The St Petersburg vegans cooking up a revolution
As Russia enters its 20th year under the authoritarian leadership of Vladimir Putin, St Petersburg’s vegan anarchist community thrives. Hated by the far right and out of tune with Russia’s prevailing nationalist mood, the activists have created a version of what their ideal society would look like – and they’re promoting this vision with delicious food. Could they be changing attitudes among other young Russians?
Once a month, the eight people who work at the Horizontal takeaway hold a meeting in which they air any grievances, discuss updates to the menu, and vote on any changes they may want to make. The front of their restaurant, a hole-in-the-wall that serves vegan burgers, hot dogs and nuggets to go, is covered with stickers promoting anti-fascism, anarchism, and other vegan outlets in the city. Their meal deal offer, something commonly called a “business lunch” in Russia, is called “the anti-business lunch”.
Lately, the group has been discussing whether or not to change location – the complex they’re currently based in holds shows featuring captive animals, which they believe are cruel and exploitative.
Although some of them have been working there for longer than others, all eight members of the team have an equal say within the business. There are no managers and no hierarchies. Varya, 26, has been at the restaurant the longest.
“That’s why we’re called Horizontal – because every person who joins our restaurant is on the same level, and has the same rights and an equal position with all of the others,” she says. The restaurant adheres to the principles of anti-racism, feminism, LGBTQ+ rights, the abolition of borders, and animal liberation. In a country where people who are gender non-confirming or trans are shunned, and even sometimes attacked, Horizontal is a space where anyone’s preferred pronouns will be respected.