Cheese Brings Us Closer

ALL ACROSS RUSSIA, panic is spreading and the media is picking up on it around the world: There is “a ban on Brie, an edict against Edam and a crackdown on Camembert.” Is the issue “ripe” for resolution? It seems not. CNN reports:

Moscow (CNN) — Police in Russia say they have smashed a major smuggling ring, arresting a gang suspected of trafficking in dangerous contraband at gunpoint. The goods in question aren’t drugs or weapons, though, but cheese.

Some 470 tons of the stuff, to be precise, worth an estimated $30 million and, according to authorities, a risk to the health of the cheese-eating Russian public.

It’s just the latest episode in Russia’s war on Western food.

Many in Russia oppose the destruction of these foods on pragmatic grounds. After all, the foods are already in the country and times are tough in Russia right now. Even if the authorities want to confiscate the cheese and other foods so that the importers can’t profit from violating the embargo, wouldn’t it make more sense to distribute these foods to the hungry than to destroy them?

Fair enough, but one sense in the concern over the destruction of the food a loss beyond nutrition and a lesson for us who, sometimes without much thought, enjoy the bounty of modern civilization.

The embargo on food sales to Russia was not imposed by the West; it was imposed by Russia in retaliation to sanctions imposed after Russia’s aggressive actions in Ukraine. Regardless of what the Russian citizenry might think about the Ukraine, it is clear that after a long period in which Russia was moving from an isolated Communist country to a country with normal engagement with the rest of the world, the Ukraine situation and the sanctions on both sides represent a reversal of that connection, with Russia reducing its interchange with the West, not increasing it.

So cheese becomes the tangible expression of a cooperating world, sharing distinctive tastes and being unified by shared experiences.

For most of us, it is just an item we pick up at the store. But if you withdraw it and deprive us of it, we may find other things to meet our caloric requirements, but we will feel the absence of taste, flavor, and of an engagement with a broader world. We are luckier than we often realize.