Food Couriers Strike in Moscow

cs-2Food couriers striking outside the offices of Delivery Club in Moscow on June 5, 2020. Photo by Mitya Lyalin. Courtesy of RTVI

“Bring Back the Old Rules”: Couriers at Delivery Club in Moscow Strike
RTVI
June 5, 2020

Couriers at the food delivery service Delivery Club in Moscow held a strike on June 5. According to them, working conditions at the company have recently taken a turn for the worse. For example, the company has started giving couriers long-distance orders, as well as frequently fining them. The workers walked out in protest. Our correspondent followed the industrial action and listened to the protesters’ demands.

Around forty couriers, nearly all of them wearing the company’s bright green raincoats, came to Delivery Club’s offices this afternoon. The couriers did not chant slogans. They wanted to speak with company management. Although they were not deterred by heavy rain and waited for over two hours, no one from Delivery Club management came out to speak with them.

In a conversation with RTVI, one of the protesters expressed his dismay.

“We have gathered here to get them to cancel the excessive fines against us. Take me: I deliver on foot. I used to get orders within a three-kilometer range, but now they’ve been sending me as far away as five kilometers. Think for yourself how a foot courier can walk so many kilometers and how long that takes,” he said.

According to him, this can cause him to arrive an hour late to a customer’s home or office.

“Then the customer gives us a funny look. But if we fail to take the orders, the company fines us,” he explained.

“Courier Strike at Delivery Club.” TV 360° live-streamed the June 5 industrial action in Moscow.

Another courier said that he and his fellow strikers wanted the company to go back to the old rules, under which workers were able to make all their deliveries on time and none of them was fined.

“Delivery drivers make 3,000 to 5,000 rubles [approx. 40 to 65 euros] for 14 to 16 hours of work, if they do 30 orders. Foot couriers make three to three and half thousand rubles max. At the end of our shifts, management can issue six or seven fines. Each fine amounts to 300 rubles, so that comes to 1,800 rubles [approx. 23 euros],” another young man said.

The couriers say that in the past, when orders were issued within the areas where they chose to work, they were always on time, because they knew, for example, where they could shorten their routes.

“We had everything worked out. Now the situation has changed. We bring people cold food, and I don’t think Delivery Club wants its reputation to suffer. I would like to go back to the old rules,” a female courier said.

The delivery drivers also have problems. They told RTVI about Delivery Club’s clumsy system for compensating their petrol costs. For example, they can be ordered to pick up food from a restaurant far away from their original location, but Delivery Club does not compensate them for their travel there. They are compensated only for travel from the restaurant to the customer, which, according to them, is a small amount of money.

On June 4, TV 360° aired this short but informative report about the upcoming strike.

The couriers coordinated their actions in community Telegram chats. A day before the strike, the Telegram channel Rasstriga, citing one of the couriers, reported the upcoming strike, forcing Delivery Club to announce that they were verifying the report. A spokesperson for the company said that during the period of self-isolation there had been more orders, and consequently the average earnings of their couriers and drivers had increased.

cs-1A striking Delivery Club courier speaking to reporters. Photo by Mitya Lyalin. Courtesy of RTVI

The same day, a video message from couriers in the Moscow suburb of Khimki was posted on Rasstriga. One of the speakers compared the work of delivery drivers to that of taxi drivers. According to him, they had to travel all over the city.

“We all have families, and we all have children to feed as well,” another courier added.

On the morning of June 5, Delivery Club issued a statement saying that the dissatisfaction of couriers could have been sparked by an experiment with increasing the size of delivery areas. However, the company added, the test was only carried out for a few days, and was terminated before there were reports of an impending strike. Now, according to the company, all unfair fines for couriers had been canceled, and the company had begun returning money previously paid in fines to the couriers.

Ivan Weiss, the head of the Union of Couriers of Russia, also spoke about the problems of delivery people. In a conversation with TV 360°, he said that many couriers and drivers were fined unfairly.

Weiss gave an example.

“A person starts work at 2:15 p.m., and they already have several unfulfilled orders from 2:05 p.m., and so they end up getting fined 1,500 rubles. There is no limit to the indignation a person feels when they need to earn this money.”

