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“We will catch him and eat him like a cake” – this is a quote from Yoweri Kaguta Museveni, the Ugandan president, and his words refer to Kizza Besigye, his main political rival. The president was immediately widely quoted by the world press. The world of food is absolutely infinite and totally relatable, as a result food allegories have become very popular as they could be applied to almost any situation. It is especially true for the choice of words used by the politicians, opinion leaders, and journalists.

Contemporary historiography has preserved for us a number of popular quotes which include references to both politics and food. For example, a famous saying that “You can't make an omelet without breaking the eggs” is widely attributed to François de Charette, a French naval officer who fought vehemently against the Republic during the War in the Vendee. After being captured he was interrogated about the number of casualties his actions have caused, and he responded with his famous phrase which we now associate with the need to make sacrifices for a greater good. De Charette remained a staunch Royalist, he continued to support the royal dynasty, which has often been praised for its exquisite taste and criticised for being socially aloof. Right before the bloody Revolution in France the reigning queen’s response upon being told that her starving peasant subjects had no bread was “Let them eat cake”. Modern researchers believe that there is no evidence that Marie-Antoinette’s has ever said that, but this new knowledge does nothing for the queen who has literally lost her head within several years after allegedly uttering the phrase.

Growing political rivalries often create situations where the most common cooking techniques are extended to describe the whole nations and countries. Food cliches were often used to create an image of The Stranger at the time of development of unified and standardised culinary traditions. In the mind of a regular European the leading European states have strong associations with the frogs, rosbifs, sausages, and the pasta munchers. These food cliches were widely used by the WWI propaganda. For example, a series of patriotic posters and postcards was printed in Russia, where the Russian Empire was portrayed as a bowl of porridge, France was presented as a bottle of champaign Veuve Clicquot, the Kingdom of Italy was associated with pasta, the British Empire with roast beef, the Austro-Hungarian Empire with wieners, and Germany became associated with sausages. Curiously, the strong association between Germany and sausages and wieners was also promoted by the remaining Triple Entente partners engaged in WWI.

In the 1900s food allegories are often used to refer to the national leadership and specific political systems. This is how it was with the Hungarian Republic – the term Kadarism was used to refer to its political and economic system, a unique brand of communism named after its architect, Janosh Kadar or Goulash Communism also known as gulyáskommunizmus. The national Hungarian leadership believed that improving the mass living standards should be achieved by any means possible, including the introduction of elements of market economy. At the time when Hungary was working on promoting Goulash Communism, Nikita Khrushchev, the Soviet political leader, was allegedly quoted as saying: “It is not bad if in improving the theory of Marxism one throws in also a piece of bacon”. Still, nobody knows who exactly got the bacon. 

Contemporary politics continue to use food allegories. We often hear about “something cooking” or “something being half-baked”. Political life often “boils over” when “somebody is stirring the pot”, it is “simmering”, becomes “hot” and “steamy”, but it could also become “frozen” instead, and sometimes it could even “go stale”. Boris Johnson is a world leader known for his masterful use of food allegories. During the 2010 political crisis in the UK the British media were actively discussing his quote about launching a grand coalition lead by the Tori party: “I think that whatever type of Wall’s sausage that is contrived by this great experiment, the dominant ingredient has got to be Conservatism. The meat in the sausage has got to be Conservative”. Wall's is a brand of meat products in the United Kingdom, best known for its sausages since 1786. Johnson in his political rhetoric intentionally drew parallels between this established product and the need to create a grand coalition lead by the Conservative party because the Tories gained a slight political advantage over their political rivals in the elections. 

And what about the food allegories in Ukrainian politics? Ukraine has its own brand of kitchen politics, and political traditions and stereotypes which go back to the 19th century. Historically the modern Ukrainian state emerged together with the launch of national food studies and construction of standardised national cuisine. Halušky Patriotism, was a mildly derogatory term coined as a result, named after a Ukrainian dish resembling pasta. It was used in reference to superficial love of the national culture exhibited by some opinion leaders who became overly excited about some elements of the national culture, like folk traditions, and signature Ukrainian recipes like salo, varenyky, and halušky.

