Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Food: The Most Peaceful and Powerful Weapon

When I posted earlier about food on Maidan these days,  Leo Dvortsin of the Netherlands, a friend of both Ukraine and the Pickle Project, shared a link from someone's timeline on Facebook.  That someone was Zoya Zvinyatskovskaya, a journalist and culture expert.  Enormous thanks to Zoya for giving us permission to share it here and to Leo for providing the translation.   Read it, just read it--it's incredible.

Everybody agrees that the food takes an extraordinary place during this revolution, a special place in the organization of any event, slightest movement or displacement of people on the streets. Of course, this is not a coincidence, as food and its availability are the oldest and most simple indicators of the state of well-being of a given society. So, according to this indicator, the Ukrainian society unified by the concept "Maidan" is doing really well, something to envy.
Last Tuesday, that is a million years ago, I passed by fences set out by activists on the corner of Maidan (Independence Square), Institutskaya and Bankovoya streets. There were several dozen serious people and, as many simple sympathizers like me. I came close to the fence, stood on tiptoe and peered over it: at the other side there was an empty street, and a row of policemen in black uniforms further away. It was a fairly infernal display, but I was not allowed to enjoy it fully. Literally after 30 seconds of my observation I was approached by a very active and smiling young girl who in a very friendly manner asked, "would you like to have tea?" In her hands she was holding a tray with disposable cups from which clouds of steam were rising into the air. I politely declined her offer, but she insisted and repeated, "and with cookies?"  This meant the following: if you are at least for a minute doing something needed now by ‘gromada’ (Russian words ‘society’ or ‘collective’ are absolutely not equivalent, and I do not even want to use them), and so, if you work for even for a minute for the benefit of ‘gromada’ – ‘gromada’ immediately begins to take care of you. And you will not perish.

And today, I saw this mechanism from the inside, on a barricade closest to my home - a small outpost of the Maidan, one of many around the square. Around 6:30 PM, when a spontaneous gathering of protesters started near the barricade (speaker, standing on a car, tried to convince people supporting the government party who gathered in the park to go home ), I decided to show my daughter the revolution – luckily, the frontline came very close to my house. We arrived around 7 PM, warmly dressed and with a child-sized flag. Scene of the spectacle looked quite heroic: truck baffling the street, determined people in helmets, barricade made of benches from the nearby park, and an army tent. The only thing that slightly spoiled the romance - soldiers of the revolution, standing in a chain they were all eating bananas. It looked a bit strange and very funny at the same time. And then I saw the source of bananas - a woman in a coat with a bag from the Selpo supermarket chain. And then another one - with small pies, you know, ones that are sold on the street. She walked down the line with the package and offered them to everyone.

Hmm, somehow suddenly I thought that it would be necessary to bring some tea for the guys, and went home. At 7:35 PM my friends and I returned to the barricade with two buckets of tea, as well as with sugar and lemon. One of the benches has been brought out of the barricade, on the side. On it there was a box with homemade sandwiches and a grandfather poured coffee from a small thermos. Our tea was greeted very warmly, as we poured it, a man appeared with the patties filled with poppy seed (they were stored in the same box as the homemade sandwiches) and there were even more homemade sandwiches arriving, but different ones. Everything started to look very well. At 8:20 a car drove up, obviously from headquarters of the protest movement. A man exited from the car dressed in a fantastic sheepskin jacket, belted with Hutsul leather belt. He delivered three military jerry cans, each with up to 20 liters capacity, full with broth, soup and tea. Besides that the car brought a porridge made with millet and fried with lard. And a real aunty cook began to serve it with a huge ladle on disposable plates. A woman volunteer who called the aunty cook ‘mother’ started distributing the plates. First to the ‘soldiers’ in the line. Then to everybody around the barricade, including supporters, onlookers and Titushki who came from work on their way to sleep. Titushki (government backed young men who are responsible for provocations) recoiled in horror and accelerated pace. At the same time, people brought baguettes, sandwiches and more patties. Porridge of oatmeal was still warm. By 8:50 PM all were full, the music continued to play, and two beautiful and cheerful girls began to dance and sing along at yet another Svyatoslav Vakarchuk`s song. Picket turned into something that usually happens during our revolutions. It became some sort of wedding , and in its phase when the newlyweds have already left, and the table is just bursting from the weight of food, and the guests are already full of fun and are assessing which songs they should start singing. Ten meters from the protesters stood a row of policemen, and right behind them a row of riot police who looked like astronauts. They were standing too far from the barricade, but the cops sadly smelled tasty vapors, shifting from foot to foot, staring morosely at what is happening in front of them - the smell of porridge was just intoxicating and filled the street. I trudged home with an empty bucket in order to put my child to bed (second bucket, still full with tea, I left as my present for the revolution), on my way home I saw at least three couples with plastic bags in which I could clearly recognize stacked sandwiches . Based on the amount of food the picket could have stood there for several days. And we have not even shown our best. 

