and abundance. On average, Russian households continue to skimp on everything they can do without, as confirmed by the compilers of the Coffee and Milk Index, as published by Romir, a Russian marketing research company. (The index tracks sales of chocolate, coffee, milk, and bottled water.) RANEPA’s researchers noted the discrepancy between the excess fat in the food and bread Russians eat and the low number of calories in their diets.

By closing the borders to imports and showering the domestic agro-industrial complex with generous state subsidies—1.2 trillion rubles [approx. 15.9 billion euros] in the past six years from the federal budget alone—the regime has persuaded itself it has been filling the nation’s bellies and improving its health. Its expectations were exaggerated, however. Oversaturated with cheap carbohydrates, the standard fare eaten by many Russians remains unbalanced and low on energy. “This is borne out by widespread anemia among the populace as a whole and children in particular,” RANEPA’s researchers write. The number of Russians who suffer from obesity has grown for the same reason.

Obviously, these problems cannot be written off as temporary glitches in demand in the domestic food market, whose revival has been unanimously trumpeted by former agriculture ministers and the current agriculture minister. Rather, they are the natural consequence of systemic problems with the natural resources economy that shoulders the burden of the Kremlin’s geopolitical capers. The average Russian family often simply cannot afford a plentiful variety of healthy, high-quality food.

The authors of RANEPA’s report have emphasized this.

“Neglecting this fact can lead to a distorted picture of the state of food security,” they write.

However, there is still very little chance the alarming conclusions of the experts will be heard this time around, forcing the government to make adjustments to its food policy.

* How did they do that? Was a nationwide referendum held? The author, of course, is referring to a so-called public opinion poll in which, at best, a thousand or two “ordinary” Russians were asked loaded questions, to which they gave the “right” answers. {TRR}

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Russians Spend 30% of Their Budgets on Food
Georgy Tadtayev
RBC
December 17, 2018

Russians spend nearly a third of their household budgets on food. Russia lags behind Montenegro, Latvia, and Turkey in this sense. Russians spend less than seven percent of their budgets on culture and leisure.

According to RIA Rating, as reported by RIA Novosti, Russians spent 31.2% of their household budgets on food in 2017.

The estimate of the percentage of their household budgets people in forty European countries, Russia, Kazakhstan, and Turkey spend on food was based on information from the IMF and national statistics agencies. Russia ended up in the bottom ten of the ranking, ranking 31st. Its nearest neighbors were Montenegro (29.7%) and Latvia (31.7%).

Ukrainians spend the greatest portion of their household budgets on food: 50.9%. People in Kazakhstan (46%, 39th place) and Moldova (43.4%, 38th place) also spend more than 40% of their budgets on food.

Western European countries topped the rating. Luxembourg came in first place. Residents of the duchy spend a mere 8.7% of their money on food. Close behind Luxembourg were Great Britain (10%) and the Netherlands (10.6%).

The agency also ranked countries according to percentages of income spent on alcohol and cigarettes. Residents of three Balkan countries—Romania (8.2%), Bulgaria (5.1%), and Serbia (4.7%)—spend the most on bad habits. Luxembourg (1.3%), Moldova (1.5%), and Cyprus (1.6%) spend the least on alcohol and cigarettes. Russia ranked 24th: Russians spend 3% of their househould budgets on bad habits.

Sweden was the top-ranked country in terms of spending on culture and leisure: Swedes spend 18.7% of their budgets for these purposes. Moldovans spend the least on leisure and culture: 1.3%. Russia ranked 21st: Russians spend 6.9% of their money in this category.

Translated by the Russian Reader

Making Life Easier for Vegans in Petersburg

Анастасия Емельянова, основатель VegCode
Anastasia Yemelyanova, VegCode founder. Photo courtesy of Sergei Yermokhin and Delovoi Peterburg

A Barcode for Vegans: Petersburgers Develop App for Identifying Vegan Products Through Barcode
Inna Reikhard
Delovoi Peterburg
December 12, 2018

App Interests a Thousand Users in Single Woeek
Petersburgers Anastasia Yemelyanova, Alyona Kabardinova, and Nikolai Dubrovsky have developed the mobile VegCode app (Vegan IT LLC). Made available to users in early December, the app is designed for vegans. It lets shoppers use barcodes to figure out whether or not items in stores contain animal products and have been animal tested. The app currently has a database of 26,000 items marked “vegan” and “non-vegan.” Most of the items are edibles and cosmetics. Household cleaning products will soon be added to the list.

A Growing Segment
As the designers explained, there is a demand for the app, since the number of vegans in Russia has been growing at a rate of fifty percent annually. There are now approximately 150,000 vegans in Russia.

