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PRESS RELEASE 06.12.2006
"We did the eating, we did the drinking...”. Food culture in Soviet Estonia

The exhibition originally ran from 7 April to 1 October at the Estonian National Museum exhibition building. It was made possible by an Estonian Science Foundation grant received by the University of Tartu’s ethnology chair and the Estonian National Museum for a project entitled “Strategies and Practices in Soviet Estonia" and is based on the responses received from correspondents in a memory collection drive organized by the ENM, "Food Culture During Soviet Times” as well as artefacts, photographs and other archival items from the ENM and a number of private collections.
The exhibition was curated by Reet Piiri, Terje Anepaio and Ellen Värv. The artists were Imbi Kruuv and Irene Sepping; graphic designer Jane Liiv; and photographs are by Anu Ansu, Aivar Jakobson, and Arp Karm.

When people old enough to remember think back on the subject of food during Soviet times, they tend to remember how one item or another was invariably missing. They also recall the monotonous selection of goods in stores, and on the other hand the lavish and creative banquet tables.
By presenting objects, photos and text from those times, we want to show the diverse and exciting subtleties of the food culture of a problematic era.
The exhibit is a collection of the most telling illustrative examples of routines people performed back then – home horticulture and the harvesting of wild foods, home canning and the ways in which people broke bread together. For the purposes of the exhibition, time is frozen in 1978. Life in Soviet Estonia had by that time become stable and routines were well-established.

Food for the family table was supplemented and larders were stocked by home growing and gathering. According to data from economist Ivar Raig, in 1978 the residents of the Estonian SSR obtained about 90% of their potatoes, fruits and berries from personal supplemental housekeeping. Little by little, growing food fell into official favour in the USSR, as the state saw the practice as having several beneficial attributes: it made good economic sense as well as being healthful, and helped instil work ethic and a love of nature in children. Indeed, for families in the countryside and many in the towns, week-ends from spring to autumn were spent working the land. Berry picking and mushroom gathering outings were also very common.
Out of inevitability, home canning became an annual ritual, which in addition to the direct consumer value added, afforded people the opportunity to show off in terms of who could make the best or most interesting jam, providing conversation fodder.
The cafeteria culture, which today has nearly died out, served the needs of people in the Soviet Union for a healthful, convenient and collective way to eat. At the same time, the state saw to it that women would be freed in this manner from the shackles of domestic servitude. The title of the exhibition comes from a popular sign posted in cafeterias, "We ate, we drank, we cleared our own tables!" symbolizing in a catchy way the do-it-yourself activity that filled a large part of daily life in the era.
The week-end provided a respite from the daily grind -- in the form of restaurants. Restaurants were places where people could taste good cuisine for an affordable price and move their feet, which helped give restaurants their reputation as popular places to spend an evening.

The current incarnation of this exhibit was modified to the specific needs of the Museum of Applied Art and Design. The exhibit on home horticulture and gathering was omitted from the original version, but the topic is represented by thematic photographic boards. In addition, photos of Tallinn’s cafes and restaurants and dishes and textiles characteristic of the time are on display. Serving as a kind of extension of this smorgasbord, the exhibition also features selections from ETDM and private collections of Soviet-era artisan-made porcelain, tablecloths and napkins from the ARS factory, and product samples from the Applied Glass and Tallinn Jewellery Factory.

A slide programme offers an overview of the banquet tables of various decades. Earphones allow visitors to listen to thematic recollections from the Estonian National Museum’s correspondents.

The exhibit will run until 14 January 2007.

Estonian National Museum would like to thank:
Estonian Film Archive
Tallinn University of Technology Institute of Foodstuffs
Anne Allik, Uno and Ene Alop, Margus Hergauk, Endi Huik, Viivi Irs, Endla Jaagosild,
Vaike Kajak, Mare Kanarbik, Irene Karpa, Margo Klaasmägi, Kersti Koll, Tiiu Kuntor, Kristi Kuusler, Inno Liiv, Aive Luigela, Margus and Marge Luude, Sirje and Alar Madisson, Tiina Metsakuru, Esta Mustassaar, Sirje Mätas, Meiu Münt, Einvald Nõulik, Aleksei Peterson, Elvira Pressjärv, Ronald Rüütel, Ilme Salus, Linda Tikkerberi, Vaike Tirikovski, Meedi Toming, Leena Toomas, Virve Tuubel, Riina Täht, Ülle Urb, Aino Vessmann, Raivo Vokk, NadeĹžda Võrno, Ilme Värv, Piret Õunapuu

The following individuals from or affiliated with ETDM helped make this exhibit possible: Merike Alber, Ketli Tiitsar
ETDM exhibition designer: Liina Tepand
Translations: Kristopher Rikken 

Museum of Economic History, Leonid Gordejev, Jaagup Joost, Peeter Kuutma, Mari Aakre, Kai Lobjakas, Airi Ligi, Dagmar Siida, Dimitri Demjanov, Sirje Kaus, Kadi Alatalu, Epp Alatalu, Kadi and Taisto Raudalainen, Anu Soosaar, Ere Saaberg, Anne Lett, Valve Kurm, Anne Järvis, Kaire Rannik, Kristi Paap, Eneken Helme, Aino Lepp, Valdur Tamela, Ene Heimvell, Riina Rämmel, Kadri Mälk, Aleksandra Murre, Irma Aarelaid, Peeter Mauer, Klenja Tiitsar, Irene Tiitsar, Jüri Tiitsar, Alfons Laar, Marju Kukk

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