The Importance Of The Kitchen Garden

5 05 2008

Dmitri Orlov talks of the Soviet collapse and how the kitchen gardens helped Russians survive:

Shortly before the Soviet Union’s collapse, it became known informally that the ten percent of farmland allocated to kitchen gardens (in meager tenth of a hectare plots) accounted for some 90 percent of domestic food production. During and after the economic collapse, with the government stores quite uncontaminated by food, and often closed altogether, these plots became lifesavers for many families. The summer of 1990 particularly stands out in my mind: it was the summer when we ate nothing but rice (imported), zucchini (grown by us) and fish (from a local lake, caught by some neighbors).

The dismal state of Soviet agriculture turned out to be paradoxically beneficial in fostering a kitchen garden economy, which helped Russians to survive the collapse. Russians always grew some of their own food, and scarcity of high-quality produce in the government stores kept the kitchen garden tradition going during even the more prosperous times of the 60s and the 70s. After the collapse, these kitchen gardens turned out to be lifesavers. What many Russians practiced, either through tradition or by trial and error, or sheer laziness, was in some ways akin to the new organic farming and permaculture techniques. Many productive plots in Russia look like a riot of herbs, vegetables, and flowers growing in wild profusion. In the waning years of the Soviet era, the kitchen garden economy continued to gain in importance. Beyond underscoring the gross inadequacies of Soviet-style command and control industrial agriculture, the success of the private kitchen gardens is indicative of a general fact: agriculture is far more efficient when it is carried out on a small scale, using manual labor.

… In spite of the monumental failures of Soviet agriculture, the overall structure of Soviet-style food delivery proved to be paradoxically resilient in the face of economic collapse and disruption. The combination of local food stockpiles administered by politicians conditioned to treat bread riots as career-ending calamities, the prevalence of government institutions that attended to the sustenance of their employees and plenty of kitchen gardens, meant that there was no starvation and very little malnutrition. But will fate be as kind to the United States?

In the United States, most people get their food from a supermarket, which is supplied from far away using refrigerated diesel trucks, making them entirely dependent on the widespread availability of transportation fuels and the continued maintenance of the interstate highway system. In an energy-scarce world, neither of these is a given. Most supermarket chains have just a few days’ worth of food in their inventory, relying on advanced logistical planning and just-in-time delivery to meet demand. Thus, in many places, food supply problems are almost guaranteed to develop. When they do, no local authority is in a position to exercise control over the situation and the problem is handed over to federal emergency management authorities.

… Many people in the United States don’t even bother to shop and just eat fast food. The drive to maximize profit while minimizing costs has resulted in a product that manipulates the senses into accepting as edible something that is mainly a waste product. Under strict process control procedures, agro-industrial wastes, sugar, fat and salt are combined into an appealing presentation, packaged, and reinforced by vigorous advertising. Once accepted, it beguiles the senses by its reliable consistency, creating a lifelong addiction to bad food. The chemical industry obliges with an array of deodorants to mask the sickly body odor such a diet produces. Immersed for a lifetime in a field of artificial sensory perceptions, dominated by chemical, man-made tastes and smells, people recoil in shock when confronted with something natural, be it a simple piece of boiled chicken liver or the smell of a healthy human body. Perversely, they do not mind car exhaust and actually like the carcinogenic “new car smell” of vinyl upholstery.

When people do cook, they rarely cook from scratch, but simply re-heat prepackaged factory-produced meals. When they do cook from scratch, the supposedly fresh ingredients come from thousands of miles away and are selected for ease of shipping rather than any actually desirable qualities, making them woody or pulpy and only barely edible. Since good taste is no longer on the menu, the focus shifts to quantity, resulting in appallingly sized portions of undifferentiated protein and starch drowned in fat, administered in national festivals of pathetic gorging, of which Thanksgiving seems to be the main one. But this is all good for business and keeps the cancer, diabetes and heart disease industries humming. This is all very unhealthy, and the effect on the nation’s girth is visible clear across the parking lot. A lot of the people, who just waddle to and from their cars, seem unprepared for what is coming next. If they suddenly had to start living like Russians they would blow out their knees. Most of them would not even try, but simply wait, patiently or impatiently, for someone to come and feed them. And if that food arrives and consists of a styrofoam box containing a puck of pseudo-meat between two pucks of pseudo-bread and a plastic bottle of water laced with pseudo-syrup, they would be satisfied.




One response

27 10 2008
Economize with a Home Kitchen Garden

[…] the importance of the kitchen garden – the dismal state of soviet agriculture turned out to be paradoxically beneficial in fostering a kitchen garden economy, which helped russians to survive the collapse. russians always grew some of their own food, and scarcity of … […]

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