In This Review
Black Earth, White Bread: A Technopolitical History of Russian Agriculture and Food

Black Earth, White Bread: A Technopolitical History of Russian Agriculture and Food

By Susanne E. Wengle

University of Wisconsin Press, 2022, 296 pp.

Wengle, a political scientist, offers a novel approach to the transformations of Soviet and post-Soviet agriculture, emphasizing the connections between the state, production, and technology, as well as consumers and nature, the latter two often neglected in political science. Concerned about feeding their increasingly urban population, communist leaders resorted to a variety of measures, from Stalin’s brutal collectivization in the 1930s to the concerted use of agricultural science and tractors. But throughout the Soviet decades, the “grain problem” was never solved and food shortages persisted. In the first post-Soviet decade, Russia grew overly dependent on imports of food. Under Russian President Vladimir Putin, Russia saw a “meteoric rise” of corporate agroholdings, which adopted the latest technological and methodological advances from the West. Russia reduced its dependence on food imports and, for the first time since the collapse of the Russian Empire, once again became a global breadbasket. This success reinforced Putin’s public support and turned rural Russian agricultural elites into his staunch allies. But it also profoundly westernized the Russian food system and everyday eating habits. With Western agricultural practices came problems all too familiar in the West, including obesity, waste, and unequal access to food.