The team has been preparing to expand the app’s functionality by adding a map of vegan shops, cafes, and producers. The app, which operates in Russia and the CIS, will earn money by advertising the services of these businesses.

Attracting Investors
“Unlike Western Europe and the US, the problem of identifying vegan goods is much gnarlier in Russia, because there is not a well-defined system for labeling goods and far fewer speciality magazines,” Yemelyanova explains.

For example, you might find a retail item labeled “Lenten,” but it might not be appropriate for vegans. On the other hand, producers sometimes have no clue their product lines include ethical products.

The startuppers commenced work on the app in early 2018. They raised money on the crowdfunding website Planeta. They also made it to the finals of Philtech Accelerator, winning a 100,000-ruble prize from the Higher School of Economics. The team got another 300,000 rubles from venture investor Alexander Rumyantsev.

Yemelyanova says the hardest thing was compiling the database of retail items marked “vegan.”

“We get information about the content of products from open sources. Our users can also add items via the app. After they are moderated, the new items are listed in the database,” a spokesperson for the company said.

In a week’s time, the nearly thousand users who downloaded the app have suggested 4,000 more items for inclusion in the database.

Prospects
The market for vegan products in Petersburg has been growing rapidly. In 2015, sales were estimated at 80 million rubles [approx. 1 million euros]. In 2017, this figure climbed to 400 million rubles [approx. 5.3 million euros].

Petersburg has several dozen fast food outlets and shops catering to vegans, including Bunker and B12 Vegan Shop.

Petersburg is also home to a small number of vegan producers. Businessman Ivan Ivanov, for example, makes lactose-free dairy products, wheat steaks, and other edibles under the Primal Soymilk brand. Verde produces cheese and curd. Veganov makes soy and vegetable sausages, while Soymik produces soy-based products.

“Petersburg has the most thriving vegan movement in Russia. The city also has a growing number of vegan producers. Mainly, however, these are small businesses in which not a lot of money has been invested. Their products are usually not sold in retail chains, but I think the day when they’ll be sold there is not far off,” says Ivanov.

Ivanov says he had thought himself about making an app for identifying vegan products.

Translated by the Russian Reader

Macaroni Is a Vegetable

“3,500 rubles.” Graphic courtesy of Vedomosti. At the current exchange rate, 3,500 rubles is worth approximately 46 euros.

Some Can Only Afford Macaroni, But Some Cannot Even Afford That
Saratov Official’s Suggestion to Spend 3,500 Rubles on Food a Month Is a Reality for Millions of Russians
Tatyana Lomskaya
Vedomosti
October 19, 2018

The statement by Natalya Sokolova, minister for labor and employment in Saratov Region, that 3,500 rubles a month was enough for the “minimum physiological needs” of Saratov pensioners so angered the public that she was made an ex-minister in a matter of days. Ms. Sokolova had insisted it was not worth raising the monthly minimum cost of living for unemployed pensioners by 500 rubles: an increase of 288 rubles would be enough.

“Macaroni always costs the same,” she said.

Ms. Sokolova, however, refused to go on such a diet by way of an experiment. Her status supposedly did not allow it.

But is it only Saratov pensioners who subsit on such a meager diet? Let’s compare them with other regions.

The authorities calculate the amount of the mountly minimum cost of living on the basis of the cost of the monthly minimum food basket. They add to its cost (which is 3,500 rubles in the case of Saratov pensioners) the exact same amount of money for paying for non-food items and services, for example, clothing, housing, and utilities. The monthly minimum cost of living for pensioners in Saratov Region was therefore 7,176 rubles (95 euros) in the second quarter of 2018. It was 9,354 rubles (124 euros) for the region’s able-bodied residents, and 9,022 rubles (120 euros) for its children.

That is not much, but there are even poorer regions in Russia. For example, in Belgorod Region, an able-bodied resident should be able to live on 8,995 rubles (120 euros) a month, while a pensioner should be able to survive on 6,951 rubles (92 euros) a month. In Mordovia, the corresponding figures are 9,132 rubles (121 euros) and 6,975 rubles (93 euros) a month; in Chuvashia, 9,248 rubles (123 euros) and 7,101 rubles (94 euros). The federal monthly minimum cost of living is 11,280 rubles (150 euros) for an able-bodied person, 8,583 rubles (114 euros) for a pensioner, and 10,390 rubles (138 euros) for a child. Meaning that, on average, the monthly diet in Russia as a whole is only a little more expensive than the Saratov diet: between 4,000 rubles (53 euros) and 5,500 rubles (73 rubles).

