The article was developed and published in the framework of special project titled «Experience of war. Food and culinary practices in Ukraine» with support from the Mykola Klid Memorial Endowment Fund / Canadian Institute of Ukrainian Studies



In late spring this year, students of the Kyiv National University have launched a social and anthropological study into the changing and altering wartime culinary practices which began with the Russian invasion on the 24th of February 2022. The study was developed by the students of sociology. It utilised the guided autobiography method which was followed by social analysis and self-reflection. As a result, the methodology allowed researchers to better understand themselves and their immediate social environment as well as to analyse individual cases in a larger social context, namely during wartime. In the following article Alla Petrenko-Lysak, head of the applied social studies programme, discusses the basics of autobiographical methodology, gathering data in the immediate social surrounding, and new attitudes towards food.


/ How the study was born

Before the Russians invaded in February 2022, I planned with my students to study urban food practices associated with street food, but the war has changed that. The war has changed everything – the study process was disrupted, the emotions were going through the roof, and most students and professors have re-located. However, with the coming of spring academic activities have resumed in full. The initial idea which sprang to mind when re-thinking the study, was the subject of changing food practices and attitudes towards food which occurred after February 2022: how they have changed, what has been “revealed”, which seemed mundane and apparently unimportant before, and which notions have changed and acquired new meaning and connotation. Naturally, the war has affected the way we shop, distribute, and store food, our cooking methods and the way we consume food, the new ways we re-evaluate the importance of food and drink – all of which was reflected in the way we socially interact with food and exchange food, communal cooking, re-distribution of food, and the processes associated with donating food products to charity. The study reflects all of those aspects. The students themselves and trainees, directly involved in developing the survey, comprised the target population for the study, as a young generation of Ukrainians affected by war. Self-reported data from the students’ close social circle or other target groups which was flagged as important was also included. This is how we managed to collect data on about a dozen small individual cases which nonetheless became a valuable contribution to the larger picture about the war. 


/ Methodology

The study procedure was based on the guided autobiography method followed by an ethnographic essay. So, to start with the students submitted personal uncensored stories. The practical study was organised at the end of May 2022, and as a result, the essays were a combination of memoir and self-reflection, but most importantly the students focused their contemplations on the current affairs. The students have later reported that putting their thoughts into words was therapeutic and helped them re-think themselves and reality. Social and anthropological analysis of self-reported written data was the next step in the study, which also included the additional material on the subject, namely other individual cases and other people’s experiences with food and war. The students closely followed good research ethics and academic practices and systematised the available case studies, classified the variables, generalised the experiences, and formulated possible recommendations which could be useful to the project beneficiaries.


/ Food and war: results of the study

Our study seems to support the fact that the culinary practices are subject to change due to the following factors, which include the country’s region where the respondent is currently located, respondent’s age and gender, marital status and social circle, financial and economic status, prior experience with stockpiling food, e.g., already available food supplies, stored products, preserves and canned food, as well as the respondent’s emotional and mental state and how they see their current situation. 

The study suggests that the country’s region played the following role:
•  Regions not affected by military operations and without limited access to food (the most common replies from these regions include such quotes from the respondents “The food practices did not really change”).
•  Respondents from areas with a significant level of military operations (the respondents’ quotes: “It was difficult to get food in the first weeks”, “Received free food from charitable organisations”, “Did some quick food shopping, did not care about the manufacturer, and ingredients”.
•  Respondents from occupied areas who mainly survived on food donations and what they could find by “risking their lives”.
•  Internally displaced persons (quotes from respondents: “Unusual time for supper”, “Attending free food fairs for the IDPs”).
•  Ukrainian refugees abroad (quotes from respondents: “Changes in the diet and switching to less delicious foreign food stuffs”, “The new taste of tap water”, “Lack of usual products”).


Time frame of changing food practices

The registered cases helped us analyse the dynamic in changing food practices since the start of the war. Naturally, every person’s experience is unique but it is still possible to identify several general trends which occurred in stages:
1. Assess available food in storage.
2. Lack of appetite at the start of the war. 
3. Increased consumption of energy drinks to stay alert.
4. Consumption of fast food and snacking. Irregular food habits.
5. Make food last longer.
6. The need/want to ration food products.
7. Decrease/re-distribute/exclude specific food products in the diet as a result of unavailability of such products or their rising cost.
8. Changes in the cooking methods, food consumption practices, and food intake schedule.
9. Daily/traditional rituals of food consumption and cooking as a means of soothing the mind and taking oneself back to the “time before the war” (e.g., going out to eat).
10. Feeling guilty for eating certain types of food or eating in general.
11. Normalising food and gradual adaptation to the new wartime conditions.
12. Return as much as possible to the usual diet.

