France is angry, France is hungry

France is angry, France is hungry

July 5, 2023 0 By Michel Santi

The flour war in 1775 sparked around 300 riots throughout France and was caused by the state’s abolition of price controls on bread, driven by Turgot’s influence. Turgot, who had elevated “laissez-faire” as an economic principle almost akin to divine law or inherent in natural laws, had not at all concerned himself with the rising cost of this ingredient, which at the time constituted over two-thirds of the common people’s food in the Kingdom of France. It was a sad era where the most impoverished were forced to spend half of their meager income solely on bread.

Today, our wallets are theoretically less sensitive to fluctuations in food prices, and most of us first sacrifice other expenses during lean times. However, it is difficult not to draw parallels with recent riots in France, where food prices have skyrocketed by 22% since 2021, according to a recently published article by Philip Pilkington citing data from INSEE. After the COVID-19 pandemic, we have been saddened by articles and photos of students lining up at food banks. How can one not be struck by scenes of supermarkets being looted by housewives in early July 2023, or by that proud teenager who managed to steal bottles of olive oil?

No, it is an insignificant minority that rushed for brand-name products, and it is hardly possible, paraphrasing Marie Antoinette, to shout at them, “Let them eat Nike.” Fortunately, we are no longer in an era where a substantial increase in food prices leads to famine in our Western nations. However, it is now quiet common to skip a meal in modern-day France, where the least fortunate citizens have not experienced such an erosion of their standard of living for decades. Did you know that one out of eight French people is now reduced to not having enough food to eat, and these deprivations have resulted in a 17% decrease in food consumption in a little over a year? This information comes from the same aforementioned article, which states that it is the most substantial decline since this statistic was established in 1980.

It goes without saying that the lower classes are the most severely affected because they are forced to allocate nearly 30% of their budget to food, whereas the figure is around 7% for the more affluent. The sudden surge in the cost of living, particularly for essential food items, poses a danger to public order because it is not difficult to put oneself in the shoes of those who can no longer manage to eat enough in 21st-century France, whose people resigned themselves to consuming nearly 60% less meat due to its high prices. It is unthinkable in our supposedly civilized era, in a country like France that never misses an opportunity to extol its social model, that rising food prices and declining consumption of basic necessities continue to be precursors to riots.

Today, we are learning at our own expense that our developed nations are not a cocoon and are far from immune to global turbulence. A colossal catastrophe looms on Europe’s doorstep, and it is urgent to realize that the troubles do not stop at the borders of the Schengen area. Europe—and in this tragic example that concerns us, France—will not always be able to consistently satisfy the needs of its citizens, as these are the mechanical consequences of wars, climate change, and hypercapitalism. In 1775, the uprisings linked to the soaring price of bread were the infallible signs of the approaching storm, which continued in October 1789 with the march of women to Versailles in response to the food shortage. Supposedly the first baker of France, the King had established, over the centuries, a modus vivendi with the population that recognized the inalienable right to bread.

Today, it seems that France is hungry once again.

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