- By Reid StandishReid Standish is an assistant digital producer at Foreign Policy. A native of British Columbia, he holds a BA in international studies from Simon Fraser University and an MA from the University of Glasgow. He has lived in Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Ukraine, where he reported on drug trafficking, environmental degradation, and the Eurasian Union.
Earlier this month, Russia announced that it would retaliate against Western sanctions by banning the import of a wide variety of foods, from fruits to fish, from Europe, the United States, and other countries that levied sanctions against Russia. As a result, some Russians in Moscow and St. Petersburg are facing decreasing food supplies and rising prices at the checkout line.
Now, in what has become a symbol of the country’s defiant stance toward its Western critics, many Russians are turning to an old dietary staple to reduce their dependence on foreign food and show their support for Russian President Vladimir Putin’s hard-line stance toward the United States and its allies. Buckwheat — or grechka, as it is known in Russian — is a relatively cheap and versatile food that can be used to make porridge and casseroles. And amid tit-for-tat sanctions with the West, many Russians are turning to social media to flaunt their love of the traditional dish and express solidarity with the Kremlin’s food sanctions, launched on Aug. 7.
According to the Russian newspaper Kommersant, the price of meat in Moscow has risen 6 percent since the announcement of the import ban. Meanwhile in St. Petersburg, the price of pork is up 23.5 percent, and the price of chicken is up 25.8 percent, during the same period. Russia currently imports about 16 percent of its food, and the country’s consumption of meat, fruit, vegetables, and dairy far outpaces its domestic production capacity.
So it’s no surprise that Russians are turning to buckwheat — both because of its symbolism as a staple during Soviet-era shortages and because of its ready availability in grocery stores.
Recipes are also circulating that ostensibly provide more creative and less bland ways to prepare the dish. In Russia, buckwheat is traditionally served with milk or butter. This recipe advises a preparation with onions, garlic, and tomato paste.
— Receptiks.com (@slek7771) August 6, 2014
But the food wars aren’t just affecting Russia. Lithuania and Poland, Russia’s western neighbors, have also been hard hit by the Russian ban on imports of fresh fruit and vegetables. In Poland, whose apple farmers rely heavily on exports to Russia, locals have taken to social media to post photos of themselves eating apples and have even launched an apple-a-day-keeps-Putin-away campaign to support Polish farmers.