After reading Sophie Harris’s article regarding the cultural phenomenon of bread sniffing a number of things became illuminated regarding Russian culture. From both our readings in the Domostroi and the supplemental reading for this week we have learned as a class the importance of bread in Russian culture. Not only was bread a major staple of Russian nutrition for its consumption, but for its symbol of status of wealth among a household. Bread and salt was even expected to be offered to guests of the household as a sign of hospitality. The use of bread within a household depended greatly on the economic status and prosperity of the family, hence the tradition of sniffing bread. If a family was posh or well to do salted fish and bread would be consumed not sniffed after taking a shot of vodka. The idea being that consuming food with your vodka would lengthen the period of sobriety, as not to have guests become too drunk too quickly. In less fortunate households however where the consumption of bread over an entire evening was not possible, a loaf or a slice may have been passed around and sniffed. Believing that breathing in the smell of the bread would also soak up some of the alcohol and making the guest less drunk. As seen by these traditions bread takes on not only a nutritional use or life as a status symbol but use as a social actor. Bread is not simply important to the sustenance of the Russian people but it proves invaluable in the social and traditional culture of Russia as well.
The word Dacha in Russian culture has changed in significance and meaning since its first use. During the time of the writing of the Domostroi, the upper class relied heavily on the gardens surrounding their Dacha for sustenance. Dachas, or country cottages, were commonly found far from the vastness of larger cities in secluded rural areas. These Dachas and the upper middle class who ran the household are the targeted readers of the famous Domostroi text. A sizable section of the Domostroi is dedicated to teaching the readers the proper maintenance of their “kitchen garden”. The kitchen garden as it is referred to in the Domostroi was relied on heavily by the upper middle class to provide a location to raise garden crops, peppers, eggplants, etc. Not only did the kitchen garden provide a sizable space to grow crops for storage and use in later winter provisioning, but a place for livestock and domesticated animals to be raised and for them to roam. Due to the inclusion of precious and expensive animals, and the proximity of the home’s storehouses the Domostroi mentions specifically the importance of maintaining a shut gate at all times, detailing specific security measures that must be taken by the Master of the Household. The Dacha and the crops grown around it dipped in popularity and necessity as Russia left the seventeenth century, yet the rise of the Dacha occurred once again during the soviet period. Being able to grow their own crops and provide a reliable food source during times of shortage was incredibly popular among the rural lower class and those who were fortunate to find them selves living in a Dacha. The popularity of the Dacha and its Kitchen Garden, mirrors the rise of personal gardens in the Western World. Americans living in suburban areas often find themselves tending to a small garden in their free time. The most distinct difference however is the fact western suburban gardeners do not often subsist solely on their kitchen gardens.
After reading headings 40 and others on the topic of provisioning within Carolyn Pouncy’s translation of the Domostroi, a number of comparisons to western culture become apparent.
The primary takeaway from the provisioning sections of the Domostroi is its clear relation to western culture at the time. At the time of the writing of the Domostroi the opinions and teachings within represented well the cultural beliefs of Europe at the time. While the Domostroi alludes to culture and societal beliefs at the time of its writing, the majority of the teachings within are more closely aligned with survival techniques.
A large portion of the survival techniques in the provisioning section teach the reader on good business practices. The Domostroi tells the reader to break bread and salt with merchants for preferential treatment moving forward, showing how important proper hospitality was in Russian culture. The Domostroi teaches that with proper hospitality a household will be more likely to receive quality goods and first choice from merchants. This emphasizes the nature of superstition within Russian culture, particularly of note when the Domostroi mentions how a Household Master who cares for the sick and old will find himself stray of sin with a successful home.
In breaking down the Domostroi with a Contemporary American lens the effective teachings within the Domostroi of this section come into view. Certainly the subjugation of women as presented by the Domostroi is abhor-able by modern standards, but the teachings on provisioning for a winter in order to maintain the livelihood of your peasants holds true. The teachings may be dated, but for the time of its writing the book likely taught hundreds of households how to properly make it through the winter with the lives of all those within maintained.
Upon reading the introduction of Carolyn Pouncy’s translation of the Domostroi, the age in which the book was written becomes immediately apparent. World culture and societal norms have advanced and changed to an almost indescribable degree from the time of the seventeenth century, making many of the teachings within the Domostroi seem archaic beyond recognition. However, upon reading the practical nature of many of the teachings on household order become apparent. Certainly the time period’s treatment of women or mere existence of serfs is by todays standards unthinkable, but the practical nature of proper food storage and winter preparations seems proper for the time’s level of technology. The Domostroi goes into great detail of the daily lives of the gentry, and primarily aids the readers in keen preparation and maintenance of the household. The success of a household in these times was directly linked to the success of a family lineage, if a household fails to maintain proper status their ability to acquire strategically placed marriages or deals may be limited. In comparison to the Domostroi’s teachings on maintenance of societal standing it is also a book on maintaining survival within the household itself. The Domostroi teaches of the many duties whose proper completion are integral to the success of a families’ winter. In short, the introduction to the Domostroi while clearly having not aged well in terms of societal implications, does show the practical nature of the book in terms of educating the gentry on maintaining not only their political and societal standing but the well being of their lives as well.
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The main takeaway from Buzzfeed’s Russo American Snack Swap video clearly stands that Russian Snack foods do not vary greatly from the Western snack foods present in the U.S. The snack foods more popular in Russia seem to use more natural ingredients such as cane sugar and organic compounds. As depicted in the video the snacks represented by the American side often use more artificial flavors and ingredients. The video highlights a mental divide between cultures in that US participants are quick to judge outwardly the snacks presented by the Russians. But are often pleasantly surprised throughout the video by the flavor and quality of the represented Russian snacks. Both sides of participation gained a valuable cultural lesson through the video and expanded past certain preconceptions on both sides.