Most common food products in the first days/weeks of war

We have identified groups of products favoured the most by both the study respondents and the research team during the first weeks of the war. The list includes:
•  tea and coffee
•  water
•  bread
•  preserves
•  cereal 
•  sweet stuffs (e.g., biscuits, sweets)
•  sandwiches
•  snacks
All of which are staple foods.

Food products in the “strategic reserve” which were stockpiled before and/or during the war:
•  flour
•  water 
•  sugar
•  vegetable oil
•  cereal


Changes in the culinary practices

Our lives have been affected by the war also in a way that it helped shape new habits, transform the daily practices, including the food intake.  

Fear, uncertainty, shock, and physical threat to life have impacted our behaviour – what was unimaginable before becomes a daily occurrence today and vice versa, small daily rituals like having a cup of street coffee or snacking on a fresh croissant, which could be performed at any time suddenly have become unattainable. Especially during the first days and weeks of the war. We aimed to analyse the conditions under which the new normal of war has been formed and how the attitude towards food and food consumption has changed. We have registered different experiences in the following groups, namely Ukrainians under occupation, Ukrainians in the war zone, internally displaced persons (IPDs), and evacuees or residents in the so-called safer areas. Nonetheless, a large proportion of respondents in the study have developed new food habits and behaviours

In the general description of the study, we have identified the following, culinary practices under limited resources, unusual food consumption practices as a reaction to the changing mental state, gastronomy as part of cultural and communicative practices, and social and cultural aspects of cooking traditions.


Culinary practices under limited resources 

Here we have identified some key behavioural points related to the food consumption practices and attitudes towards food.
•  Accepting food provided by charitable organisations (moral uncertainty when needing to use free food packages due to poverty, the need to ration food, and profit conspiracies). 
•  Switching to substandard food/food lacking in taste/unusual food in order to save money needed for other purposes (to save valuable resources when the situation gets even worse).
•  The need to ration food (as a result of possible food shortages, here it’s not just about limited access to a balanced diet but to food in general).
•  The need/wish to share food (mutual support within the community, e.g., sharing food, exchanging food, buying food for strangers).
•  Excluding/rationing some food products in a diet as a result of rising cost (linked to rationing resources but as a result of rising cost in wartime).
•  Reducing/re-purposing/excluding some food products from a diet as a result their unavailability (due to food shortages or seized production and manufacture of particular brands/types of products or when now a product is for military use only).
•  Increased production of home-grown products (due to the rising cost of food, some food shortages, and temporary relocation – like relocating from an urban setting to a rural area, and a way to manage risks).
•  Being aware of hot spots where food products which are now in short supply are available (where and when and what type of products are going to be delivered to the grocery stores).
•  Stockpiling on long term food (food products in the household kept just in case).
•  Stockpiling on emergency food during war (using previous experience of stockpiling in case of war or famine; it mostly includes staple foods, emergency products, and products which do not need water or heat for cooking and are most suited for travel).
•  Increased consumption of fast food/switching to fast food long term (to save energy needed for cooking).


“It’s just that it became evident that we stockpiled too much, so we need to free some space in the pantry. Also, before the war we stockpiled five canisters of drinking water (19 litres each), we would use one and keep the rest”
(here and below quotes from the study respondents)





Food consumption practices as a reaction to the changing mental state 

We have analysed different types of emotional reactions associated with mental states and the way they reflect on the food practices.



“We began drinking a lot of coffee because it was scary to go to sleep at night, to stay awake for as long as possible, I drank coffee or strong tea”  


“Within my family circle having food is usually a communal event, however the war caused systemic changes in the traditional way the food is consumed. Everyone in the household was focused on their own feelings of anxiety, so we did not eat as much and when we did, we did it alone - the feeling of hunger occurred independently”  