Weiss also spoke about the expanded delivery areas. According to him, a foot courier can be asked to pick up an order five or six kilometers away. Weiss also said that while he supported the couriers at Delivery Club, holding an outdoor protest during the self-isolation period could backfire on them.

Translated by the Russian Reader. If you want to learn more about the lives of food delivery people in Russia’s major citiesd, check out the recent photo reportage, “In the Imperial City,” by the well-known Petersburg documentary photographer Mikhail Lebedev, who has gone to work as a courier during the pandemic, and journalist Yana Kuchina, published by Takie Dela on May 24, 2020. Here’s a sneak preview.

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“Since the beginning of the self-isolation regime, the number of couriers has increased more than fivefold. Every day, 50 to 100 new people appear on the delivery chat. People are losing their jobs, and the delivery service is the easiest way to find a new source of income.”

Eat Pizza, Not Animals!

 

daner pizzaA vegan pizza, fresh from the oven at Däner Pizza Spot (8-ya Sovetskaya ul., 4, St. Petersburg). Photo courtesy of Happy Cow

“Eat Pizza, Not Animals”: Petersburg Vegan Pizzeria Trying to Survive till Summer
Alla Konstantinova
Mediazona
April 23, 2020

Mediazona has been working and growing for over two years thanks to the support of its readers. Today, small businesses need help, and that is what our “Solidarity” column is all about. Founder Daniil Petukhov, a man with a tattoo of a cabbage on his stomach, tells us how the vegan pizzeria Däner Pizza Spot has been doing during the lockdown in Petersburg.

_____________________________________________

How to help: order pizza and drinks for delivery or pick up the order yourself.

I’m a committed vegan: I haven’t eaten meat for ten years, and I haven’t eaten any animal products for about nine years. I won’t go into questions of ethics, ecology and health. Let’s just say that when I see an apple, I want to eat it. When I see a chicken, I don’t want to. And I’m glad that I don’t have to kill anyone to be fed and happy. I also have matching tattoos—a pig on my chest, near my heart, and a cabbage on my stomach.

I’ve never wanted to earn much. I’ve always believed that the main thing is to cover your basic needs so you have money for food and travel. So in April 2018, when I rented a room on Nevsky, I had to somehow pay for it and feed myself. So I started making vegan pizza at home, right in the kitchen. Friends called, and I would take the pizza downstairs for them to pick up.

A few months later, I moved to the Llamas Vegan Shop, which my friends had opened. We split the rent, and I set up a kitchen in part of the space and made pizza and focaccia there for a little less than a year. Then I realized I wanted to open a full-fledged restaurant and I knew exactly what I wanted to cook—Neapolitan vegan pizza in a wood-burning oven. I started crowdfunding, borrowed money from a friend, found a space at Third Cluster on Eighth Sovetskaya Street, and fixed it up. Däner Pizza Spot opened in December 2019: we are only four months old.

This is the first Neapolitan vegan pizzeria in Russia. What does that mean? We make cold-proofed dough from Italian fine flour, sea salt, water and yeast. It produces a thin but puffy crust, which we bake in a birch wood-fired oven. Our menu includes seven types of pizza, soft drinks, and several kinds of beer and cider. The entire pizzeria occupies about one hundred square meters, and the dining area takes up around forty square meters. There is enough space, but now that the dining area is closed, we have slightly modified the kitchen to make it easier to pick up orders. The number of pizza boxes we go through has increased: before, we used five hundred boxes a month, but now we’re up to around two thousand.

When the general shelter-in-place order was issued in Petersburg, our landlord quite categorically said there would be no breaks on the rent. Later, he made concessions after all, discounting the rent by thirty percent, but we had to pay two months in advance. With suppliers, everything has changed, too: before, we could order products in the morning and get them in the evening. Now delivery can take three days, so it’s easier for me to go to the store myself.

We haven’t had to fire anyone: there are nine of us on staff, plus four delivery people. When the bad news came, I told the guys, “Guys, I don’t want to fire anyone, but you have less work to do. So tell me how much I can reduce your salary to make it okay.” The guys get it all and have not been down in the dumps: they listen to music in the kitchen and hang out.

