I'm about half way through Marina Lwycka's multiple prize wining novel "A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian". It's quite funny in places, although the stereotypes are laid on with a trowel. The narrator is Nadia (Nadezhda), a first generation English woman with Ukrainian parents. After her mother's funeral she describes the state of the house. It's full of food. The understairs pantry, the freezers, the drawers under the beds. All full of food. This is fiction.
Lwycka herself was born to Ukrainian parents in a refugee camp in Germany, at the end of the second World War. Her parents may well have had the same history as my father. I'll bet they were the source of the snippets of history involving food.
The only book my father owned was Victor Kravchenko's "I Chose Freedom". This is factual autobiography. You can pick up a copy for under £3.00 second hand through Amazon. Kravchenko was a young and enthusiastic Soviet official at the time when Stalin discovered that famine could be used to solve what was then known as the "Agrarian Problem". If you starved the peasant populace to death in their millions, the survivors would accept the collectivisation of agriculture. The policy required between 7 and 10 million Ukrainians dead of starvation in just over one year, but it worked. Kravchenko was there and was aghast at the suffering he witnessed in the Western Ukraine. His account makes harrowing reading. My father, a peasant from the Western Ukraine, would have been about 10 years old when the famine was engineered. He never, ever alluded to any of this beyond owning Kravchenko's book. And mentioning, just once, that Kravchenko painted an accurate picture.
As a youngster it never struck me as odd that we had a large part of our garden down to vegetables (mind you, as a youngster I didn't think my father had an accent!). Or a big greenhouse full of tomatoes and cucumbers. Or multiple fruit trees. Or TWO local council allotments. Each with a greenhouse packed with tomatoes. Big potato patches, spuds in clamps for the winter. We never much ate New Potatoes. Bulk main crop was preferred. Masses of bulk yield soft fruit. Peas. Peas were harvested late, because Dad had no interest in petit pois when two weeks later you could have a crop of serious bulk food. Apples in drawers and boxes in the basement, wrapped in newspaper. Bottled fruit. Freezers full of runner beans. Pickled cabbage.
No one else's family did this, as far as I can remember, but Lwycka's character of the mother in her novel could have been based on my father.
Anyway, there is a fascinating passage in "Tractors". It's a disastrous argumentative tea party and one of the interchanges goes like this. Nadia, the narrator, is skinny. The elderly Ukrainians (the Zadchucks) are not. They're arguing about weight.
Mrs Zadchuck (heavy Ukranian accent, broken english) says to her husband:
'Better fatty than skinny. Look Nadezhda. She starving Bangladesh-lady.'
I (Nadia) take this as a slight. Righteously, I draw in my stomach. 'Thin is good. Thin is healthy. Thin people live longer.'
All of them turn on me with howls of derisive laughter.
'Thin is hunger! Thin is famine! Everyone thin drop over dead! Ha ha.'
It's fiction, but these characters are based on people who were there in the Ukraine in 1932. Humans don't get fat to get metabolic syndrome. Those of us (me included) who are a bit smug with a BMI around 20 maybe ought to remember that a BMI of 25-30 appears to give best longevity in Western culture, even without a famine. I don't rate my own chances living off my fat during any period of famine and I only own one greenhouse and a small freezer...