It could be helpful to look back at a chapter in recent American history for individuals throughout the world urging or enforcing a vodka boycott as a symbol of solidarity for Ukraine, including officials in several US states. A couple of US House Representatives asked that the French fries served in the Congressional cafeterias be dubbed “freedom fries” about 20 years ago, angered by France’s failure to back their country’s invasion of Iraq. The incident is known as one of history’s most pointless gestures, with one of the lawmakers involved subsequently stating, “I wish it had never happened.”
Vodka is a distilled alcoholic beverage that is transparent. Poland, Russia, and Sweden all have their own variants. Water and ethanol make up the majority of vodka, but they can also contain contaminants and flavorings. It’s traditionally prepared by distilling liquid from fermented grain. More recently, potatoes have been employed, and some current brands use fruits, honey, or maple sap as a foundation.
Standard vodkas have been 40% alcohol by volume (ABV) since the 1890s (80 U.S. proof). The European Union has set a minimum alcohol concentration for vodka of 37.5 percent. In the United States, vodka must have a minimum of 40% alcohol by volume.
The problem is that, while food is intrinsically political (see contemporary discussions on caste and cultural appropriation), it resists becoming politicized. It just does not work to put a value/belief on food, whether it is patriotism, as in the case of freedom fries in 2003 and liberty cabbage (sauerkraut) and liberty sausage (frankfurters) during World War II, or anti-Russia emotion, as it is now. Many individuals have uploaded videos of themselves pouring bottles of vodka down the drain, but they overlook the fact that the drink no longer qualifies as “Russian” in any meaningful sense once it became one of the world’s most popular spirits. Vodka is no longer only a symbol of Russia, but a global tradition — and pleasure. Let’s not forget that a lot of the vodka we drink today isn’t even created in Russia, whether it’s Smirnoff, Grey Goose, Belvedere, or Ketel One.
Finally, as we lurch from one global existential crisis to the next, one of the few pure joys left is the crisp, clean taste of fine vodka. So, who exactly does boycott harm?