•  Increased consumption of caffeine/energy drinks (e.g., coffee, strong tea) to stay awake for longer (due to the fear of going to sleep and falling victim to shelling during the night or missing important news, air raid signals and so on; due to the need to stay alert all the time).
•  Food becomes less relevant, at the start of the war food is ignored (respondents cannot recall what they ate in the first days of the war; having a hard time recalling).
•  No appetite/poor appetite at the start of the war or increased appetite instead (note that the following characteristic was registered around the whole of Ukraine regardless of the intensity of military action and being close to the front).
•  Extreme craving for sweet stuffs or a sharp drop in their consumption.
•  Feelings of hunger affected by the air raid sirens (either by refusing food or increased food consumption).
•  Forcing oneself to eat and drink something (eating and consuming liquids as a matter of survival despite a lack of appetite).
•  Growing value of simple regular food (trying to save money and focusing more on the product’s nutritional value).
•  The feelings of guilt resulting from consuming particular types of food and food in general (survivor’s guilt, i.e., a belief that in emergency situations food is distributed in an uneven and unfair manner, feelings of guilt for surviving a life-threatening situation).
•  Enjoying food which is familiar/homecooked dishes (as a way of taking the mind off the current affairs, savouring the taste and aroma of food, appreciating the taste).


Gastronomy as part of cultural and communicative practices 

Food is an important part of communication in our daily lives and in wartime. However, during war it has an altered significance. Please see below a short classification of how food helps different populations communicate directly and directly. 


•  Daily/traditional rituals for cooking/consuming food as part of the psychological protective mechanism and means of going back to the time before the war (helped support a feeling of relative safety; followed family or national cooking traditions (e.g., Easter celebrations, birthdays, and so on), which helped relax and feel comfortable).
•  Going out to eat and having quality food served in an elegant manner as part of the measures to go back to the time before the war (a type of behaviour specific to some groups of people in some regions of the country; an ability to recreate the time before the war and a feeling of contributing to the functioning of the economy helps create a feeling of safety and balance the emotional state).
•  Eating a meal as a way to communicate, spending time together, discussing the current events (communal dining involves communication which grew stronger during the war).
•  Cooking food for others and sharing food with vulnerable populations as a way to take care of other people and abandoned animals (feeling content as a result doing something which society explicitly approves of and feeling happy about doing volunteer work, i.e., cooking and sharing food).
•  Changes in cooking practices, food consumption, and food intake schedules (changes in a diet and cooking methods depending on the factors at play).
•  Exchanging recipes and improving cooking abilities during war (as a result of relocation, access to new products, new responsibilities, need to communicate and share, interchange of cultures within Ukraine and abroad).
•  Cooking as a form of psychotherapy (the need to keep busy, by doing something which is both useful and calming).
•  Cooking favourite dishes more often, just for the sake of it (explained by the need to live in the here and now and seeking an immediate feeling of happiness; living in the moment).
•  Pay more attention to the manufacturers of food products and/or support the national producers (boycott products from Russia and Russian allies, support the national producer).
•  Going back to the usual diet (after a respondent feels in relative safety or has adapted to the new life conditions).


“I received a parcel with some holiday pastry so I could feel at home”  


“We showed support through food. It was the least we could do and show our people and the military that we care about them, that we are one nation, one family”  


Social and cultural aspects of cooking traditions

In the following section we have examined social, cultural, and systemic aspects identified by our study, they include:
•  Gender/age/ethnicity related prejudices associated with food (e.g., distribution of responsibilities in the kitchen where the women take on the traditional role of cooks and the men perform physical work like delivering groceries; some social and demographic populations receive priority treatment in relation to food (for example, such mottos like “children first” and “women and children are a priority”, and so on); ethnicity related prejudices like first providing access to products for “your own kind” and the rest come second).
•  Ineffective use of food products. Feeling judgmental of others in relation to the unfair distribution/use of food products. Prefer to prioritise specific foods for some populations based on age, profession and so on.


“The dish was too spicy, from time to time it made my face flush and I did not feel well. However, the moral obligation was such that I had to taste at least some; as the saying goes beggars can’t be choosers; at least we have to have communal suppers and dinners”  


The results of our study have helped us identify the new culinary trends during the war (namely, how food has affected the new normal during the war). It includes the following:
•  Consume less/more sweet stuffs; 
•  Stock up on foods like preserves, staple food, and biscuits – these products can be kept in long term storage and do not require additional cooking;
•  Go for highly nutritious products;
•  When food shopping, pay attention to the product manufacturer (avoid products manufactured by the aggressor state and support national products);
•  Follow local culinary traditions and stay culturally sensitive;
•  Cooking as a way relieve stress; help others. Cooking helps organise the time and helps create a sense of normalcy which existed before the war;
•  Eating out/cooking food from the time before the war/follow established culinary traditions to create a sense of normalcy which existed before the war;
•  Saving up on food/opting for cheaper options/choose recipes without expensive ingredients;
•  Feeling guilty/food shaming associated with following the usual culinary practices;
•  Adapt culinary practices to the reality of war;  
•  Quality of food is secondary; 
•  Anxiety associated with not being able to follow a quality diet in the future.

