"The Birth of Taste" at the National Mustard Museum in Wisconsin (all images courtesy the National Mustard Museum)

As the Russian invasion of Ukraine continues to elicit harsh global sanctions on Russian imports and export goods, trade agreements, and currency, more and more institutions are lining up to show their support of Ukraine. In perhaps the most literal expression that this act of aggression on the part of Russia will not cut the mustard, the National Mustard Museum of Wisconsin has cut Russian mustard from its display collection.

As first reported by Twitter user and mustard enthusiast @ExodiacKiller, a sign in one of the museum’s display cases announced: “The Russian mustards have been temporarily removed. They will return once the invasion of Ukraine is over and Russia recognizes and respects the sovereign nation of Ukraine.”

One imagines Putin’s war room, replete with harsh red lighting and blocky Soviet tech. Military underlings work at stations and phone banks, charting plummeting currencies and sitreps from soldiers in the field. A general nervously approaches Putin, his rank denoted by a series of shiny sickles on his lapels.

“Sir,” he says solemnly. “The mustards have been removed from the National Mustard Museum of Wisconsin.”

Putin, hanging by a thread since the decommissioning of his wax figure from the Grévin Museum in Paris earlier this month, crumbles.

“Pull back the troops,” he commands. “We have lost too much.”

“The Persistence of Condiments”

As many have noted, Americans seem wildly enthusiastic to protest acts of international aggression toward nations of white-looking people, while remaining suspiciously neutral about analogous situations when they involve, say, Palestinians. And of course, there is nothing more popular these days than an empty gesture. One dimly recalls a political kerfuffle in 2003 when, in response to France objecting over US involvement in the invasion of Iraq, Bob Ney, then Republican Chairman of the Committee on House Administration, changed “French fries” to “Freedom fries” on the menu in three Congressional cafeterias. Dumb, but also antagonistic and fully pointless, which was actually Bob Ney’s motto during his reelection campaign (or should have been).

Hypocrisy aside, there is also real concern that knee-jerk reactions to all-things-Russian mirror anti-Chinese sentiment that arose with the emergence of COVID-19, fueled by right-wing media and the then-President Donald Trump. It is one thing to remove the literal likeness of Putin from a wax museum; it is another to make the concept of being Russian a verboten quality. Certainly, if you can count on Americans to do anything, it’s to aggregate a lot of small pointless acts into a general prejudice that eventually results in violence against innocent people. On the other hand, it is difficult to imagine that the National Mustard Museum’s act of solidarity with Ukraine can either harm or help the situation.

Interior view of exhibitions at the National Mustard Museum

“We did not ‘ban’ Russian mustards,” said Barry Levenson, the National Mustard Museum’s curator, in an email with Hyperallergic. “All we did, to show solidarity with Ukraine during this terrible crisis, was to temporarily remove the few Russian mustards that are on display in the museum,” he continued, reiterating that the mustards would be returned to the collection once peace reigns again.

Levenson emphasized that this act does not constitute a ban, as neither the shop nor the museum sells any Russian mustards (or Ukrainian mustards,) and never have.

“So it seems to be a major unintended brouhaha,” Levenson said. “Someone saw the sign and got it onto the internet. We did not publicize it or try to draw attention to what we did.”

Sarah Rose Sharp is a Detroit-based writer, activist, and multimedia artist. She has shown work in New York, Seattle, Columbus and Toledo, OH, and Detroit — including at the Detroit Institute of Arts....