Russian cheeses in market display

What Cheese can Tell us About US-Russia Relations

September 19, 2019
Stephen Kinzer
This is a summary of an article appearing in The Boston Globe.

Stephen Kinzer, a senior fellow at the Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs at Brown University, writes that “several Russians I met during my visit last month advised me to notice the cheese.” A Novosibirsk waitress explained to him that “Russian cheese was always terrible … All good cheese was imported. Now, because of sanctions, we can’t import cheese anymore. So we started making our own, and after a few years, look what great cheese we have! Sanctions made us more self-reliant.”  Kinzer found that it was true, now "cheese is plentiful, tasty, and available in many varieties" throughout Russia. 

For Kinzer, his surprise at the nascent Russian cheese industry is indicative of American misperceptions of the country. “Wherever I went, I was struck by how different Russia is from our image of it. The Russia I found is vibrant, self-confident, largely free, and hardly concerned about hostility from Washington.” For Kinzer, American misperceptions are exacerbated by the fact that today there are “barely a dozen American correspondents” in Moscow. This lack of actual in-country reporting does nothing but “reinforc[e] the paradigm of hostility.” He argues that Americans are given an image of Russia that has remained largely unchanged since the end of the Cold War. “We imagine a declining and unhappy land, “a gas station masquerading as a country,” as the late Senator John McCain put it.” Yet, during his travels across the country, Kinzer noted that “[t]he quality of Russian life has risen along with the quality of its cheese. Russians have decided to go their own way and not worry too much about us. We should return the favor.”

Read the full article in The Boston Globe. 


Stephen Kinzer

Stephen Kinzer is a senior fellow at the Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs at Brown University and author of “Poisoner in Chief: Sidney Gottlieb and the CIA Search for Mind Control." 

Photo by RG72 shared under a CC 4.0 lisence.