I’m not very good at math, and I don’t like counting things, but I know this is the beginning of something bad, and it’s only going to get worse. We have had a certain minimum per day we had to earn. Now, while there were two such bad days in March, there have been five or six in April. Overall, we have started earning at least thirty to forty percent less than we used to do.

I tried to reduce the price of delivery, but quickly realized there are parts of the city that are too remote to deliver pizza at a discount—it’s more trouble than it’s worth. There were cases when several orders were made from the same district—I combined them and gave people a discount. Now we have teamed up with the vegan burger joint Hood Street Food—they are located one floor below us. Their burgers and our pizza can be combined in one order so people don’t overpay.

My sunniest plan is to be able to last at least until the summer. But if the epidemiological situation does not change and people are not allowed outside, our project may come to an end in July. At the same time, in my heart I’m not planning to close down, because I am an optimist. Well, and I need to pay off my debts somehow.

That’s why I haven’t been selling gift certificates yet. We opened with crowdfunding money, among other things, and we raised a significant amount of money through gift certificates. So, all four months we’ve been in business, people have kept coming in with them. But I still want to start paying back my debt to my friend: it’s good he doesn’t rush me and has generally been accommodating.

I am counting on support from customers and friendly establishments because all attempts by the government to improve the lot of small businesses have been futile. Personally, I, like many of my friends, got absolutely no support from the government. So if you want to see us when it’s all over (and it will be over), order delivery from us, and we’ll do everything possible to continue to please you. Together we will win! Eat pizza, not animals!”

Thanks to George Losev for the heads-up. Translated by the Russian Reader. Check out my other postings on how people in Russia have been dealing with the coronavirus pandemic.

#DänerPizza #DanerPizza #Mediazona #Covidarity

COVIDarity in Petersburg

COVIDarity
In self-isolation, Petersburgers read stories to children over the phone, hang out in online bars, and deliver free food to the elderly
Tatyana Likhanova
Novaya Gazeta
March 25, 2020

There are only penguins about, and they all look the same! You wouldn’t be able to pick out your own mom. And the snow is blinding, your beak is frozen, and your fins are tired. If you think you have problems it’s just because you’ve never been a little penguin in icy Antarctica. He lucked out in the end, however. He found a wise walrus who showed him how to find meaning and a source of strength in everything, to see beauty and come to the understanding that everyone has hard days, but no one can live our lives better than we can. Jory John’s Penguin Problems is one of the books that librarians in Petersburg’s Frunze District now read over the phone to housebound kids.

And not only children—there was a case when a depressed 25-year-old man asked the librarians to cheer him up with a story, and they did. The ten minutes when he became a child again, feeling warm and safe and protected, were the best medicine.

The project has a backstory. Fifteen years ago or so, one of the current on-duty storytellers, Marina, got a call on her home phone from a girl who was bored and dialing numbers at random. Marina read her a story, and the girl began calling every day to listen to one.

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Library storytellers Marina, Veronika, and Serafima. Photo courtesy of social media and Novaya Gazeta

When we were children, there was such a service—Stories by Phone—but it was a paid service and involved no choice or live communication. The voice on the other end of the phone was a recording.

Today’s Telephone Tales are read for free, but the storyteller’s most important duty is to help children feel that they are not alone, they are fun to be with, and the questions occupying them are important. The actual reading of a story usually takes around ten minutes, but a single call can last as long as forty minutes, as happened when Marina read a poem to an inquisitive child who kept having questions. Marina had to tell the child who legionnaires, musketeers, and cowboys were.

Children usually let the storytellers choose books for them. You cannot worry about the outcome with such excellent pilots in the world of children’s literature. Some children hear Ekaterina Panfilova’s The Ashones: A Tale from the Branch of a Rowan Bush, a glorious story of elves who bring comfort, the smell of buns spread with rowan berry jam, and a sense of security to a home. Others are treated to Karel Čapek’s stories of his wire fox terrier puppy Dashenka, poems by Mikhail Yasnov and Artur Givargizov, or something from the works of Roald Dahl or Nina Dashevskaya.

