GENE OWENS’ CORNBREAD AND BUTTERMILK: Stalichnaya da, Putin et al nyet
The latest product boycott that I refuse to join is the one against Stolichnaya vodka.
Boycotting any vodka would be relatively painless for me. Vodka is not my favorite libation. It’s the stuff you drink if you want a kick without a taste, and I try to avoid tasteless things. But if you dilute your vodka with tomato juice, Worcestershire sauce, a tad of lemon juice and an assortment of spices, then stir it with a celery stalk, you get a Bloody Mary, which is loaded with flavor and can be quite refreshing if you don’t overdo it.
Here’s the hitch: Lots of vodka is made in Russia, and Russia has put itself on record as being against gay marriage. Ergo, some folks in the gay-lesbian community are demanding that everybody boycott Stolichnaya.
I personally do not consider same-sex unions to be marriages in the biblical sense, but I don’t think it’s up to secular governments to decide what is or isn’t biblical. I figure gay partners can take their case before the heavenly throne, which has the power to validate or invalidate secular law. And its occupant has no fear of boycotts.
As for Russian vodka, I find it much more to my taste than Chick-fil-A, which also found itself picked on by the Gay Rights people. I am not a regular customer of Chick-fil-A. Nothing against the chain, but it’s not my favorite version of chicken. When it became known that the top guy at Chick-fil-A opposed gay marriage, the fans of Adam and Steve urged a boycott. The results were impressive. Chick-fil-A sales soared by 12 percent, with no help from me.
I have a warmer feeling toward Russian vodka. On a tour of the late, unlamented Soviet Union back in 1983, I discovered that vodka was about the only thing worth drinking behind the Iron Curtain. Russian beer may be the worst in the world. The wines I found were too sweet for my taste, although the Armenian versions of champagne and cognac were more than passable.
But the vodka that came with every lunch and dinner, accompanied by Russian caviar, was always a treat. At times, it loosened up Russian tongues, which had been preconditioned to utter only communist propaganda. I would have a few nips of vodka at receptions following formal meetings, and my Russian hosts would have a few swallows (Russians take their vodka in gulps, not sips). Soon, I would be getting a better insight into what the Russians really thought. (I also discovered that a Russian who needed an interpreter during formal meetings miraculously broke out in fluent English after a few belts of vodka.)
Now I’ve been given additional reason not to boycott Stolichnaya vodka: It isn’t Russian. Or at least it isn’t Russian in the same sense that Chrysler isn’t American.
The beverage, I understand, is produced in Riga, the capital of Latvia, which is no longer part of the Soviet Union. At one time, Stolichnaya proudly advertised itself as “the mother of all vodkas from the motherland of vodka.” Today, it is filtered and blended in Latvia using raw alcohol distilled in Russia. It is sold in bottles made in Poland and Estonia with caps made in Italy. None of that matters to me. Stolichnaya provides a lot of jobs for Latvians, who suffered plenty under Russian and German domination. My guess is that most people involved in producing the product are heterosexual, not that sexual orientation has anything to do with the quality.
I don’t boycott products just because I disagree with the politics or philosophy or sexual practices of the makers. Stolichnaya is under no obligation to adjust its beliefs to suit mine. It’s obligated only to provide me with a decent vodka for the price.
Most Americans have no great love for Vladimir Putin, and were dead against Brezhnev’s ICBMs and Stalin’s gulags. But we still drink Russian vodka and relish Russian caviar.
I abhor what the Japanese did at Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, but I and hundreds of thousands of other Americans drive Toyotas, which are built in the good old USA with parts from Japan and who-knows-where.
I think the human-rights record of Saudi Arabia is hideous, but when I fill up at QT, I don’t ask what percentage of Middle East petroleum goes into the 87-octane petrol with which I fill my tank.
China also is notorious for its contemptuous attitude toward human rights, but if I checked the country of origin of all the items in my household, I’m sure China would be well represented. Besides, I’ve traveled in China and found the people open and friendly, and their beer excellent (I still order a Tsingtao every time I patronize a Chinese restaurant).
I have also known many gay people who – their sexual practices aside – were quite decent people. And I’ve known many heterosexual people who regularly violated the biblical code for sexual behavior but who – their sexual practices aside – were quite decent people.
So, if you don’t mind, I’ll judge commercial products on their price and quality. I really don’t have time to investigate the philosophical leanings or political stances of the people who make them. The apostle Paul sets the precedent in his first letter to the Corinthians, chapter 10, verse 25: “Everything that is sold in a meat market keep eating, making no inquiry on account of your conscience.”
So the next time I need vodka for my Bloody Mary, I may grab a bottle of Stolichnaya from the shelf of my favorite package store. But I definitely won’t be drinking toasts to Vladimir Putin, or Leonid Brezhnev, or Joseph Stalin.
Gene Owens is a retired newspaper editor and columnist who graduated from Graniteville High School and now lives in Anderson. Readers may email Gene Owens at WadesDixieco@AOL.com. For more of Gene’s writing, go to www.wadesdixieco.com.