Food in Russian History and Culture

By Shostak, Natalia | Canadian Slavonic Papers, March 1, 2003 | Go to article overview

Food in Russian History and Culture

Shostak, Natalia, Canadian Slavonic Papers

Musya Giants and Joyce Toomre, eds. Food in Russian History and Culture. Indiana-Michigan Series in Russian and East European Studies. Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1997. xxvii, 250 pp. Illustrations. Index. $39.95, cloth. $17.95, paper.

Paying tribute to the fast growing discipline of culinary history, the Russian Research Center (now Davis Center for Russian Studies) at Harvard University held a conference in 1993 on food in Russian culture and history. As a result of this undertaking, the present volume came into being, offering "fresh insights by looking at the availability and consumption of foods at different periods in Russian history" as well as an analysis of "Russian attitudes toward food and its... symbolism"(p. xii). Like many publications born out of conferences, this collection presents thematically diverse papers, some more methodologically sound and intellectually engaging than others. Contributors to the volume deal with foodper se, food as metaphor, food representations and food practices in the perspectives of folklore, literary studies, history, and art history. Historical periods covered range from the time of Russia's early chronicles to the Soviet perestroika of the 1980s.

Snejana Tempest opens the volume with an essay on perceptions of the stove in traditional Russian peasant society and the rituals of its construction. The author considers selected folk songs, proverbs, and tales to illustrate the stove's symbolic functions, its being a channel between the world of dead and the world of living, and its healing and restorative powers. Horace G. Lunt'sgoal in his essay on food terminology used in Rus' Primary Chronicle is "to register words referring to food and drink ... and to assess the information they provide, presumably for the early twelfth century" (p. 21). The author lists various foods of the ancient Rusians-kutia, kvas (a bread-based fermented beverage), pivo (beer) and others-and discusses the changing meanings of food terminology throughout history. In his interesting, well-researched and detailed description of food practices in eighteenth-century St. Petersburg, George E. Munro turns to food consumption of the Russian elite under Catherine the Great, when dining practices were to a great degree combined with an element of theatricality. The author describes banquets of the rich, with fountains spouting red and white wine, food staples of the poor, and foodstuffs available on local food markets at the time.

Fasting and vegetarianism as dietary practices of the Russians arethe subject matter of the three next articles. All three papers look at abstinence from food in relationship to spiritual and ideological doctrines of a time. Cathy A. Frierson begins the discussion with a descriptive commentary on Russian populist Aleksandr Engelgardt's depictions of Russian peasants' diet published from 1871 to 1887 in "Notes of the Fatherland." By outlining the discoveries Engelgardt made about the rational diet that peasants followed in their daily lives, the author introduces the Western reader to the almost scientific (according to Engelgardt) rationale peasants followed in their choices of food. Food was to be eaten on a particular day and was measured against the energy levels it could produce in view of labour (light food for light labour, heavy food for heavy labour). Leonid Heretz's contribution on the practice and significance of fasting in Russian peasant culture at the turn of the twentieth century continues the discussion of peasant diet, albeit from a different perspective. If Frierson refers to the peasants' calendar as a "calendar of hunger" (p. 52), Heretz reminds us that this is also a Christian calendar of fasting, for 180 days of Russian Orthodox calendar were fasting days (p. 69). This is a well-balanced and interesting discussion on the meaning of fasting as practised by the peasants, at the intersection of popular belief and Christian theology, emphasizing that the peasants' zeal for fasting often went beyond the requirements set by the church. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Cite this article

Cited article

Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25,

Note: primary sources have slightly different requirements for citation. Please see these guidelines for more information.

Cited article

Food in Russian History and Culture


Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25,

    New feature

    It is estimated that 1 in 10 people have dyslexia, and in an effort to make Questia easier to use for those people, we have added a new choice of font to the Reader. That font is called OpenDyslexic, and has been designed to help with some of the symptoms of dyslexia. For more information on this font, please visit

    To use OpenDyslexic, choose it from the Typeface list in Font settings.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Author Advanced search


    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.