The three library storytellers—Marina Terekhova, Veronika Makarova, and Serafima Andreyeva—read only on weekdays:

  • Marina reads from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.; call +7 (921) 595-1596.
  • Veronika reads from 12 to 3 p.m.; call +7 (911) 937-9849.
  • Serafima reads from 3 to 6 p.m.; call +7 (931) 357-5041.

Adults Only
While children are listening to stories read over the phone, adults now have the chance to drink and chat with a motley band of people without leaving home. In Petersburg, a fictional street featuring a dozen virtual drinking establishments could become an alternative to the “restaurant street” on Rubinstein. You can visit the online bar, the brainchild of Mikhail Shishkin, the director of a creative agency, at this link. When you click on one of the neon signs, you end up in a particular group video chat. Depending on the joint’s “capacity,” your screen will be divided into several windows (from four to twelve, depending to number of participants). It’s BYOB, as they say, with everyone drinking what they pour in their own non-virtual kitchens.

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The main page of the virtual Stay the Fuck Home Bar

The idea was a good one: the Petersburg online bar has been gaining popularity in different Russian cities and abroad. A week after it opened, it has not been so easy to find a free spot. As for the patrons, it’s the luck of the draw. There are interesting interlocutors, but you can run into a boorish jerk, just as in real life.

We Are Responsible for Those We Have Fed
Spouses Alexandra Sinyak and Yevgeny Gershevich are owners of Dobrodomik, a cafe that had been providing free daily lunches to as many as three hundred elderly people. Due to the coronavirus, it had to stop its Grateful Lunches for Pensioners campaign.

“But with their miserly pensions, our elderly patrons have grown accustomed to not spending money on groceries to make lunch, and so we can’t stop helping them overnight. Therefore, all the pensioners who visited Dobrodomik can call Alexandra, and we will be happy to bring them food,” the owners announced on the cafe’s social media pages.

Thanks to support from their partners at AgroInvest, Dobrodomik (“Good House”) was able to give away one ton of fruits and vegetables during the campaign’s first week.

The help arrives quickly. On March 20, 83-year-old Nina Zakatova wrote that she was running rather low on food, and it was hard for her to go out. On March 21, she found a full box of produce on her doorstep, including potatoes, onions, cabbage, apple, tomatoes, and tangerines.

In addition to distributing fruits and vegetables, the campaign delivered one hundred food parcels in its first week. Each parcel contained bread, milk, chicken, vegetable oil, pasta, rice, buckwheat, canned peas, and cucumbers.

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An elderly woman with a food delivery from Dobrodomik. Photo courtesy of social media and Novaya Gazeta

“An elderly person comes downstairs, you give them food, and in return you get a look that cannot be described in words,” the instructions continue. “You send a photo of the receipt and, preferably, a photo of a happy elderly person to Dobrodomik, and we will reimburse you.”

Of course, you can buy and deliver food without being reimbursed, if you have the means. Or you can donate money to Dobrodomik using the details on their website.  Or you can help with deliveries. You can also help clean the apartments of elderly people who live alone and cannot manage themselves, or you can help with repairs (Dobrodomik also offers this service), either by buying building materials or taking part in the repairs if you’re handy. Finally, you can donate unwanted clothes, shoes, and appliances.

Helping Is Easy—Easy Peasy
Meanwhile, a whole big family of other equally good houses has come under attack by the evil coronavirus—the ceramic houses produced by Petersburg in Miniature, a project run by the charity space Easy Peasy (Legko-Legko). The houses were made by disabled people in Easy Peasy’s studio on Bolshaya Pushkarskaya, but now the workers cannot get to the studio.

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A replica of the ballerina Mathilde Kschessinska’s mansion on the Petrograd Side in Petersburg, as produced by Easy Peasy’s disable craftspeople. Image courtesy of Petersburg in Miniature

Easy Peasy’s Tatyana Nayko made the following suggestion to people on the Facebook group page Petrograd Diaspora:

“I have an idea. Would historians, art scholars, tour guides, and journalists help us write the stories of buildings on the Petrograd Side? We will post the texts on our website and on social networks. During the quarantine, we will design new miniatures to go with your texts. Write to us about the houses where you live or about buildings that mean something to you, that are dear to your heart. People who are staying at home can entertain themselves while benefiting our project. We have to share our love of Petersburg with everyone now. Let’s write and then read the stories we have written about the houses we live in and the people who have lived in them.”

