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When Food Made History

Food is an important part of our lives. While not everyone agrees on what to eat, it is generally (Ok, let’s be honest – it’s unanimously) considered a fact that eating food is essential for a person to keep living.

Because food is so important, it might not surprise you that food has also played an important role in some historical events. The following examples show not only how food has played important roles in winning wars, starting rebellions, and creating food standards, but also how food (and one beverage) may have affected history.

  • The Boston Tea Party: In 1771, a group of American Colonists approached Boston Harbour dressed as Native Americans and attacked ships containing chests of tea shipped from Britain. The colonists, angry about the high taxes and unfair practices of the British, dumped all the tea into the water, an act that ruined the tea. As expected, this act sparked outrage in Britain. Eventually the British Parliament retaliated by closing Boston Harbour and creating harsher laws and punishments that eventually led to the American Revolution.
  • The Battle With Cheese: During a brief period in the 1860s, Uruguay and Brazil engaged in a mostly naval war. During one of the skirmishes, one of the Uruguay ships ran out of cannons. Instead of surrendering, the captain ordered that stale balls of cheese be used as ammunition. Somehow, a cheese ball hit the main mast of one of the Brazilian ships and killed two men. The ship retired from the battle soon after.
  • Gandhi’s March to the Sea: While under British rule in the 1800s and early 1900s, the Indian people were not allowed to gather or sell salt. The British imposed high taxes on the food staple which many people could not afford. Enter Mahatma Gandhi. He reasoned that defying the Salt Laws would be a simple way for Indians to break the law nonviolently. On April 5, 1930, Gandhi arrived at the sea with tens of thousands of followers. He gathered some of the natural salt and sparked a peaceful revolution that led to India’s independence 17 years later.
  • The Jungle is Published: Imagine sitting down by the fire in your house in 1905 and starting a new book by Upton Sinclair called The Jungle. As you read, you want to throw up. The book is all about the meat-packing industry and describes rotten, diseased, and contaminated meat being sent out for purchase and the horrifying conditions for the workers at the places where the meat is packaged. Sinclair had investigated the meat industry and wrote the novel as a way to raise awareness. It worked. Because of the shock of the American public, new laws were passed that led to food safety laws and the formation of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
  • Grain Crop Failures in France: Back in the 18th century, it is reported that peasants spent up to half of their daily wage on bread. But when grain crops failed two years in a row (1788 and 1789), the prices increased to over 88% of wages and the people of France began to blame the ruling class for the resulting famine and economic upheaval, according to Sylvia Neely’s A Concise History of the French Revolution. When Marie Antoinette, the queen of France during the time, was told that the peasants were starving and couldn’t afford bread, she was reported to have replied, “Let them eat cake.” While the story probably isn’t true, the anger toward the monarchy continued until a revolution dethroned the king and queen, who were later executed.

Do you know of other historical events where food played a part? Want to discuss any of the above examples? Please comment below. And if you’re working on making food history of your own, make sure you’re covered!


Lyndsey Larsen is the Marketing Manager for FLIP and writes about business, marketing, entrepreneurship, and insurance.

Lyndsey Larsen is an experienced writer with a background in corporate communications and nonprofits, SAAS corporations, and nutraceutical companies. She has previously worked as a journalist for regional and national publications. In her spare time, she enjoys chasing butterflies, rockhounding, and spending time with her two kids in Utah’s mountains or deserts. Find Lyndsey on LinkedIn.

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