Vegan in the USSR

Vegans in the USSR faced scarcity of food, general skepticism and cold climate, but was inspired by the promise of hidden wisdom and healing

During the 1970s, and especially 1980s, being a professed vegetarian or vegan in the USSR would acquire you a lot of social points. Not always positive, but still. “Hey folks, you won’t believe it but I know a strict vegan. Kinda weirdo, but listen to what he told me the other day…”.

Hidden wisdom

We Russians have long been suckers for arcane wisdom. Vegans were viewed exactly like that: freaks who (possibly) have discovered a secret well of wisdom. It was kinda scary to follow their path. Yet a whole lot of people eagerly listened to apocryphal tales of longevity and miraculous healings, thanks to the right selection of foods and drinks.

People collected the rumors, read Samizdat and discussed this with their friends and colleagues. Many cherished the thought that maybe sometime next year they would to give it a try.


The problem was purely practical: if you lived in provinces, and cut out meat and eggs, your diet would be largely reduced to canned food and carbs: bread, cheap pasta and sugar. Growing fruits and vegetables, and particularly storing them for more than a few weeks, never was the strength of the Socialist agriculture.

Cabbage, beetroot, tainted potatoes and some other basic vegetables, along with apples and other native fruits during the season were mostly available. But the quality was patchy, at best, as was the taste. With an extremely limited line of things to spice it up—fresh greenery, spices, sauces and suchlike—in the length, even the most vegan-curious would get second thoughts.

Skeptical environment

Add to that social pressures. Almost all in the USSR ate lunch in state-owned cafeterias at their workplace. Zero veg awareness there, for starters. And when you wrap up your small weird vegan stuff when everyone are busy sending down the hatch their borshch and ground meat with pasta. “Hey buddy, are you in a cult or something?”

Too cold and dark

The crown argument against vegetarianism in the Soviet was climate. You don’t survive on fibers in the midst of our wind-blown, snow-covered plains. Animal fats and proteins are king. This attitude covered another, more profound truth—we Soviets were people who knew hunger only too well. You really need to experience hunger only a couple of times, to be painfully aware for the rest of your life of one simple Soviet wisdom: whatever is your situation now, your next meal is never guaranteed. Don’t be stupid. Grab this meat now, and eat it.

Soviet vegetables fruit shop Moscow

Photo: Inside a Soviet era “Vegetables” shop in Moscow.

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