Well, you understand what I am trying to say. Of course, this barricade is purely symbolic. And the ‘fighters’ occupying it are not real fighters, but just simple guys in construction helmets and without the slightest hint of weapons in their possession. And this barricade can be dismantled in blink of an eye. But, you know that it will as easily restored in no time. As many times as required. Pledge for this is the amazing self-organization of our people, most clearly evident in the supply of food anyone, even random people who are sympathizing with the protest movement. There is abundance of food. But the main thing is that I have seen where this food comes from. It is instantly supplied by ‘gromada’. And this is demonstration of force, the most peaceful and the most powerful at the same time that I have ever seen.

Photo:  hot tea on Maidan, photo by Anastasia Vlasova

Monday, December 9, 2013

Feeding EuroMaidan

When we began the Pickle Project, we began with an idea that the ways in which Ukrainians approach food and sustainability were something to be proud of, something Americans could learn from.  But our 2011 conversations in Kyiv, Donetsk, Odessa and L'viv helped us understand more:  that talking about food, eating together and sharing a meal were fundamentally democratic activities, making us all equal and providing a safe place to share ideas, even with strangers. 
Like many of you who care about Ukraine, I've spent the last two weeks checking out my Facebook feed (for English speakers, check out Euro-Maidan in English on Facebook) reading the Kyiv Post's continous online coverage, and hearing from friends and colleagues in Ukraine about the protests in Kyiv and throughout the country.  And, if you looked closely, even from thousands of miles away,  you could see our beliefs about food made real. 
This post is just to share a few images from the protests in the center of Kyiv, just blocks from where I lived for a few months.  Dozens, if not hundreds, of people (including Miss Ukraine 2013) have stepped up to make sure everyone, even policemen, are fed warm soup or served a cup of tea.  I've read that citizens from Poltava and other locations have sent food, local restaurants have gone into the streets to serve free food, and in the video at the end of the post, Adli from Crimea makes plov.  With all these images, photographers, I've tried to credit you as I can--if I missed you, please let me know.  If you've got more photos to share, please do.
What have I seen?  As you can see here, cold sandwiches of meat and cheese, homemade varenky in a pot carefully wrapped in newspaper to stay warm,  kasha, plov, those boxes of cookies seen in every subway underpass; cups of tea and coffee, and giant cauldrons of borscht, borscht, borscht.  But more importantly, what I've seen is volunteer action, of a kind that is rarely seen in Ukraine.  Incredible to watch.  On this cold night, our hearts are with you.

