Geopolitics

From Russia, Yawns And The Smell Of Blood

Reactions are coming in after the U.S. and Europe doubled down on economic sanctions against an ever more defiant Moscow.

Soldiers in Moscow's metro
Soldiers in Moscow's metro
Julia Smirnova

MOSCOW — In Russia, showing weakness or fear of any kind is taboo. The pretense of not caring, or cockiness, play along with this psychology that helps explain the way Russia is reacting to this week's announcement of more severe Western sanctions. Sanctions? Don’t care, hardly even noticed ...

That has pretty much been the public reaction. On the Tuesday evening news on Channel One Russia, which is partly owned by the state, the sanctions were mentioned in the second half of the program after the female presenter had spoken at detailed length about the fighting in eastern Ukraine.

Boris Titov, Russian ombudsman for entrepreneurs’ rights, declared: "The middle classes will only benefit from the sanctions."

The government newspaper Rossijskaja Gaseta almost completely ignored the sanctions. On Wednesday's front page there was nothing more than a reference to an article in the economy section headlined: "Russian investors need have no fear of Western sanctions." The tabloid Moskowskij Komsomolez, which has close ties to the government, posed the question as to whether Russia should forbid the import of fruit and vegetables from the European Union — not because of the sanctions, of course, which were not mentioned in the text, but because the produce is allegedly insect-ridden.

The main priority for political leaders appeared to be keeping people calm. Mostly, Russians wait for President Vladimir Putin to speak before venturing an opinion along those general lines. But Putin had kept rather silent. The clearest reply to the Western sanctions came from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which stated that this "irresponsible step" would unavoidably result in price rises on the European energy market.

Loudest of all were political hardliners. Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogosin tweeted that sanctions against the state-owned United Shipbuilding Corporation were a sign that Moscow’s military shipbuilding industry "is becoming a problem for Russia’s enemies."

In three years at the latest the Russian arms industry will no longer depend on imports, Rogosin announced. The independence from foreign suppliers and the political risks related to that had already been advanced by Putin on Monday. These were "absolutely key issues of Russia’s military and economic security, our technological and industrial independence and technological sovereignty," the president explained.

Predators from the West

Achieving economic independence from the West over and above the arms industry will define Russia’s future course. Memories of the Cold War are stirring, as is the Russian myth of the motherland surrounded on all sides by enemies. The Communist Party, which with regard to the Ukraine crisis is completely on the Kremlin’s side and even plays the role of radical trailblazer, rushed into the fray, with the Deputy of the State Duma, Communist Ivan Melnikov, saying: "The U.S. sanctions aren’t sanctions, they are open war against the Russian people."

His party comrade Vyacheslav Tetekin from the Defense Committee spoke of a Cold War that never ended. "The West is a predator. It smells blood."

The deputy head of the Economic Committee, Mikhail Yemelyanow of the Fair Russia party, called for the sanctions to be met by limits on the import of products from the United States and Europe into Russia. On Wednesday, imports of fruit and vegetables from Poland were forbidden, and further steps are being considered.

Several parliamentarians from the government’s United Russia party suggested anchoring the term "aggressor state" in the legislation, which would be applied to countries that impose sanctions on Russia. Companies from these countries would be prohibited from selling consulting services in Russia. This would affect major consulting firms like McKinsey and PwC.

After the crash of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17, the sharpening of sanctions doesn’t really come as a surprise for Russia. Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Monday that he didn’t understand what change of policy the West wanted from Russia. If further sanctions were to come, Russia would not react "hysterically" or take "tit for tat" measures, he stated.

The sanctions do damage the Russian economy which — unlike the days of the Soviet Union — is narrowly tied to the global economy. The finance sector is particularly hard-hit. Those in the economic sector, who doubtlessly understand best what consequences the sanctions will have for Russia, are the most worried. Ex-Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin warned in recent weeks of a recession and criticized the anti-West rhetoric.

"We live in a world in which we can learn from the best performances. It’s a possibility for the quick modernization of Russia," he said, adding that the limitation of relations with the West would put the brake on modernization.

However, liberal economic experts have virtually no influence on Russian foreign policy. In the government, the liberal Minister of the Economy and Finance is mainly charged with minimizing the damage from the sanctions. First Deputy Prime Minister Igor Shuvalov played down the new sanctions, quipping to journalists: "In for a penny, in for a pound."

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Society

The Food Truck, A Sign That The White And Wealthy Are Moving In

In San Diego, California, a researcher tracked how in the city's low-income neighborhoods that have traditionally lacked dining options, when interesting eateries arrive the gentrification of white, affluent and college-educated people has begun.

Balboa Park Spring Fling Food Truck festival

San Diego Food Trucks via Facebook
Pascale Joassart-Marcelli

SAN DIEGO — Everybody, it seems, welcomes the arrival of new restaurants, cafés, food trucks and farmers markets.

What could be the downside of fresh veggies, homemade empanadas and a pop-up restaurant specializing in banh mis?

But when they appear in unexpected places – think inner-city areas populated by immigrants – they're often the first salvo in a broader effort to rebrand and remake the community. As a result, these neighborhoods can quickly become unaffordable and unrecognizable to longtime residents.

An appetite for gentrification

I live in San Diego, where I teach courses on urban and food geographies and conduct research on the relationship between food and ethnicity in urban contexts.

In recent years, I started to notice a pattern playing out in the city's low-income neighborhoods that have traditionally lacked food options. More ethnic restaurants, street vendors, community gardens and farmers markets were cropping up. These, in turn, spurred growing numbers of white, affluent and college-educated people to venture into areas they had long avoided.

This observation inspired me to write a book, titled The $16 Taco, about how food – including what's seen as "ethnic," "authentic" or "alternative" – often serves as a spearhead for gentrification.

