Saturday, 12 September 2009

Dictator's Diets



From Sudan’s Omar Al-Bashir, to Gaddafi in Libya, to Lord Voldermort in a certain, recent blockbusting book/film conglomerate, dictators and their hokum are ubiquitous and hard to escape from, even in our supposedly advanced, modern times.

Luckily most of us (or at least most of our readers..) live in relatively democratic countries free from the repression and human rights abuses characteristic of autocratic set-ups. In keeping with our blog’s topical nature and spirit we have decided to analyse whether it's possible to find a correlation between the diets of notorious despots and their general levels of derangement. Additionally we shall interpret the underlying causes and meanings behind our dictator's dietary choices.

Iet's begin with Stalin, a paranoid megalomaniac responsible for numerous purges and the deaths of millions of Soviets.

It has jokingly been said that one of Stalin’s favourite modern gameshows would be "meal or no meal"; in reference to his presiding over the USSR during a time of starvation for many – Holodomor, a drastic Ukrainian famine that took place in the early 30s is mentioned particularly often. Holodomor resulted from a USSR policy on collective farms leading to famines starving millions to death. Importantly there were no natural causes for this starvation, and unlike other Soviet Republics of 1932, Ukraine infact enjoyed a bumper wheat crop. Last year this act was recognised by the governments of twenty countries as genocide.

Cuisine wise it’s fair to say Stalin liked the finer things in life, however his diet was fairly conventional. The moustachioed megalomaniac was a proud champion of Soviet dishes and in-fact even requested that a cookbook be written documenting the best Georgian, Russian and Ukrainian meals.

Recipes included in the book were such Soviet staples as a Russian Winter Salad (a salad composed of diced potato, vegetables and sometimes meats bound in mayonnaise.), Kotlety (Russian mince cakes) and Harcho (a spicy Georgian meat soup). Perhaps at some sub-conscious level these choices were due to a need to be loved and a desperate wish to be a ‘man of the people’.

Kotlety

Similarly Chairman Mao of the People’s Republic of China shared Stalin’s taste for uncomplicated, patriotic dishes, with his favourite being red roasted pork and bitter melon. Simple psychoanalysis can clarify this choice – the red roasted pork clearly represents communism in Mao’s mind, as shown by the red pigment, whilst the green must unequivocally represent capitalism (the colour of the US dollar, no less!). Is it any coincidence the red roasted pork tastes sweet and the green bitter melon sour? We sincerely doubt it…



Luckily if we press on in history, dictators with slightly more outlandish diets are easier to stumble upon. For examply let’s move the focus of our attentions to a more modern day fellow, Sadaam. Now, mention Sadaam Hussein and food and he'll probably mostly be remembered for potentially scamming billions of dollars from the UN food for oil program. However, interestingly, rumour has it Sadaam's last meal may have in fact been hamburgers and fries.

Now we're unsure how to interpret this move, perhaps a somewhat deliberated acceptance of the American occupation of his old country? A can’t beat ‘em join ‘em gesture? Whatever reasons behind his decision, if true, it was a particularly unusual meal for such a devout champion of Arab nationalism.

Moving further East, we get to Kim Jong-Il, who incidentally should probably take the award for most accurate caricature of an evil villain ever! (short stature - check, stupid haircut - check, massive germ phobia - check, vast harems of Swedish models - double check), so perhaps its unsurprising his diet matches up.

Whilst 22 million in his drought-ravaged country are starving and slurping gruel made from boiled grass Kim sips vintage Cognac and eats pizza.

Infact Kim Jong is Hennesy cognac's biggest customer, annually importing nearly half a million pounds worth of vintage Brandy each year. He has also gone to ridiculous lengths to create North Korea's first Italian restaurant, sending cooks to Naples and Rome for training after they made "errors", making you wonder exactly how hard it is to make a pasta sauce?

Kim Jong Il has been on record offering this simple, infuriating comment on the Pyongyang restaurant; "the people should also be allowed access to the world's famous dishes". Hmmmm.


Finally, to round off this happy family we'd be churlish not to include possibly the twentieth centuries most notorious dictator, the staunch champion of racial purity (and obviously complete idiocy), Adolf Hitler.

In relation to food, firstly it is interesting to record that "The Poison Kitchen" was the nickname Hitler dubbed a group of journalists at Bavarian newspaper, The Munich Post. These journalists were highly critical of Hitler and ran a series of negative investigative exposés in the 20s and 30s. They were one of only a few early dissenting voices on the rise of the Nazi party…

When Hitler finally came to power in 1933, The Munich Post offices were subject to a vicious ransacking by Sturmabteilung (stormtroopers) and each and every member of staff went "missing". For ever. The very street address was wiped of the map. It's enlightening to note that Hitler chose a food related nickname in this instance.

Most interestingly however, Hitler was a vegetarian. Or at least a self-described vegetarian; rumours abound of his hit and miss devotion to a meat free diet. Apparently his decision was based on the composer Richard Wagner's anti-semitic diet theories. These are pretty long and convoluted, but essentially boil down to a belief that 'man's historic fall' - was initially triggered by a move by vegetarian people driven by famine to renounce their natural diet and consume flesh.

To even our slowest readers, we hope a trend is beginning to emerge. Admittedly we realise that our data set may have been small, but our methods were precise; clearly it is this that has allowed such flawless analysis and quick conclusion. It seems obvious that there are infact only two extremes evident in most dictator’s diets. That of either staunch patriotic nationalism or avant-garde idiocy.

Write in and let us know which choice your countries dictator favours!



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