Sergei Boutenko’s escape from the Russian mafia and subsequent good ol’ American weed-fetish: how to eat in the wild and live to not only tell the tale, but kick nutritional a**
You’re a Russian who doesn’t eat meat. That doesn’t fit with my ideas about Russians, except for how much they like cold beet soup. Can you eat traditional Russian cuisine and be a vegetarian?
In the 80s, both my parents were vegetarians in Russia, and the joke at the time was that if you were a vegetarian, you were fasting.
How did you end up in the States?
My parents were really political. The wall had just come down and they were among the few who started a successful business, but corrupt government officials threatened them to give up a cut of the profits or be shut down. When they wouldn’t, they froze my parents’ bank account. My mom has a bullet that was shot at her.
So what you’re saying is that there really is such a thing as Russian gangsters, and it’s Russian gangsters who chased you all the way to a farm in Montana.
Totally. I was five years old. It was 1990—my mom got a job in Denver, and we all emigrated, intending to go back to Russia after she taught for a year. But in the time we were here, pretty much all of our stuff in Russia had been looted, stolen, or destroyed.
Do you remember the first lukewarm drive-thru burger you ever ate? Do you remember the last one?
In Russia back then, there was bread, meat, cabbage, and vodka. That’s pretty much it. We came to America and we were just stunned—there were fifty different kinds of everything. We figured that Americans were so advanced, so scientific, that we ought to go to the grocery store on payday and try it all. So we did.
We got gluttonous, not realizing how unhealthy it is to eat that way—pizzas, cheese, junk. We all got diagnosed with some kind of disease within a year of one another. Diabetes, arrhythmia, hyperthyroid, asthma, arthritis. We turned to the medical industry, which of course recommended pills, shots, and surgeries.
A hospital is way less fun than a sandwich with daisies in it.
Yeah, it’s less fun than just about anything. We didn’t have the money for it anyway, so in a very Russian way, my mom started stopping healthy-looking people on the street to ask what they ate. She scared a good fifty people before she met a woman in a bank lineup who said I know exactly what you need.
Raw food, back then, wasn’t near as popular as it is today. Fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, grains. Almost instantly, we all started feeling better. We felt so good, we wondered if it was a placebo. But it wasn’t.
More on PCT-hiker, wild edibles expert, and Russian mafia out-runner Sergei Boutenko—and why you can pretty much follow him anywhere when the machines turn on us—at DARK RYE’s Roots Issue.