The same group page, Petrograd Diaspora, also published an announcement that Konstantin Sholmov’s Wonders and Adventures Creative Workshop would be releasing a series of entertaining video lectures on crafts for children. The first lecture (about the properties of different types of wood and ways of working and experimenting with them) has already been posted on YouTube.

Another area in which new grassroots campaigns have emerged is support for small and medium-sized businesses. Groups urging people to buy, order, and eat in their neighborhoods have been proliferating on social media.

The owners of a cafeteria on Aptekarsky Prospect have suggested that neighborhood residents organize themselves through the chat groups of residential buildings and office space renters in the same office buildings to avoid overpaying for orders when they are delivered by third parties. The cafeteria owners are willing to pay for delivery of bulk orders made by these groups.

Heads-Up
Together with the volunteer movement COVIDarity, Novaya Gazeta has launched the COVID Infobot on Telegram. This chatbot allows people to get prompt consultations on questions regarding the spread of the coronavirus in Russia. You can use the bot to see the latest infection statistics and read quick guides about symptoms and prevention. You can also use it to get help, for example, with buying or ordering groceries for someone in self-isolation, consulting with a psychologist, and finding out where to buy protective equipment. Your requests will be forwarded to the volunteers at COVIDarity.

Translated by the Russian Reader

Der Bier-Flip-Streik

bier-flip ingredients.jpg

Since I have been told, in no uncertain terms, by dozens of people smarter and better than me, and in hundreds of ways and shapes, that my views and opinions are wrong, unwelcome and a threat to solidarity among progressives worldwide, from now until further notice* I will limit myself to translating and posting cocktail recipes from a cookbook entitled Kochen, published in 1988 by Verlag für die Frau in Leipzig.

I have always argued that solidarity is a two-way street. I was wrong. There are people and groups in this world whose views and opinions are better than the views and opinions of other people. If you want to be liked and accepted, you need to understand this and support the correct views and opinions, not have views and opinions of our own. What you should never ever do, under any circumstances, is to criticize or otherwise comment on the views and opinions of our spiritual, moral and political betters.

My first recipe is a doozy known as the Beer Flip.

To make it you will need the following ingredients:

  • 100 grams of sugar
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • Zest of 1 lemon peel
  • 2 bottles of beer
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 packet of vanilla sugar
  • Salt
  • 2 shots of cut brandy

Boil two cups of water, half of the sugar, the cinnamon stick, and the lemon zest for a few minutes. Pour in the beer and simmer. Beat the eggs, vanilla sugar, the rest of the sugar, and a pinch of salt until foamy. Gradually pour the beer through a sieve and stir in the cut brandy. This drink is served hot or cold.

Source: Kochen (Leipzig: Verlag für die Frau, 1988), p. 310. Photo courtesy of kochbar.de

* The Beer Flip Strike will end when someone makes a donation of any amount (see the left-hand side of this page for details) to this website or when three people show me proof, in the comments to this post, that they have shared a post (any post) from this website either on their own websites or their social media pages in the past week. 

UPDATE (October 1, 2019). It would have been nice, perhaps, to take a break from being the bad cop who brings tidings of Russia that neither the so-called right or the so-called left can bear (the strike was prompted by fresh attacks on me from both sides), but as he has done on two other occasions, a friend of the blog, RB, promptly made a donation of $100 yesterday. It is hard to say how much this means to me.

Donating money, however, is not the only way to support this website. It also means a lot to me when you share what I post here with your friends. That way I know that people are reading the Russian Reader. This has been my only mission since I started the blog twelve years ago: sharing news and views of the other Russias and other Russians with people in other parts of the world who would otherwise not be able to hear these voices. // TRR

Buggered

rossiya This bankrupt agribusiness was called Rossiya (“Russia”). Photo courtesy of Maxim Kemmerling/Kommersant and Republic

“The Data Leaves Us at a Loss”: A Few Figures That Might Surprise the Kremlin
Yevgeny Karasyuk
Republic
April 4, 2019

“Why on shoes? Why a third? Where did they get these figures?”