Images, top to bottom:  Several of these photos are by Vassil Garnisov,  others from Euro-Maidan on Facebook or the Kyiv Post. The image of tea being served to policemen is by Vitalli Sediuk on Twitter.  Video by Babylon13,  who are creating great short video documentaries about EuroMaidan.  You can find others on YouTube.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Cossack Asparagus

My foray into cattail harvesting happened, admittedly, after I had departed Ukraine. It wasn’t until I was harvesting young shoots in the spring, and cattail pollen in the early summer, that I began to learn about the way in which the cattail and Ukraine are deeply connected. Also known as “Cossack asparagus,” a wild edible’s guide to the plants of Poland (Dzikie Rosliny Jadalne Polski: Przewodnik Survivalowy) notes that a 19th century traveler to Ukraine commented that, “cattails were eaten in spring with religious passion, and they were visible everywhere, stacked in each yard.” A simple search into cattail as an edible pulled up multiple references to Cossack asparagus and traditional recipes.

For my first attempt, we gathered small shoots, cleaned and washed, and served a simple sauté with stinging nettle. Though the fall doesn't present as many opportunities for harvesting shoots and pollen, the rhizomes are busy storing food to make it through the winter months. Next time I travel through Ukraine, I will certainly be looking for evidence of this past tradition!

Friday, September 27, 2013

Market Report: Tsukiji Market, Tokyo

I know, Tokyo is far afield from Ukraine,  but my work brought me to Japan, and luckily to this market. An amazing variety of foods,  including an amazing variety of pickles.  Like Ukraine,  Japan is a culture that has often made do with foods at hand, which in this case includes pickled, fermented and dried everything, from squid to eggplants.   It was amazing to see, taste and smell so many different flavors along the way and I thought Pickle Project fans might enjoy a look as well. 

Friday, May 10, 2013

New and Old in Kyiv

I just spent a few days in Kyiv on this trip to Ukraine, as the May holidays approached. Kyiv is increasingly an international city and although I didn't get to any markets, a couple quick snapshots convey the changing nature of Ukrainian food in this capital city.  
Somehow over the last year and a half, many the food carts in the city all adopted a sort of Ukrainian village style--so now you see these (above) faux houses on faux wooden wheels all over the center.   In the year or so before that,  tiny expresso coffee trucks popped up--they're now a really common sight.  But because it's spring, I saw these coffee trucks doing double duty--they were also selling kvas from blue and yellow barrels.  So the coffee trucks have replaced the once familiar big kvas tanks that were a harbinger of spring.

Perhaps most surprising was my encounter with a raw food restaurant, just off Maidan.   I pondered villagers eating their dandelion greens and foraged berries while I ate my green soup and fresh pressed juice.  Ever-changing Kyiv-- a reminder that our food cultures are always combinations of old and new.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Spring has Sprung!

This past week, I was in Donetsk, in eastern Ukraine, where spring has finally sprung.  The combination of the May holidays with upcoming Orthodox Easter has meant a flurry everywhere of cleaning, painting, and most important, planting.

We didn't ever get to a market visit,  but I found it interesting that in many part of Donetsk, a highly industrial city, it still feels like a village, with residents intensively cultivating their small plots.  Here's a bit of what I saw.  At the top of the post, Lyumilla cultivates her front yard, just half a block away from a factory.

And as we walked along another part of the city, on a colder gray day, we saw many people, mostly women, out planting and preparing.

And turning a corner, a place that felt exactly like a village.  Jars of pickled mushrooms were tucked back into the back of a market stall by a bus stop and this woman brought flowers from her garden (that day, brilliant tulips) to sell in the city center. 

It was Palm Sunday and the city was filled with residents carefully carrying their bundles of pussy willows in honor of the day, like these two girls on the mashrutka.
And as we took the train back to Kyiv and twilight fell, I was reminded, once again, about how beautiful and fertile Ukraine's land is.  Lovely!

Saturday, February 9, 2013

History at The Table: Join the Conversation

In April,  I'll be joining a dozen or so historians in a convening of the Public Historians and Local Food Movement Working Group at the National Council on Public History annual conference in Ottawa, Canada.  The working group is led by Michelle Moon and Cathy Stanton, who've encouraged us to begin the conversation through a series of entries on Cathy's blog.  Mine, inspired by a photo that came through by Facebook feed one morning (thanks Katya Kuchar)  explores the connections between the personal and the political as we think about food--in Ukraine, in the United States, and in museums.  For the full post (and other great posts as well) please go here.

