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Cold War, red meat

By Mark Feeney
Globe Staff / April 14, 2010

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It’s been more than two decades since the fall of the Iron Curtain. Experts still wonder how the Soviet empire managed to last so long.

I know how: animal protein.

My friend Charlotte and I spent two weeks traveling in East Germany, Czechoslovakia, Poland, and Hungary in the summer of 1987. Everywhere we ate, the menus were “mit Fleisch,’’ this; “mit Fleisch,’’ that. Charlotte spoke German. I didn’t. “Vegetarisch?’’ she’d ask looking at the menu. “Vegetarier,’’ she’d say pointing at me. The looks I got ran the gamut from pity to incomprehension.

Well, I didn’t need a butcher knife to know which way the wind was blowing. It was blowing from the stockyards. Communist regimes had an unspoken bargain with their citizens: We’ll take your liberties — but give you plenty of meat.

Our first night back in the West, in Vienna, Charlotte said there was a restaurant we should go to, Siddhartha. One look at the menu and I understood. Not only was it in English, every item was vegetarian. Nowhere to be found was the Fleisch of other creatures. My culinary Cold War had ended. Good thing I didn’t notice the address: Fleischmarkt 16.

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