Muscovite Aliona Bogdanova’s path to editing Wikipedia came circuitously through her vegetarian diet, a diet, she said, that was at odds with the way most Russians view nutrition.
“When I was a child, I found out that where meat comes from. I decided that it’s not fair to kill animals to get meat,” she said. Her decision was not viewed favorably. “My family, they wouldn’t let me not eat meat because in Russia, people generally believe that it’s impossible not to eat meat and if you stop eating meat, you die!”
When she was 20, Bogdanova researched online how to create a proper vegetarian diet and became a vegetarian. She has, however, met resistance along the way, especially when she started her family.
“When I got pregnant, lots of people asked me questions, how can you possibly carry a child and not eat meat because you’re pregnant and you must eat meat?” said Bogdanova. “So I had a breastfeeding consultant who advised me to eat a little piece of meat at least once a week. I didn’t do it because I would, you know, poison myself.”
Bogdanova said she was able to find useful information in Russian about vegetarianism and animal rights on sites like Wikipedia, but, “there’s in general very little information about breastfeeding in Russia, and that has to do with the Soviet school stopping with how people have thought about this.”
Bogdanova has taken passionately to sharing what she’s learned about health and parenting with people seeking information on Russian Wikipedia.
“I wrote several articles about food, about vegetarianism. I edited some articles about parenting, natural parenting,” she said. “But I remember, my first big article is about marzipan because I’m a fan of marzipan. There was only a few words about it and maybe no article at all, and I just knew what I should write.”
To fill the time while at home during her pregnancy, Bogdanova took up soap making as a hobby. Before long it turned into a business. “When you make soap, eventually you end up making too much and eventually comes a point where…you can’t possibly use so much and you can’t find enough friends who you could give it as a gift,” she said. “I use Wikipedia as a research tool (it has so many useful links) and I share things that I learn from my business on Wikipedia, so that everyone can learn.”
Bogdanova is also translating a book about homeschooling, the Teenage Liberation Handbook, into Russian. It’s her first serious translation effort.
Natural curiosity and research drew her to Wikipedia years ago and she credits her upbringing with keeping her in the community of contributors.
“I can’t, you know, pass by something that I can improve,” she said. “Because I grew up in the family of teachers, I was raised on the idea that talking like an encyclopedia is an important scholarly work, and so when I wrote in Wikipedia, I had the sense that I had contributed to this.”
She added, “Once in a while, I find out that somebody has come across this article that I have created about homeschooling, for example, and then I am really proud.”
Profile by Donna Peterson, Communications Volunteer, Wikimedia Foundation
Interview by Victor Grigas, Wikimedia Foundation Storyteller