Making cheese - repositioning the country: the embargo, import substitution, and visions of Russia's development
Volha Biziukova (University of Vienna )
Paper short abstract:
The paper explores how developments in cheese consumption and production in Russia, which gained salience amid the embargo and import substitution, function as a milieu for negotiating contradictions of Russia's development and global positionality as well as expressing aspirations for its future.
Paper long abstract:
In the context of the embargo on food imports and the policy of import substitution, which signal a shift in the state strategy of Russia's socioeconomic development, cheese has gained an unprecedented prominence in consumers' narratives, media reports, and public discussions. Drawing on data collected in 2015-2018, this paper addresses changes in cheese consumption and production and approaches the narratives about cheese as an entry point to explore people's expectations regarding Russia's future development and its repositioning in the global hierarchies of power. Due to the place of cheese in Russia's system of provision (Fine 1995) along with the meanings and symbolic value attached to this product, its substitution is perceived as both indicative of ongoing changes and problematic. Consumption of cheese, once a top import, has been undergoing significant changes and middle-class consumers are adjusting their consumption habits. The developments in the domestic cheese production simultaneously symbolize the ambitions of restoring the manufacturing capacity of Russia's resource-dependent economy and pose a tough challenge for these aspirations. Widespread doubts regarding quality, safety, and taste of domestic cheese persist, questioning the feasibility of the entire initiative. This paper argues that controversies surrounding cheese became a milieu for expressing and negotiating contradictions of Russia's development and position in the global hierarchies, especially vis-à-vis its technological inferiority, deindustrialization, and import-dependence. It analyzes how experiences of Russia's societal transformations, entangled with particular representations of the Soviet and Imperial past, inform uncertain images of the future, infused with hopes and fears, ambitions and skepticism.