Take City Heights, a large multi-ethnic San Diego neighborhood where successive waves of refugees from places as far away as Vietnam and Somalia have resettled. In 2016, a dusty vacant lot on the busiest boulevard was converted into an outdoor international marketplace called Fair@44. There, food vendors gather in semi-permanent stalls to sell pupusas, lechon (roasted pig), single-sourced cold-brewed coffee, cupcakes and tamarind raspado (crushed ice) to neighborhood residents, along with tourists and visitors from other parts of the city.

Informal street vendors are casualties.

A public-private partnership called the City Heights Community Development Corporation, together with several nonprofits, launched the initiative to increase "access to healthy and culturally appropriate food" and serve as "a business incubator for local micro-entrepreneurs," including immigrants and refugees who live in the neighborhood.

On paper, this all sounds great.

But just a few blocks outside the gates, informal street vendors – who have long sold goods such as fruit, tamales and ice cream to residents who can't easily access supermarkets – now face heightened harassment. They've become causalities in a citywide crackdown on sidewalk vending spurred by complaints from business owners and residents in more affluent areas.

This isn't just happening in San Diego. The same tensions have been playing out in rapidly gentrifying areas like Los Angeles' Boyle Heights neighborhood, Chicago's Pilsen neighborhood, New York's Queens borough and East Austin, Texas.

In all of these places, because "ethnic," "authentic" and "exotic" foods are seen as cultural assets, they've become magnets for development.

Food vendor at outdoor international marketplace called Fair@44.

Fairat44 via Instagram

A call for food justice

Cities and neighborhoods have long sought to attract educated and affluent residents – people whom sociologist Richard Florida dubbed "the creative class." The thinking goes that these newcomers will spend their dollars and presumably contribute to economic growth and job creation.

Food, it seems, has become the perfect lure.

It's uncontroversial and has broad appeal. It taps into the American Dream and appeals to the multicultural values of many educated, wealthy foodies. Small food businesses, with their relatively low cost of entry, have been a cornerstone of ethnic entrepreneurship in American cities. And initiatives like farmers markets and street fairs don't require much in the way of public investment; instead, they rely on entrepreneurs and community-based organizations to do the heavy lifting.

In City Heights, the Community Development Corporation hosted its first annual City Heights Street Food Festival in 2019 to "get people together around table and food stalls to celebrate another year of community building." Other recent events have included African Restaurant Week, Dia de Los Muertos, New Year Lunar Festival, Soul Food Fest and Brazilian Carnival, all of which rely on food and drink to attract visitors and support local businesses.

Meanwhile, initiatives such as the New Roots Community Farm and the City Heights Farmers' Market have been launched by nonprofits with philanthropic support in the name of "food justice," with the goal of reducing racial disparities in access to healthy food and empowering residents – projects that are particularly appealing to highly educated people who value diversity and democracy.

Upending an existing foodscape

In media coverage of changing foodscapes in low-income neighborhoods like City Heights, you'll rarely find any complaints.

San Diego Magazine's neighborhood guide for City Heights, for example, emphasizes its "claim to authentic international eats, along with live music venues, craft beer, coffee, and outdoor fun." It recommends several ethnic restaurants and warns readers not to be fooled by appearances.

Longtime residents find themselves forced to compete against the "urban food machine"

But that doesn't mean objections don't exist.

Many longtime residents and small-business owners – mostly people of color and immigrants – have, for decades, lived, worked and struggled to feed their families in these neighborhoods. To do so, they've run convenience stores, opened ethnic restaurants, sold food in parks and alleys and created spaces to grow their own food.

All represent strategies to meet community needs in a place mostly ignored by mainstream retailers.

So what happens when new competitors come to town?

Food vendor at outdoor international marketplace called Fair@44.

Fairat44 via Instagram

Starting at a disadvantage

As I document in my book, these ethnic food businesses, because of a lack of financial and technical support, often struggle to compete with new enterprises that feature fresh façades, celebrity chefs, flashy marketing, bogus claims of authenticity and disproportionate media attention. Furthermore, following the arrival of more-affluent residents, existing ones find it increasingly difficult to stay.

My analysis of real estate ads for properties listed in City Heights and other gentrifying San Diego neighborhoods found that access to restaurants, cafés, farmers markets and outdoor dining is a common selling point. The listings I studied from 2019 often enticed potential buyers with lines like "shop at the local farmers' market," "join food truck festivals" and "participate in community food drives!"

San Diego Magazine's home buyer guide for the same year identified City Heights as an "up-and-coming neighborhood," attributing its appeal to its diverse population and eclectic "culinary landscape," including several restaurants and Fair@44.

When I see that City Heights' home prices rose 58% over the past three years, I'm not surprised.

Going up against the urban food machine

Longtime residents find themselves forced to compete against what I call the "urban food machine," a play on sociologist Harvey Molotch's "urban growth machine" – a term he coined more than 50 years ago to explain how cities were being shaped by a loose coalition of powerful elites who sought to profit off urban growth.

I argue that investors and developers use food as a tool for achieving the same ends.

When their work is done, what's left is a rather insipid and tasteless neighborhood, where foodscapes become more of a marketable mishmash of cultures than an ethnic enclave that's evolved organically to meet the needs of residents. The distinctions of time and place start to blur: An "ethnic food district" in San Diego looks no different than one in Chicago or Austin.

Meanwhile, the routines and rhythms of everyday life have changed so much that longtime residents no longer feel like they belong. Their stories and culture reduced to a selling point, they're forced to either recede to the shadows or leave altogether.

It's hard to see how that's a form of inclusion or empowerment.The Conversation

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Pascale Joassart-Marcelli is a Professor of Geography and Director, Urban Studies and Food Studies Programs at San Diego State University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


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