Food Riots

I’ve been interested in this 18th century topic for a long time but always thought it was about food shortages, missing the fact that they were often aimed at stopping food – i.e. local grain – from being shipped out of the country, a matter encouraged by bounties brought in in the 17th century when England grew far more grain than it could consume.

So, in the 19th century, why didn’t the Irish or the Indians riot when there were famines? One response is that they were not that sort of people. Twaddle. Anyone’s that kind of people when they’re mad and hungry. And in 18th century Ireland there were quite a few riots. It beggars belief that Queen Victoria praised them and the thousands of starving Indians for their meekness in accepting their fate.

The real difference was the English had clear targets – their own neighbours were hoarding grain and overpricing it or shipping out, so they attacked homes, set fire to hay ricks or intercepted carts on the way to marked, and if they weren’t offering a reasonable rate, took it to market themselves and later paid what they had sold it for.

But 19th century Ireland and India were ruled by people far away – in the former the famous absentee landlords, so food was being exported from Ireland and India at the time people were starving. One author joked that perhaps the best way to solve food shortages is to improve rioting skills He was rebuked by someone pointing out the awesome array of weaponry the powers that be now have against rioters, but he did have a valid point – sort of.

Which reminds me of the Live Aid protest/concert- loads of food poured into the country but the government refused to distribute it, even tried to tax it for import.

There are many more ways to protest today, not all of them involve burning property.

Where there is democracy there is never famine.

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