The Digest

The Complexities of Soviet Food & Other News

13th January 2018

Words: James Hansen

In this week’s food media round-up: the allure of military rations, understanding food deserts and in praise of the all-you-can-eat buffet

Rachel Sugar addresses the complexities of Soviet food, in the USA, now, for Taste Cooking. Noticing a “wavelet” of books, restaurants and interest in food from Russia, Georgia, Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan and beyond, she makes a compelling observation: “Perhaps the restaurants and cookbooks had been there all along, and I was only noticing now. That is the problem with trends. It is always possible you are just gazing at yourself.” Covering The Book of Healthy and Tasty Food – a 1939 “aspirational” cookbook that is as much a work of propaganda as it sounds – and the regional cross-pollination that came from travel restrictions, Sugar alights on a culinary genre being revived by liberation as much as good branding. Anya Von Bremzen: “No one cares about pickles … but everyone cares about ‘fermented blah-bity-blah with pickled ramps’. If there is one thing millennials love, it’s fermentation.”

John Devore exalts the particular charms of all-you-can-eat buffets for Woolly Magazine. He recalls a trip to Atlantic City’s Taj Mahal casino where his $25 winnings were spent on the buffet – a grand tour with waymarks hewn by knowledge and experience. “I passed by the prime-rib station, where a chef was carving slices under a red light; I knew the light was there to bring out the red of the beef, and that without it, the prime rib would most likely look like a gray, unappetizing plug of meat.” The piece ends with Devore sated; the description of farro as “like rice but with a New York Times subscription” lingers further.

Olga Khazan flips received wisdom on food deserts on its head for The Atlantic. A food desert – a low income area wherein at least 33% of the population lives more than a mile from a grocery store – is often targeted as a root cause of food poverty, and rightly so. Khazan points out that areas lacking in grocery stores aren’t necessarily lacking in cheap food outlets, and fast food is the name of the game. In changing the angle of analysis, Khazan challenges the silver bullet of making produce more readily available: if there are more McDonalds than markets, it’s likely that a food swamp will form.

Alison Nastasi interviews MRE YouTube star Steve Thomas for Extra Crispy. An MRE, or Meal, Ready to Eat, is a military ration – the 24-hour packs designed to fuel military personnel when other options are not available. One of a community of ration reviewers online, Thomas has a particular taste: old, old food. As Nastasi notes, “every MRE contains some kind of product that reveals something about a country’s culture”, and Thomas pairs this fascination with the historical to wonderful effect. He reveals that the size of breakfast “depends on the country”, that his MRE ephemera is in “an undisclosed and protected climate control location”, and that “all countries have one thing in common with the advancements in their rations, including breakfast, and that is trying to make the food as palatable as possible.” The videos are very much worth a look post-interview.

Image: Alex Citrin / Taste Cooking (detail)

Posted 13th January 2018

In The Digest


Words: James Hansen

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