Feeding the Builders of Socialism. Canteens and the Food Issue in the USSR of the First Five-year Plans (1928-1935)

By François-Xavier Nérard

In the industrializing and urbanizing USSR, the canteen was a political and ideological ambition of the Bolsheviks: its aim was first to promote the efficiency of production. The idea was to provide rationally planned and prepared meals. Canteens were thus the place of a healthy diet, but also of a political education and kulturnost (“civilizing process”). Yet with the food crisis and rationing, the canteen became, for Soviet workers, the only location for a regular meal. On the ground, improvisation dominated. Canteens were lacking everything: buildings, refrigerated storage area, cutlery, staff and especially food. Dirty premises, a very poor quality of food, and monotony created discontent among the workers. Canteens were the symbol of the Soviet failure to keep promises of a brighter tomorrow. They were also the melting pot of the Soviet experience, a common, essential anthropological and political experiment, a learning school of real socialism, a fundamental place in the formation of the “Soviet man.”

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