A Day at the Supermarket with Nikita Khrushchev

While on his first official visit to the United States on September 21, 1959, Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev visited a Safeway supermarket in San Francisco, California. In a speech that Khrushchev shared later that day at a formal dinner reception for San Francisco city officials, he expressed great respect and amazement of the supermarket. Khrushchev stated, “I am truly filled with admiration over what I saw. It was, I believe, excellently organized. It was a wonderful visit.” However, Khrushchev also made sure to claim that the Soviet farming industry was still years ahead of America’s, even without the use of supermarkets. Khrushchev also said that he wished for the United States and the Soviet Union to disregard a nuclear arms race and to, rather, race for the production of various food items such as milk, butter, and wheat. Khrushchev’s visit to the United States was filled with hopeful messages such as this one, but they were to no avail.

This source is important because it actually places a Soviet leader inside of a supermarket, showing his amazement for how plentiful the apples and the quantities they came in were. Just two months prior to his visit to the United States, Khrushchev had an impromptu debate with Vice President Richard Nixon over the state of agriculture under capitalist and communist societies, which would later become known at the “Kitchen Debates.” Khrushchev famously stated, “This is what America is capable of, and how long has she existed? 300 years? 150 years of independence and this is her level. We haven’t quite reached 42 years, and in another 7 years, we’ll be at the level of America, and after that we’ll go farther.” The supermarket would become something that Khrushchev would become envious of. In a speech that he gave in Vladivostok, Khrushchev stated that the city should become the Soviet’s “own San Francisco.” Something that I’d like to research further on the topic is how the US responded or changed their own farming industry as a result of the “Kitchen Debate.” I’d also like to engage with Shane Hamilton’s book Supermarket USA: Food and Power in the Cold War Farms Race more to see how he explains who “won” the Farms Race.

Sources:

[1] Hamilton, Shane. Supermarket USA: Food and Power in the Cold War Farms Race. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2019.

[2] Khrushchev, Nikita. “Text of the Address Made by Khrushchev at Civic Dinner in San Francisco.” The New York Times, September 22, 1959.

[3] Nixon-Khrushchev Kitchen Debate. C-SPAN, 1959. https://www.c-span.org/video/?110721-1/nixon-khrushchev-kitchen-debate.

[4] Showcasing Food at Home. Photograph. San Francisco, September 1959. Associated Press.

4 Replies to “A Day at the Supermarket with Nikita Khrushchev”

  1. I think this is an really interesting story. I did not know Russia/Soviet Union did not have supermarkets at the time. Would you be interested in a project on supermarkets? You could focus when did they spread, why did they spread, and if there is any place in the country that still does not have any.

  2. This is a really interesting story and one I that I had no idea existed or would have ever thought would have. I love the idea of food production serving as a minor factor to the rivalry between the US and the USSR. The arms race was the obvious cause for rivalry but a nation must be able to feed its people to fight a war.

  3. I find it really interesting that Khrushchev openly admitted his admiration for the American supermarket. In a political landscape as petty as our current one, it’s odd to picture these two bitter rivals willing to compliment each other. I am also interested in whether Khrushchev believed he was seeing an average American supermarket or one that went above and beyond for his visit. Good post!

  4. Hi Cody! This is a great image. Well is seems you are continuing to focus on supermarkets, food, and the Cold War, which is great. But you will definitely want to take a look at Shane Hamilton’s book very soon and figure out ways to focus the project so that it complements rather than completely repeats Hamilton’s work. Really looking forward to learning more!

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