Who: The Canada-Ukraine Foundation’s The Holodomor Awareness Tour and Mixtape.
What: A fictitious food company, “Holodomor Fine Foods,” consisting of foods for people who are (literally) starving to death. Its products include hay, bark and roots—all of which were eaten by starving Ukrainians during the Holodomor, which resulted in millions of deaths.
When & Where: The provocative campaign debuted in mid-March, using murals and digital boards on three university campuses: the University of Toronto, York University and Ryerson University. The campaign’s primary objective is education (the Holodomor does not play a major part in schools’ curriculum), so it made sense to target university-age people, says Mixtape’s executive creative director, Greg Shortall. All of the ads direct to a dedicated website that provides information about the Holodomor.
Why: The campaign is designed to raise the profile of The Holodomor National Awareness Tour.
“Holodomor” is a Ukrainian term meaning “death inflicted by starvation.” It refers to the starvation of between 4 and 7 million Ukrainians (nearly one-third of whom were under 10) between 1932 and 1933 when Joseph Stalin ordered Soviet authorities to seize all grain—and eventually all food—from the country.
How: The campaign features ads for the fake packaged foods “Bark,” “Hay” and Roots,” complete with labels like “0 calories,” “artisanal” and “hand-crafted,” alongside warnings like “May contain traces of dirt.”
Shortall says that ads are intended as a “Trojan horse,” piggybacking on Canadians’ interest in food and new food products. “We want people to step into the shoes of Ukranians during that time, if only for a second.”
The reaction: The campaign has been polarizing says Shortall. Its detractors have called it ” Too clever by half,” and say it trivializes the Holodomor, while its proponents say it shines a light on a little-known event. The University of Toronto, meanwhile, issued a takedown order after complaints about the ads.
Other elements: Mixtape also held a “tasting” event where attendees dined on items relating to what Ukrainians ate to survive during the Holodomor, including bark soup, hay pancakes and roots. Mixtape is also sending food packages containing Holodomor Fine Foods items to food bloggers.
And we quote: “When you talk about an enormous death toll like 4 to 7 million people, people innately have a hard time understanding what that is,” says Shortall. “Stalin himself said ‘If only one man dies of hunger, it is a tragedy. If millions die, that’s only a statistic,’ so we knew we couldn’t just say that an enormous number of people died during the Holodomor. There’s something a little off-kilter and unsettling about [Holodomor Fine Foods] that hopefully drives people to want to learn more.”