“Give Us Bread!” | JSTOR Daily


For many years, scholars maintained that food riots were a phenomenon left behind in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Food riots were understood to be spontaneous, localized economic protests that had no place in the twentieth century’s strong, centralized countries with their increasingly national markets. The events of 1917 were considered to be an anomaly—except they continued through the twentieth century and into the twenty-first. In 2007 and 2008, which saw steep increases in the prices of basic food commodities, there were food riots in 30 countries, from the “Pasta Protests” in Italy to the rice protests in Haiti. For the past year, Venezuela has been wracked by food shortages and riots, often quelled by tear gas and gunfire.

Faced with this reality, scholars have begun to reconsider food riots. More than a mass reaction to an immediate physical need, the food riot can also be seen as a form of cultural and political protest, often arising from groups outside the traditional power structure.