Food and Patriotism in Russia from Domostroi to Viazemsky: The Case of Kvas
This essay explores how one of the most ordinary Russian beverages, kvas, came to function in the Russian literary imagination. Looking at poets over the course of almost a hundred years—Kantemir, Trediakovsky, Derzhavin, and Viazemsky, from 1729-1827—I show that Russian attitudes toward kvas as expressed in literature become dual, with some writers honoring the beverage as something quintessentially “ours” and others seeing its valorization as a mark of hypocrisy and pretense. The complex relationships between simple folk and the aristocracy, seen through the prism of literary genres and periods leading up to romanticism, cause us to read these texts carefully and think expansively in each case about what is being represented: food and drink, or the values that stand behind them? I argue that kvas corresponds to the platform of cultural self-sufficiency that is a mainstay of Russian national identity, a form of autarky, but that the term coined by Prince Viazemsky in 1827, “kvas
patriotism,” identifies a negative limitation of that self-definition.