The monthly minimum food basket includes the cheapest groceries. It is meant to provide an individual with the necessary amount of protein, fats, and carbohydrates for a month, explains Liliya Ovcharova, director of the Institute for Social Policy at the Higher School of Economics. The basket mainly contains baked goods, a few eggs, lots of porridge, milk, and an altogether small amount of meat. According to Ms. Ovcharova, the diet will keep a person alive. It is another matter that it is “tasteless” and below rational norms of consumption, flagrantly lacking in meat, vegetables, and fruit. It is not surprising people find this diet unacceptable.

In 2017, however, the incomes of 13.2% of Russians were below the minimum cost of living, meaning that 18.9 million people in Russia could not afford even the macaroni snubbed by the ex-minister in Saratov. This figure includes children: one in five Russian children lives in family whose per capita income is below the minimum cost of living. Among old-age pensioners, however, there is practically no one who is officially poor. If their incomes are below the minimum cost of living for pensioners, they receive an additional payment to help them top up to the minimum. Children in large families are not eligible for these additional payments.

The question is what is now the more realistic approach: making the diet more humane or reducing the number of people who cannot afford even an inhumane diet. For example, the government could first reduce the number of children in need to 5%, and then improve the diet. Vladimir Putin ordered the government to reduce the number of needy people by half by 2024. If we now increased the minimum cost of living by 50%, the number of poor people would, on the contrary, double, Ms. Ovcharova estimates.

But the number of poor people can be measured not only on the basis of the minimum grocery basket, a standard that was introduced back in the 1990s. In European countries, for example, people with incomes of 50% of the median have been considered poor since the 1950s. At the same time, the Europeans base their calculations not on minimal but on rational norms of food consumption, Ms. Ovcharova notes. They compute how many specific vitamins, minerals, iron, and calcium a person needs. This food basket is much pricier and presupposes a completely different level of consumption and well-being.

It is probably best not to count how many Saratov pensioners can afford this food basket until 2024.

Translated by the Russian Reader

Neapolitan Ice Cream in the Cradle of Three Revolutions

neapolitan-1Neapolitan ice cream à la russe. Photo by the Russian Reader

Not that I had been looking very hard these past twenty-four years, but yesterday I found one of my favorite childhood desserts in the frozen foods section of the cornershop on my street: Neapolitan ice cream.

It was called trio plombir in Russian (plombir is just mock-fancy Russian, appropriated from the French, for rich ice cream, ordinarily referred to as morozhenое), but that hardly mattered, because it was Neapolitan ice cream in every way that counted.

neapolitan-2What could be better on a warm October evening than a large slab of trio plombir? Photo by the Russian Reader

And why am I still eating ice cream in mid October, you ask? Because the high temperature in Petersburg the day before yesterday was nineteen degrees Centigrade.

Please don’t be envious of me, though, faithful readers. From here on out it is all downhill. The forecast temperatuare high for the next to last three days in October is minus one degree Centigrade. I will probably have forgotten all about Russian Neapolitan ice cream by then. {TRR}

 

 

Yekaterina Kosarevskaya: Vegan Times

vegan meals in temporary detention facilityVegan meals issued to prisoners at the Special Detention Facility on Zakharyevskaya Street, where the detainees sentenced to short jail terms for their involvement in the September 9, 2018, anti-pension reform protest rally in Petersburg are serving their time. Photo courtesy of the Telegram channel ONK SPB 16% (16% of the Petersburg Public Monitoring Commission)

Yekaterina Kosarevskaya
Facebook
September 13, 2018

A court in Penza has extended the time in police custody of the suspects in the Network case.

Formal indictments have been filed, and the case will soon be handed over to the prosecutor. Dima and Ilya [Dmitry Pchelintsev and Ilya Shakursky] have been indicted violating Article 205.4 Part 1 of the Criminal Code [“organizing a terrorist community”]. Dima chose Part 1 himself. Dima has refused to admit his guilt.

I imagine, if there were total knowledge of human nature, this knowledge could be attained by simultaneously understanding Konstantin Bondarev, who went sleepless for two nights as he gave the commands to administer electrical shocks to the suspects in the case, and Dima Pchelintsev, who after spending a year in a remand prison, had to choose between two pieces of paper, one promising him five to ten years in prison, the other, fifteen to twenty, and he chose the one promising him fifteen to twenty years (or is that life in prison?), but which did not contain the phrase “I admit my guilt, and I am sorry for what I did.”

There is no such thing as total knowledge.

Meanwhile, Petersburg had a week chockablock with jail sentences for some of the people who attended two different anti-pension reform rallies. Around a hundred protesters were sentenced to jail time, for a grand total of five hundred days in jail for all convicts. That comes to a year and a half in jail, which is a cushy sentence even for people sentenced under Criminal Code Article 205.6, i.e., failure to report a terrorism-related crime. And what is there to report? This is not a comparison. Comparisons are invidious.

