Food Riots: About Price, Not Starvation

Because the price of food has skyrocketed in the past few years (due in part to the rising transportation costs of fuel and the increased demand on staple grains that make for good biofuels as well as the increased demand for arable land), we've seen widespread food riots. In Haiti, they recently toppled a government--this is also how Baby Doc was finally forced from power in the 80s (see this exceptional work by Michel-Rolph Trouillot for more on how Duvalierism was not entirely exceptional). And things are quite bad in Somalia, though Ethiopia begs to differ.

Though we might think that food riots are about hunger and starvation, Charles Tilly's analysis of modern Europe showed that food riots are about prices and not just food scarcity. He relates stories of people taking over ships of grain and, rather than stealing it, selling it for what they think are fair prices. If we read the news items on the unrest of the past few months, while there clearly is the danger of starvation, we see repeatedly that the riots also are about rising prices and, in Somalia's case, the unwillingness of merchants to accept local currency as payment. So, there's food. It's just that the people who need it can't get it.

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2 Responses to Food Riots: About Price, Not Starvation

nblinks said...

One gem I remember from Richard Pipes' course I took freshman year on the Russian revolution: that the most common cause of revolts, mutinies, etc. in 19th and early 20th century Russia (maybe Europe even) was rioting over bad institutional food. Indeed, the sailors' mutiny in the great Eisenstein film Battleship Potemkin is spawned by, if I recall correctly, a particularly awful stew.

Jane Rubio said...

What do you mean--Ethiopia begs to differ?

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