As time will no doubt show, nothing gets a multinational shadow war going quite like some good old-fashioned food porn.
Here's what I'm picturing: roving bands of homicidal grill enthusiasts, caked in Cheeto-dust tribal tattoos, clashing with their nori-veiled opponents who wield potato-chip shuriken, all in an effort to control the Cronut Badlands. Battle Royale would have been infinitely better had they ditched Okishima Island for an Orange Julius.
In any event, a new social media movement happening in Russia today seems to be taking what heretofore existed solely in my sriracha-fueled nightmares and placing it all firmly in the realm of reality.
What the hell am I rambling about? A resuscitated and deeply rooted Cold War, ripe with nebulous delineations and geo-political backstabbing. Oh yeah—did I mention it was taking place not in our hearts and minds, but in our pantries and waistlines?
Allegations are flying that Vladimir Putin, Russian President and bear-wrestling enthusiast, is the mastermind behind a profoundly anti-western Russian social media proxy war. It's shadowy codename? "Pretty Girls With Shawarmas."
"Pretty Girls With Shawarma" is a page that first appeared on VKontakte, the Russian equivalent of Facebook, just a few weeks ago. It has near 9,000 followers today. And yes, the name is self-explanatory: the site features lots of young attractive women in provocative poses eating shawarma, the Middle Eastern delight that favored heavily in Russia and the region as a whole.
It's a propaganda campaign that stems directly from the crisis in the Ukraine. And it's primary enemy? Well it's us: here in the West, with our oppressive capitalism, bacchanalian foodstuffs, and love of all things denim.
The kicker? Well, despite many calling it a joke, the group claims to be backed by Putin's Ministry of Health. It's hard to say for sure if that's the case. After all, we all know Russia has a long and illustrious history of comedy. That Odessa steps scene in cracks me up every time!
VKontakte—a.k.a. VK—has almost 67 million users. It is the premiere social media site in Russia and was founded in 2006 by Pavel Durov, essentially the Baltic Mark Zuckerberg. Putin and the Kremlin, however, have set their sights on the site since the beginning. As MOTHERBOARD recently reported, a battle for control over VKontakte left Durov on the outs and Putin-supporters on the ins.
In short, Russia's Facebook and its content are pretty much under Putin's control.
But why shawarma and why now? Could there possibly be any merit to the claim surrounding the Russian government's alleged role in the sexy shawarma camp? It's hard to say for sure, but a motive seems quite clear.
Russia currently bans most food imports from the West, including United States, the European Union, Canada, and Australia. This $9 billion ban was imposed in retaliation to Western sanctions that were placed on Russia after the Ukraine debacle.
The Russian embargo on Western food is due to expire this August, but Russia is not likely to lift the ban. That's because the European Union is threatening to extend sanctions on Russia for failing to implement a peace deal Russia struck with the Ukraine earlier this year.
Don't you just love it when your food fights dictate the course of history itself?
Since Mother Russia brought about this severe import ban, we've seen some seriously surreal twists in this Cold-War style conflict.
We've seen a flood of bivalves of dubious origin like the newfound "Belarussian oyster," as Russian chefs try to live without imported oysters. There's been genetically modified super cows that more closely resemble the immortal Highlander than Bess the bovine, as Russia tries to beef up its native food sources. Screw grade A, this beef is the alpha and the omega.
And who could possibly forget the Filipino crocodile connection giving the titular krokodil a run for its money, as Russians cope with the ban by turning to "alternative" protein sources?
Yes, things have gotten a little crazy since the ban, and Putin may see a need for a serious public relations boost. And so it makes sense that he could be the force behind the pushing of kabobs on the Russian millennial public—all in an effort to steer them away from evil Western hamburgers and back to borscht, stuffed cabbage, and the ubiquitous kabob.
The VKontakte page, meanwhile, has devolved into a shitshow. Rather than being a showcase for wholesome, homemade food, the page looks like an amateur porn site. Partially nude women squeeze shawarma sandwiches up to their bare breasts. Commenters—mostly male of course—rate the women and say clever things like, "Where'd you get the shawarma?"
Sexism and racism abound in the comments. Meanwhile, the girls mimic sex acts with their grilled meat wraps.
"Girl bitching," says one commenter.
When one poster named Mood decides to throw caution to the wind and post a picture of a long-legged woman holding a slice of pizza in bed, the shit hits the fan. Countless commenters call her a Roma. One group member said, "Oh, not the pizza. Here vostoyanaya beauty shawarma—yes!" Another commenter added his two cents to the page by uploading a nude picture of himself urinating into a coffee pot.
In short: the world is fucked. Russia and the West will likely never get along. People suck. Politicians are worse.
But there is one thing we can agree on. Shawarma? It's good. Upon that, we can all agree.