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Anyway You Slice It . . . Glasnost Still Means Stale Bread

December 14, 1987|WILLIAM TUOHY | Times Staff Writer

MOSCOW — "Eat bread and salt and speak the truth," a Russian proverb advises.

Under Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev's policy of glasnost, or openness, there is more truth, but under his parallel policy of perestroika, or economic restructuring, there is less bread.

The lack of bread in Moscow stores, and the quality of the bread that is available, has become something of a scandal, so much so that the newspaper Pravda has turned its attention to the problem.

Pravda, the newspaper of the Central Committee of the Communist Party, reported last week that a recent check of Moscow bread stories indicated that the "quality of bread . . . has sharply deteriorated, and continues to do so."

Also, it said, the availability of bread "leaves much to be desired," particularly in the case of workers who cannot get to a store until late in the day.

The newspaper insisted that something must be done to improve both quality and quantity.

Traditionally, Russian bread is tasty, rich and satisfying, one of the delights of the country. It ranges from black to white, and at its best is bought warm and crisp in oval loaves weighing slightly over two pounds.

But in Moscow, bread is made at central bakeries and delivered by truck to stores around the capital, where in many cases it is sold long after it arrives.

"By the time we buy it," a Moscow professional man said the other day, "it is usually stale. What happens is that the people in the shop don't want to get stuck with stale bread. So they sell it first. Meanwhile, the fresh bread is stacked in the back of the shop, where it soon gets stale, too. It's a vicious circle."

Pravda cited a sorry example that its inspectors had found in a bread shop next to a milk store: No sales personnel were available in either store, but they were found in back rooms at both, trading fresh bread and cookies for fresh dairy products--for themselves.

Behind the cashier's desk at one shop, Pravda said, the inspectors found "a young man in a very dirty smock, totally unable to speak. He was completely drunk."

About a year ago, Moscow authorities announced, with some fanfare, that bread was going to be enriched with nutrients that would make it healthier and more satisfying. At the same time, a price increase was announced. The new "miracle" bread would cost 22 kopecks (about 30 cents), which is not high by Moscow standards.

"The trouble is that whatever new additives they put in didn't work," a dissatisfied consumer complained. "The new bread gets stale twice as fast. And it doesn't smell or taste like bread. It tastes like chemicals. If you eat more than two slices, you get heartburn."

Further, the new bread is often hard even when it comes fresh from the bakery.

The newspaper Trud said it sent a reporter and a photographer to a central bakery, and a worker readily showed the team what she called a "concrete loaf."

"The bread was so hard you could use it as a weapon," the reporter commented.

How could the government allow this to happen to one of the national glories?

"You know," the professional man said, "I am trying to avoid being paranoid. But it is hard for me not to believe that the entrenched bureaucracy did this on purpose, to show that perestroika is not working. This gets the people believing that Gorbachev's reforms are no good. How else can you explain it?"

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