And of course, remember that your photos: of your lunch in Ukraine, of your mom's pickles,  or old family dinners,  can inspire us to.  Please share!

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

What's Pickling for 2013?

Happy New Year, picklers near and far!  

In early December,  a small group of us gathered in Washington, DC (thank you Portrait Gallery and American Art Museums for having such a great, friendly space to work in) to brainstorm and plan for the future of the Pickle Project.  Joining Sarah and I were Christie Bond and Anne Laesecke,  both returned Peace Corps volunteers from Ukraine, and Eugene Chervony of the Museum of Natural History in L'viv and currently a Fulbright Scholar in Museum Studies at George Washington University.

We've taken our first steps to becoming a non-profit organization,  with the mission of encouraging thoughtful conversations about food in Ukraine and elsewhere.  We incorporated as a charity in New York State, with Christie joining Sarah and I as the fledgling board.  We're working on the next steps,  our IRS non-profit status and hope to have that paperwork filed soon.

Using survey results, feedback from audiences in Ukraine and the US,  and our own diverse perspectives, we looked at issues that might affect our work in Ukraine and here (both threats and opportunities),  and brainstormed a long list of ideas and possibilities. A few of our concerns:
  • Political stability in Ukraine, which could impact free travel and access, in addition to the ability of Ukrainian NGOs to continue (ability for us to partner with Ukrainian organizations
  • Tight philanthropic climate in the US (economic downturn – US & Ukraine
  • Environmental impacts in Ukraine (increased mining and fracking, changing climate, land use, transformation of agricultural politics)
  • Lack of trust in social capital in Ukraine (impact on partnerships)
 And a few of the many opportunities we identified:
  • Continued interest in food & preservation (homesteading, etc.)
  • Look at the “why” and “how” of the project in Ukraine (in particular, consider the “how” of the project – Soviet influence)
  • Environmental, Natural History perspectives
  • Engaging through exhibitions
  • Ukrainians have a more integrated “full systems” understanding of environmental impacts – could bring knowledge to Americans
  • Engage high school students, & college students in Ukraine (youth)
  •  Connect with people hosting agro-tourism in Ukraine (eco-tourism) – greater “tourism” in Ukraine opportunity & growing access to Ukraine

Our weaknesses boiled down, to a large degree,  to our somewhat limited capacity (more on that below, dear readers!)  But our strengths were primarily external ones that heartened us all as we listed them out:
  • Strong intentionally cultivated partnerships – and existing connections
  • Connection to Fulbright and Peace Corps Communities
  • As an organization, able to live with uncertainty
  • Creative and flexible as an organization
  • 6,000 unique visitors went onto the blog from 110 countries in 2012
  • Ability to use social networking platforms – access to a larger audience
  • Diversity of Ukraine (landscapes and cultures) and diversity of conversations, partner organizations, and the open way in which we interact with partners.

We boiled down our ideas into three primary goals for the next two years:
Enhance our online presence through increased interactions
To this end,  you'll be seeing our blog convert to a full-fledged website with more ways for readers to engage with us and we hope, see a Ukrainian/Russian version as well.
Build capacity of the Pickle Project
Complete the 501c3 status;  build the board;  and seek new funding sources including  "Friends of the Pickle Project."
Cultivate in-person engagement in Ukraine and in the United States.
In 2013,  hold a Pickle Project event (or two) in American cities to build engagement and interest;  plan for a 2014 series of conversations in Ukraine. 

As it has since its beginning,  the Pickle Project wants to respond to your interests as well--and to invite you to participate with us in any part of our work.  So please share your thoughts,  invite us to speak, write a blog post,  share your fabulous social media, web development or party planning skills to help us move to the next level.  It's been an incredible journey with friends all over the world--we look forward to the next steps!