Todd Armstrong (far right) with students in the multicultural kitchen

Comrades in the Kitchen: Russian and Soviet Food and Culture in the Soviet Century

Photo from Armstrong's 2015 tutorial meeting in the multicultural kitchen.

Comrades in the Kitchen: Russian and Soviet Food and Culture in the Soviet Century

A First-Year Tutorial offered fall 2021, taught by Todd Armstrong, professor of Russian and Russian, Central European, and Eurasian studies

Our tutorial will explore Russian and Soviet food culture through critical analysis and praxis. Drawing from literature, cookbooks, cultural histories, art, film, folklore, and memoirs, we will use the methodologies of textual analysis and food history to research, write, and speak about how food and food culture reflect the human experience in Russia, with particular focus on the Soviet twentieth century: from the Russian Revolution of 1917 to the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991. A central part of our course will involve hands-on practice of the preparation and consumption of Russian (and Soviet) food. Insofar as any discussion of food must also address its lack, we will consider how hunger and starvation have profoundly affected the Russian and Soviet experience. As an active response to hunger and food insecurity, our class will sponsor food events for the Grinnell community.

Todd Armstrong

Why I’m Teaching This Topic

I’ve regularly cooked with students in our extracurricular program — there are few more accessible lenses into another culture — but always thought of this work as separate from the traditional academic classroom. In recent years, however, I’ve merged my teaching of literature with my interest in and passion for cooking and food culture, and have found the kitchen to be a wonderful place to teach and learn.

We’ll be learning to cook, to be sure, but more importantly, we’ll be "cooking to learn."* Students come away from the course with important life skills and a better understanding of another culture. An important part of the course considers the question of hunger and starvation, and as a way to respond, our class sponsors events to feed the community. I first taught the topic as a tutorial in 2015, and I’m excited to be doing so again this coming fall, especially in our new Global Kitchen.

– Todd Armstrong

*I learned this phrase in a University of Vermont course I took this summer, Democracy in the Kitchen: John Dewey's Education through Cooking and Eating, taught by Cynthia Belliveau, University of Vermont, and Lisa Heldke, Gustavus Adolphus College.


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