I wanted to be in Penza, of course, but for some reason I returned to Petersburg.

The palliative functions of my civil rights work are still with me, but now they have been turned inside out. Temporary relief is now brought not by the presence of a civil rights defender, but things are made present to the civil rights defender. Before my very eyes hot meals and bed linens appear at police stations, people are released from police stations where they cannot be held, and government-issued dinners marked “VEGAN” are handed out at the Special Detention Center. The only things we cannot handle are bedbugs and violations of the freedom of assembly, and this also gives us peace of mind.

A certain Telegram channel writes that the whole business of rescinding the go-ahead for the September 9 protest rally and the subsequent detaining of six hundred people boils down to a feud between the United Russia faction in the Petersburg Legislative Assembly and Petersburg city hall. (Aren’t they United Russia party members, too?) The channel does something incredible: it attempts to figure out Petersburg politics.

I’m amazed, but I’m afraid to go down that rabbit hole. I had better keep trying to figure out Petersburg’s prisons.

And so it goes this autumn.

Translated by the Russian Reader

The Happy Chooks of Ryazan

You never know what scam will be visited on your weary head when you buy a cartoon of eggs from the Dixie supermarket. When the country’s reigning tyrant instituted reverse sanctions against the infidels of the west in 2015, all imported dairy products, eggs, and lots of other produce disappeared from the shelves, prompting a shameless wave of newly hatched brands made to look as if they had been produced in Finland and other straunge strondes.

Now that the triumph of the will known as import substitution has filled some of the yawning gaps on the shelves, the new three-card monte in the Russian food industry involves imitating “corporate responsibility” and “best practices.”

I happened upon a sterling specimen the other day, again after buying eggs at the Dixie in our neighbourhood. I opened the carton to find this message from the producers.

okskoye-1“Oksky Eggs: Delicious and Fresh. Dear Friends! I offer you a product that my children, acqaintances, friends and, of course, I myself enjoy eating. I guarantee that we monitor the entire production process at Oksky Eggs. I promise I will always be in touch. I will be attentive and responsive to all your messages. Whatever the issue, write to me at my personal email address: 0076@okskoe.com. Ivan Grishkov, Commercial Director, Oksky Poultry Farm JSC.”

Sounds nifty, eh? It gets better when turn the little slip of paper over.

okskoye-2
“PRODUCER’S GUARANTEE. Each egg is stamped with the production date, the number of the henhouse, and the poultry farm’s trademark seal. [Producer] [Category of egg] [Production date (date and month)] [Henhouse number]. || Oksky Eggs: Delicious and Fresh. Oksky Poultry Farm JSC, 390540, Russia, [Ryazan Region], Ryazan District, Village of Oksky. Tel.: (4912) 51-22-62. Email: sbit@okskoe.com. Website: www.okskaya-ptf.ru.”

A farmboy myself, I have no wish to malign my brother and sister Russian farmers. So, I should point out that the three Oksky Eggs left in our fridge are indeed stamped as advertised.

DSCN0022.jpg

The rubber hits the road, however, when you take a gander at the poultry farm’s slick website, where you are treated to this tear-jerking video about the happy lives led by the chooks at Oksky Poultry Farm.

It’s a veritable vision of the good life, isn’t it?

oksky-the good life

oksky-anoshina

At the end of this accidental disco anthem to cruel and unusual hen exploitation, a woman identified as “Yelena Anoshina, poultry barns supervisor,” reading from cue cards, says, “A modern electronic system generates the most comfortable conditions for the birds. It makes sure they are fed and watered. And I am personally responsible for this.”

I can only imagine the dialogue that would ensue if an enlightened consumer or, god forbid, a animal rights advocate tried to call Mr. Grishkov and Ms. Anoshina on their imitation of “corporate responsibility” and “modern poultry farming.”

The kicker, however, is that you will find these half-hearted attempts at instituting customer friendliness and gesturing in the direction of best (western) practices all over corporate Russia these days. Of course, you are more likely to find real friendliness and good quality in a mom-and-pop Uzbek dive or even a hipster coffeehouse, but oddly enough the impulse to do things better and shed the shabbiness and sheer meanness of the “Soviet consumerist hell” (Joseph Brodsky’s phrase) actually shapes the behavior of the mostly younger and early middle-aged people working in places like banks and certain government offices as well.

The only problem is the Russian ruling elite still wants to keep kicking rank-and-file Russians in the teeth on a daily basis, so the rules, regulations, red tape, and imperatives of the resurgent post-Soviet surveillance state and the kleptocratic oligarchy running the country mostly reduce the natural kindness and gentleness of these pleasant, soft-spoken cogs in the machine to naught. {TRR}

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Diskoteka Avariya (Accident Discotheque), “Disco Superstar” (2001)