Also, we have been able to identify the time frame within which a respondent returns to their usual diet, it includes four time-brackets used to return to the normal life: within a week, within a month, two months, and in April when we return.

Another group characteristic which helped analyse culinary habits during the war is the respondents who evacuated vs the ones who stayed in Ukraine. Let’s analyse the key characteristics for each population.

Changes in culinary practices for those who evacuated from Ukraine:
•  Foreign food lacks in taste
•  Too spicy
•  Alcohol abuse
•  Unusual time for supper 
•  Predictable/unpredictable time schedule for food consumption 
•  Different food prices 
•  Changes in the diet
•  Different food volumes
•  Lack of familiar products
•  Unfamiliar ingredients
•  Competing priorities when shopping for food (allocation of joint funds)
•  New dishes
•  Grocery stores do not open on Sundays or other open hours
•  Food store long distance away
•  Eating meals in volunteer tents
•  Unusual taste of tap water - in other countries tap water is overly mineralised.

New culinary practices during the war for those who stayed in Ukraine:
•  Drink coffee and tea to stay awake during the night or in an air raid shelter
•  Stocking up on drinking water and food
•  Anxiety related to not having access to drinking water
•  Food stores destroyed/partially destroyed or closed
•  Food shopping on the go without paying any attention to brands and ingredients
•  Grow your own food
•  Eating out to create a sense of normalcy just like before the war
•  Going to a neighbour’s house or another neighbourhood to get water or warm a meal
•  Food shopping in bulk to avoid being out and about
•  Eating meals at charitable organisations
•  Attend free food fairs organised for IDPs
•  Receive food parcels from other Ukrainian cities and from overseas.



In the first three months following Russia’s invasion, food has acquired new meanings, colouring, and function. The war time “discoveries” in the culinary field include:
•  Favourite dishes as the only available source of happiness and self-soothing;
•  Food as a show of support for the near and dear ones;
•  Drink coffee or strong tea to stay alert and avoid dangerous situations;
•  Food delivered to Ukraine by overseas charitable organisations in a show of support for Ukraine and its people as well as a political gesture;
•  Communal dining as a way of bonding within a group;
•  Traditional Ukrainian dishes as a means of promoting national culture overseas;
•  Growing your own food and stocking up on food supplies as means of creating a safer future; 
•  Eating out as a way of supporting the national economy.



The study has identified new ways to run a household on a tight budget. It mostly effects apartment dwellers in the cities, as compared to those who live in private residences with a back garden and significant stocks of food. 

Ukrainians have adopted new ways of accessing food and cooking (traditional recipes and cooking methods have changed).

The new transformed and reshaped traditional culinary practices have had an effect on health (both mental and physical health). 

Holiday cuisine or ritual food have become a link between the war which is ongoing and peaceful life (e.g., Easter, birthdays, red letter days and other holidays, and anniversaries).

The more traditional locations for food consumption did not just change, they transferred to absolutely different locations designated for other purposes, e.g., having dinner in a bathroom as part of blackout measures and safety procedures or having a meal in a cellar which is also an air raid shelter. Moreover, the food intake schedule also has changed, e.g., the study has identified patterns when individual family members ate a meal separately when feeling hungry or due to other needs; people forced by the circumstances to move in together have to adapt to living in a group; Ukrainians abroad adapt to the food intake schedule followed by the host families; inability to follow the usual food intake schedule due to the social discomfort; and altering the food intake schedule due to the air raids. 

For those who have evacuated for the time being and now have relocated to other regions of Ukraine or have left the country food became a way to establish communication within their new social group. 



Study authors: concept and facilitation - Alla Petrenko-Lysak; study team: Andriy Balazh, Nazariy Batsak, Anastasiya Drannik, Kateryna Koroliuk, Yulia Kremen’, Alina Mayorova, and Olexandra Petrenko.

Study idea developed by: Olena Braichenko


The complete study results can be accessed here from the official website of the Sociology faculty of the Taras Shevchenko University in Kyiv