Dmitry Peskov, President Putin’s press secretary, responded with questions to journalists who questioned him yesterday about Rosstat’s depressing report for 2018.

According to Rosstat’s study, in which sixty thousand Russian households were surveyed, every fifth Russian skimps on fruits and vegetables. Every other Russian family cannot afford to travel anywhere when they have a week’s vacation, while every fourth family does not have enough money to invite people over to celebrate birthdays and the New Year’s holiday.

And, indeed, the report does conclude that 35% of Russians are unable to purchase each family member two pairs of seasonally appropriate footwear.

“I would be grateful to Rosstat if they clarified these figures. The data leaves us at a loss,” Peskov added.

Meanwhile, there are other figures—lots of figures—that would probably also bedevil the Kremlin if they were aired in public. Let us recall a few of them.

Nutrition
Consumer watchdog Rospotrebnadzor concluded that 63% of deaths in Russia were associated with bad food and poor nutrition. According to official figures, Russians spend approximately 35% of their household budgets on food, while independent researchers put that figure at over fifty percent. However, the average Russian household skimps on all purchases and tries to do without everything it can, claim the researchers behind Romir’s Coffee with Milk Index, which charts the quantities of chocolate, coffee, milk, and bottled water purchased by Russians. Researchers at RANEPA recently described the diets of Russians as unhealthy, unbalanced, and lacking in energy.

Health
According to a report by RANEPA’s Institute for Social Analysis and Forecasting, 22% of Russians who live in straitened circumstances face the stark choice of whether to buy the bare minimum of the cheapest produce or the cheapest drugs, drugs they need to survive. It is typical of Russians, not only those below the poverty line, to postpone going to the doctor, if it involves costs, noted researchers at the Institute for Health Economics at the Higher School of Economics.

Education
According to the pollsters at VTsIOM, fifty percent of Russian parents experience serious financial difficulties when getting their children ready for the first day of the school year. Over the past five years, the average sum of money Russians claim to spend getting children ready for school has increased by sixty percent, rising from 13,600 rubles to 21,100 rubles.

Housing
According to the Construction Ministry, the Russian populace’s debts for utilities and housing maintenance bills have grown by five and a half times since 2015. The ministry reported that, as of the end of last year, the total amount of this debt was 1.2 trillion rubles [approx. 16.34 billion euros]. The rates for water, electricity, gas, and other utilities and services increase rhythmically year after year, and yet the real incomes of Russians have continued to fall five years in a row.

Transportation
Forty percent of Russian car owners “try not to use their own vehicles, taking public transport instead.” Another 22% of car owners follow their lead, but do it less frequently. VTsIOM has explained the outcome of its January opinion poll by citing the concern of Russians for the environment while failing to note that the price of petrol has skyrocketed in recent years. Last year, a liter of AI-95 rose in price three times faster than inflation. The government has resorted to artificial, decidedly non-market measures to depress prices, and yet petrol in Russia is now twice as expensive as it was when the decade kicked off.

Only twelve percent of Russians believe that, when it describes the economy and the social sector, the Russian regime always or mostly tells the truth. The Levada Center has done polls on the same subject since 2010. Russian society’s confidence in what the country’s leaders and senior officials say has never been as low as it is now.

By voicing surprise at Russia’s poverty, at least on paper, the Kremlin is, apparently, determined to convince people it inhabits a parallel reality in which Russia makes one breakthrough after another, and the rank and file enjoy “stability” by way of spiting the country’s numerous enemies. Peskov seemed genuinely puzzled by Rosstat’s claim that Russian families have trouble buying shoes, but he probably had not yet read the government’s report on the increase in mortality rates in every third region of Russia. Clearly, something is wrong with the figures. In short, we expect a reaction.

Translated by the Russian Reader

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. Photo of Detsl, below, courtesy of Alchetron

detsl

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 mattered.

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 high temperature 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}