Updated: March 3, 2022 9:38:46 am
For people around the world — including officials in some US states — who are urging or enforcing a vodka boycott as a mark of solidarity for Ukraine, it might be instructive to look back at a chapter from recent American history. Nearly 20 years ago, frustrated with France’s refusal to support their country’s invasion of Iraq, a couple of US House Representatives directed that the French fries served in the Congressional cafeterias be renamed “freedom fries”. The episode went down in history as one of the all-time greatest futile gestures, with one of the politicians involved later saying, “I wish it had never happened”.
The trouble is that while food is inherently political — consider the recent debates on caste and cultural appropriation — it resists politicisation. Meaning, that when someone tries to impose a value/belief on food, be it patriotism, as in the case of freedom fries in 2003 and liberty cabbage (sauerkraut) and liberty sausage (frankfurters) during World War II, or anti-Russia sentiment, as is the case now, it simply does not work. While many people have shared videos of themselves pouring bottles of vodka down the drain, the point they miss is that the spirit ceased to be “Russian” in any real sense of the word once it became one of the world’s favourite spirits. Vodka is now a global heritage — and indulgence — and not just a stand-in for Russia. Let’s not forget that much of the vodka being consumed today, whether it is Smirnoff, Grey Goose, Belvedere or Ketel One, is not even made in Russia.
And finally, as we spin from one planetary existential crisis to the next, the crisp, clean taste of a good vodka is one of the few pure pleasures left to enjoy. So, who does a boycott really hurt?
This editorial first appeared in the print edition on March 3, 2022 under the title ‘In the wrong spirit’.
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