There’s a lot of ways to measure the economic health of a country: per capita income, wealth, inequality, employment, poverty level, etc. The list is virtually endless. Another way is by measuring the average amount of meat a person consumes. Yes, meat, that juicy, protein filled delight, the consumption of which is a testament to people literally living off the fat of the land. Sure meat consumption can’t be reduced to wealth. A lot of other factors go into it too–culinary culture, religion, geographic location, climate, to name a few. Still per capita meat consumption statistics do seem to correlate to a population’s economic status.
Slon.ru reports that yearly per capita meat consumption in Russia is 63 kilograms per person. A respectable number compared to the rest of the world, but a good 40 to 50 kilos behind other meat-centric peoples like the Americans and Western Europeans. But where Russia’s carnivorousness places in global statistics isn’t the real point. What’s more revealing is how they compare to past Russian consumption.
As Slon.ru notes, the Putin years have witnessed a meat boom. In 1999, Russians consumed an average 41 kilos of flesh a year. That has shot up by 20 kilos in the last ten years. In this sense, whatever one says about Putin, he has brought home the bacon. Nevertheless, there are important regional differences. Assuming that the statistics collected by the Ministry of Health approach an accurate estimate, regional difference can be quite stark. For example, a person devours 99 kilos of meat in Kalmykia, while only 31 kilos in Dagestan. Or while the Ministry of Health says that the normal consumption of meat is 70-75 kilos a year, only 16 Russian provinces meet this norm. Only four regions average more than 80 kilos: Kalmykia, Moscow province, Yakutia, and Sakhalin. Slon.ru has provided a province by province breakdown.
The statistic that I find most interesting, and revealing about post-Soviet Russia is that while meat consumption has increased dramatically over the last ten years, it still falls short of the USSR peak of 69 kilos in 1989. A few other interesting things to note are that meat consumption rose a dramatic 10 kilos from 1985-1989, the perestroika years. Also, there were no statistics between 1989-1995, a sure indicator of the collapse of the Russian state. But when measurement of meat was resumed in 1995, consumption had plummeted to 50 kilos per person. It bottomed out in 1999, after the Russian economy crashed and burned, to around 41 kilos. Finally, meat consumption leveled off in 2008 when the economic crisis hit Russia, but began to rise a year later suggesting a strong recovery on an everyday level.
And this is what I find so revealing about these statistics on meat consumption: they paint a picture of how the average Russian experiences the economy on an everyday level. In a world where we are fed abstract figures about GDP, stock market percentages, or monetary rates, the stats on meat are refreshing because they return the economy to where it matters most: people’s bellies.