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This article claims that after the collapse of the USSR, Russia was in such dire financial straits that not only could Roskosmos not afford to relieve the acting flight engineer Sergei Krikalev, but they could not even send up honey "because there was no honey."

This seems very silly on its face. Honey has been a common product cultivated on the territory of the former USSR for centuries, and was never especially expensive or in deficit. It may not always have been available in stores, but the grey market economy would have been teeming with dachniks who kept bees and reaped the benefits.

And yet the cosmonaut could not get honey, and had to make do with lemon and horseradish. Is there a more plausible reason why this was so?

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    Pure speculation, so not an answer, but: We're talking about a very small amount of honey here. Maybe, even in the late Soviet Union, this was a purely informal process. i.e. Krikalev recited a shopping list to ground control, some junior guy drove out to the grocery store, they didn't have any honey. He could have hustled around in the grey market, but he didn't, end of story.
    – Biro Cash
    Apr 18 at 17:03
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    How much testing is required before food can go to the ISS? I know that NASA makes considerable effort to prevent food-borne illnesses from getting up there. (Just think...eww...) I'm certain that Roscosmos adheres to the same protocols, so perhaps the issue wasn't so much a matter of buying the honey, as of testing it and clearing it as safe.
    – Mark Olson
    Apr 19 at 0:09
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    The Russian Bear ate it all, silly!
    – Rich
    Apr 19 at 3:56

1 Answer 1

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It's true that there was a reduction in production of honey at least in the state-sponsored enterprises.

The collapse of the U.S.S.R. in the 1990s reduced governmental financing of beekeeping in former Soviet countries of eastern Europe, causing a 50% reduction in managed colony numbers there (Aizen and Harder 2009).

I find it pretty doubtful they could not find any honey at all though. In Western Europe and the US there was a somewhat similar reduction (25% in WEU after 1985), but the reason was competition/imports from China etc.

Declines were compounded by rapid expansion of honey importation from China, Argentina, and Vietnam during the 1960s leading to reduced demand for domestic honey [...]

Now I'm not sure about the imports situation in USSR in the 1990s.


TBH, I'm not sure whom to believe exactly, because another paper (by a Russian author) claims there was in fact no reduction in production of honey in Russia at least.

Beekeeping is one of the few branches of agriculture in Russia in which the volume of production was not reduced during the economic reforms of the 1990s. On the contrary, there has been steady growth for 30 years. Honey production increased almost one and a half times, with an average annual growth rate of 1.5%.

I suppose a reduction in "managed colony numbers" might have been compensated by other means of collecting it, but I know very little about honey production. Skimming the latter paper, you're probably right that small-scale household production more than compensated for the loss from state-backed farms.


Well, at least Russia Beyond didn't entirely invent this story themselves. It first appeared in L.A. Times in 1992, but details differ:

The space agency can now barely afford to send supply craft 240 miles outside the Earth’s atmosphere to keep Krikalev and fellow cosmonaut Sergei Volkov (who arrived in October) stocked with breakfasts, lunches and dinners. Requests for anything remotely exotic can be a major problem. When Krikalev developed a craving for lemons last fall, Mission Control was unable to find any in state shops. Austrian cosmonaut Franz Fiebek saved the day by buying some lemons in a special hard-currency shop geared to the needs of Western tourists.

Glavkosmos managed to round up some of its own lemons to send on the latest supply mission. It also sent up generous portions of horseradish and fresh onions but was unable to satisfy Krikalev’s latest craving--for honey.

“It is difficult to get high-quality honey,” said Valery Polyakov, deputy director of the Medical and Biological Institute in charge of space menus. “We used to get honey from the former Soviet republics, but they have stopped deliveries. This is not our fault.”

But whether it's actually true in all details... IDK. Anyhow, the way L.A. Times presents it, it sounds more like some bureaucratic snafu, but it's not exactly clear who stopped deliveries to whom. Possibly Glavkosmos' acquisition rules prevented them from buying from a private seller of honey. I'm not sure where the "Medical and Biological Institute" entered the picture. Maybe they were in charge of approving the quality of the honey. You might be able to find some more detailed interviews with Polyakov in Russian about this affair. (His English Wikipedia page omits this job, but the Russian one gives in machine translation: "deputy flight director at the Flight Medical Support Control Center at the Mir station" in that period. So he is at least the right person.)

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    It looks like even nowadays China is the 2nd world exporter of honey, even though their economy is much more diversified than decades ago. oec.world/en/profile/bilateral-product/honey/reporter/chn FWTW, some of it appears sugar-laced ft.com/content/c05891ef-d7be-4b2b-92ec-e6c87a1d726c Apr 18 at 6:06
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    "I find it pretty doubtful they could not find any honey at all though." I remember reading an article about the trouble McDonalds had setting up shop in the Soviet Union. They found that they had to actually hire people themselves to grow lettuce, process it, and bring it to stores. It was viewed as a bit of a luxury there, and any made that was up to their standards would disappear somewhere along the normal soviet supply chain.
    – T.E.D.
    Apr 18 at 13:46
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    @T.E.D. That's a good point. There was a lot of corruption going on at the time, and many staff who were not paid regular/livable salaries during the economic crises supplemented their income "in kind." I will reach out to a Roskosmos source to see if that was the case.
    – SPavel
    Apr 18 at 14:31
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    My source's reply supports your speculation regarding Polyakov - her guess was that since all food had to be vetted by the medical commission, they would not have been able to just grab something from a farmer's market. Presumably the hard currency store would have an impeccably certified supply chain for the lemons, but if honey couldn't be obtained via equally legitimate channels, it might as well not exist for Roskosmos.
    – SPavel
    Apr 21 at 14:11

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