(The Graduate University for Advanced Studies,
Bulgaria, post-socialism, dairy food culture, yogurt, museum exhibition, representation
Focusing on the case study of the Yogurt Museum in the region of Tran, this paper aims to investigate how dairy food culture is represented in post-socialist Bulgaria. It also considers the cultural meaning of yogurt in the light of the dramatic changes after the collapse of the socialist system. The Yogurt Museum was originally established in 2006 for the purpose of tourism development in the region of Tran. However, looking at the museum exhibition, it becomes clear that its aim is rather to highlight the international success and glorious past of “Bulgarian yogurt” rather than to show the traditional dairy culture of the local people. What is more, socialism, which inflicted dramatic changes on dairy farming and overall life in the country, seems to be erased from the yogurt history now told by the museum exhibition. Instead, it emphasizes the paramount importance of yogurt as food which can support the lives of modern people, bringing them “health” and “longevity”. Thus, indirectly, but quite successfully, the exhibition conveys the notion that Bulgaria not only shares the same values as the European community but is also an important part of Europe, contributing significantly to its prosperity. This attempt to erase the socialist past from the history of a national food product such as yogurt is a tendency that distinguishes Bulgaria from other post-socialist countries where, as previous studies have shown, most people feel nostalgia for national (or “socialist”) food and disappointment with foreign (or “capitalist”) food. They express these feelings of nostalgia and disappointment by denouncing foreign (global) producers and giving special value to national (local) manufacturers. Such persistent preference for the food of one’s own country has been defined as “nationalism” or “Ostalgia” (i.e. nostalgia for the East) in post-socialist anthropological research. However, the museum exhibition dedicated to Bulgarian yogurt, which lays more stress on such universal human values as “health” and “longevity” rather than the national dairy traditions or the grandeur of the Bulgarian dairy industry during socialism, shows quite a different picture. In this sense the museum representation of “Bulgarian yogurt” cannot be considered as “food nationalism” or some form of nostalgia for “socialist food”. It is rather an attempt to build a positive image of the national self in times of radical social and economic change. The case of “Bulgarian yogurt” comes to show how a traditional food product can provide an alternative form of self-presentation, thus assisting the transition of a country from state socialism to democracy and a market economy.