Russian Vegetarian Cooking Shines During Lent

During the Russian spring, the sun transforms into a pancake.

At least, that’s the folk story mothers tell their children while cooking blinchiki for breakfast. This flat, circular cake, which can be served for any meal of the day, is a symbol of the sun’s return to the cold, dark climates of the Northern Hemisphere. It’s served crepe-style, rolled up and slathered in honey or jam. Every bite tastes like a ray of sunshine.

But there’s more to blinchiki than folklore. The pancakes are the signature food item for the season of Lent, a time before Easter when many Russians give up eating meat. That alone isn’t surprising, but ...

The Smell of the Slaughterhouse

For the first half of my life, I was squeamish about blood and guts. It was a source of embarrassment to me, growing up playing ice hockey, when the smallest sight of blood would topple me to the ice. But all changed when, at age 21, I butchered my first animal. The smell of it, while foreign at the time, was pleasant to me when I experienced it again, walking through Russia's largest slaughterhouse, Miratorg, recently.

In 2001, I was working on an estancia (livestock ranch) in Argentina. The 100,000-acre property sat high in the Andes Mountains, a three-hour horseback ride from the nearest road. The remoteness required the residents ...

Inside a Russian Slaughterhouse, It’s a Far Cry From ‘The Jungle’

I didn’t know what to expect, walking into a Russian slaughterhouse. The fact that Miratorg, a large corporation, had agreed to give me access was surprising. “We have nothing to hide,” said Miratorg’s PR manager.

I wanted to take pictures, so could I bring a camera?

“Of course.”

Miratorg is proud of its gigantic, gleaming plant, which rises up from rolling cropland in the countryside of Bryansk, a province 250 miles southwest of Moscow. If it was in America, it would rank among the top 15, capacity-wise.

But getting access to these facilities in the U.S. can be difficult. And ag-gag laws have created a hostile environment for anyone who might ...

Russians Raise the Steaks By Demanding Blood

On April 23, 2012, the sun dawned on an act of revolution. In the night, someone had hung 240 banners along the Bolshoy Moskvoretsky Bridge, gateway to Red Square and the Kremlin. Each was printed with a familiar Soviet image—an upraised fist— and the slogan: “We demand blood! ... with steak, salt, pepper, and [a] glass of good wine!”

It was a publicity stunt for Goodman Steakhouse, a restaurant chain that has been trying to whet the Russian appetite for beef since 2004. While demand has slowly been growing in the last few years, back then, they had their work ...

Ranching May Offer Soviet ‘Ghost Farms’ of Kazakhstan New Life

On the steppes of northern Kazakhstan, a collective farm town called Chilinka Sovkhoz crumbles, abandoned. The 250,000-acre farm was once home to over 60,000 livestock (mostly sheep, but also cattle and horses), and an embodiment of the USSR’s plan to feed the Soviet people with food grown on the Kazakh steppes. Today, Chilinka is one of many former collective farms that litter the countryside.

To an outsider like me, Chilinka looks like a dream turned nightmare. But for 42-year-old Rahimzhanov Zhumabai, who was born and raised there, he can look past the ruble and see Chilinka’s former grandeur—a point of view that in this moment, entails ...

Kazakhstan: Where Horses are Revered and Eaten

The yurt smelled of horse. Not in a way I was familiar with–like the nutty odor of a wet saddle pad, which makes me pine for a mountain trail. This eau de equino was the smell of cooked horse meat. And it wafted from a platter being passed in my direction.

This was my first encounter with Kazakhstan’s popular dish beshbarmak. It’s made of boiled horse meat, served on a bed of noodles. Under the light of a bulb strung from the yurt’s rafters (powered by a bank of solar panels outside), the boiled noodles ...

A First-Generation Russian Bull Comes of Age

Golden Autumn, Moscow’s annual livestock show, is a glorified petting zoo. Families walk the aisles petting sheep, rabbits, geese, chickens, ferrets, goats, and more.

At this year’s fair, the animals seemed to be handling the attention in stride. Except for the sheep. They’d had enough of wool-pulling and had sequestered themselves in the farthest corner of their pen. But children, undaunted, stretched their arms through the bars in what looked like a scene out of a zombie movie.

I backed up across the aisle to take their picture. And that’s when I felt it: something cold and slimy pressed against my neck. Startled, I spun around ...

For Some Russian Farmers, Trade Sanctions Never Tasted so Good

Her name was Natalya. Her cheeks were ruddy, like a matryoshka doll. She had the figure of a dome atop St. Basil’s Cathedral. She was filthy, like she’d been dragged across a field.

Natalya, she was a fine onion. Then I made her into borscht soup, along with her friends; Ivan the potato, Yevgenia the beet, Mikhail the carrot, and Vladimir the beef chuck.

I bought the whole gang at LavkaLavka, an organic market in downtown Moscow (“lavka” means “little store”).

Russians tend to take things to the extreme, and this farm-to-table grocery store is no exception. Dirt is left on the ...

Going Home, Home on the … Steppes of Eurasia

A great migration is underway in the world of cattle ranching. Cowboys from the United States, Canada, and Australia are taking cattle herds numbering in the thousands to start ranches on the Eurasian steppes. Why? Because the people of Russia and Kazakhstan have asked for their help solving a major food security problem. Their beef cattle industry has all but disappeared.

The collapse of the Soviet Union back in 1991 was hard on the people, but it was cataclysmic for cattle. When collective farming ground to a halt, many cattle farms were forced to liquidate their herds to ...

What Happens When Livestock Are in the Path of a Wildfire

The West is burning. Megafires rage in Alaska, California, Idaho, Montana, Oregon, and Washington state. Just looking at this map makes me cough. For many states, the 2015 fire season is on track to become the worst in history. Climate change experts appear to be right: The future will be a lot smokier. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee ranking member Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., recently shared this graphic, showing the dramatic increase in wildfires in recent years.

A lot of wildfires occur where development meets forest and grasslands, known as the urban-wildland interface: Think ranches, getaway cabins, and quaint mountain towns. That’s why ...

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