This article examines Boris Pilnyak's attempt to answer Commissar Mikoyan's “social mandate” for a work of Socialist Realist fiction that would glorify the achievements of the newly modernized Soviet meat industry in general and of the recently constructed Mikoyan meat-packing plant in particular. Pilnyak's Meat: A Novel (1936), which reads like a Soviet(ized) version of Upton Sinclair's The Jungle (1907), shows how under a socialist system the negative features of the tsarist-era meat business can be eliminated in Stalinist Russia without having to sacrifice industrial efficiency or worker productivity. The novel failed to please the Party leadership, however, because the author did not respond earnestly enough to Mikoyan's “social mandate.” Pilnyak provided a parodic, tongue-in-cheek pastiche of a Socialist Realist novel rather than a genuine one. This article shows how Commissar Mikoyan's aspiration to have a literary monument erected to the Soviet meat industry, which he had worked so diligently to modernize and expand, culminated in the publication of The Book about Tasty and Healthy Food (1939), the famous cookbook and household guide, which projects numerous Socialist Realist images of material abundance, good taste, and scientific nutrition that were associated during the Stalin years with an ideal (and idealized) cuisine that never really existed in the USSR. The food commissar's abiding desire to produce a domestic version of the American hamburger was likewise realized through his creation of the “Mikoyan cutlet,” which generated a veritable revolution in the system of public food service in his country.
The Mikoyan Mini-Hamburger, or How the Socialist Realist Novel about the Soviet Meat Industry Was Created
Ronald D. LeBlanc is Professor of Russian and Humanities at the University of New Hampshire and Center Associate at the Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies at Harvard University. He is the author of Slavic Sins of the Flesh: Food, Sex, and Carnal Appetite in Nineteenth-Century Russian Fiction (2009), as well as several “gastrocritical” studies on food imagery and eating metaphors in works of fiction by various nineteenth- and twentieth-century Russian writers. He is presently completing an annotated translation of Boris Pilnyak's Miaso: Roman (1936).
Ronald D. LeBlanc; The Mikoyan Mini-Hamburger, or How the Socialist Realist Novel about the Soviet Meat Industry Was Created. Gastronomica 1 May 2016; 16 (2): 31–44. doi: https://doi.org/10.1525/gfc.2016.16.2.31
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