At the time, the Russian authorities issued the Valuev circular of 1863 that placed limits on Ukrainian-language publications in the Russian Empire which was followed by the Ems Ukaz, a secret decree, banning the use of the Ukrainian language in print except for reprinting old documents. As a result, the Ukrainian folk cuisine was brought on the political arena and was used as one the means of identifying with the national Ukrainian culture. Here’s a quirky example from a banqueting menu specially developed in 1882 by Dmytro Mordovtsev, a Ukrainian writer and leading representative of the Ukrainian community in St. Petersburg, to mark the 20th anniversary since the death of Taras Shevchenko, a prominent Ukrainian poet, painter, and political activist. The menu included some of the most common Ukrainian dishes like borsch, salo, porridge, and horilka (Ukrainian vodka), but the recipe names reflected on the political and social climate of the day, which represented the views of Ukrainian opinion leaders.  


The 1882 menu to mark the 20th anniversary since the death of Taras Shevchenko


Some of the dishes’ names provided a play on words concerning the Ukrainian language and culture. The starters included such “permitted by censorship” dishes like stockfish, dried bream, the Polish inspired chłopomans are eating humble pie, and other dishes on the menu written using the government approved grammar”. The Ukrainian book printing business was highly restricted at the time, limits were placed not only on what type of books could be printed in the Ukrainian language but also the grammar used in the printed editions which was supposed to reflect the commonly used Russian spelling. 

The Cossack dinner included the Ukrainophile borsch and “separatist” porridge, allied sturgeon seasoned with horseradish (might as well be horseshit) instead of the constitution”. The dishes’ names clearly made allusions to the Ukraine-Russia alliance signed by Bohdan Khmelnytsky in 1654 and the current criticism by the Russian official establishment of the Ukrainian political activists and opinion leaders, who were often suspected of separatism. 

The menu mentioned the Ukrainophiles as well as their rivals, it also has many allusions to some of the most popular Ukrainian works of literature, like “Bayda, the Prince of Vishnevec”, a real-life historical drama by Panteleymon Kulish. A dish called “Peas by the roadside” is a clear allusion to a fable by Petro Hulak-Artemovsky – “Solopy and Khyvrya or Peas by the roadside”. Some of the dishes on the menu have been inspired by literary works by Taras Shevchenko. Namely, his poem “Perebendya”, a blind minstrel, and Shevchenko’s epic poem “Haydamaky”, which was telling the story of the 1768 Cossack and peasant uprising.

And finally, some of the dishes on the menu refer to the members of the Ukrainian community in St. Petersburg. For example, Father Mykola is Mykola Kostomarov, a prominent Ukrainian historian and political activist; and Sofia Markivna is Kostomarov’s stepdaughter.

Notably, food allegories were also used by the opponents of the Ukrainian national movement, their speeches often included references to “leaven”. This is exactly what Mykhailo Yuzefovych said about Pavlo Chubynsky’s national Ukrainian anthem, that it is something the latter has “cooked up” using this ingredient. One of the supporters and active proponents of the Ems Ukaz (1876) believed that “if this Ukrainophile leaven was mixed in a single bowl, it would be enough for cooking what’s needed”. He was referring mainly to the activities of the Kyiv South-Western department of the Russian Geographical Society, which was viewed by the authorities as subversive and criticised for its pro-Ukrainian position.

These events took place almost two centuries ago, but the bitter political rivals and ideological opponents continue to “cook up a storm” in Ukrainian politics. Let’s just hope that their recipes have enough nutrients to keep the Ukrainian people healthy. 



Illustration: The 1882 menu to mark the 20th anniversary since the death of Taras Shevchenko. The Manuscripts Institute at the National Library of Ukraine named after V.I.Vernadsky. F.I.File 49577. Page 51.