The rise in the price of baguettes is fueling public unrest in France. As history shows, the government can’t just ask people to eat cake

In the current public unrest in France over the rising price of the baguette echoes what happened 232 years ago. At the time, the fact that a staple was sold out of reach of the masses led to the French Revolution and the dramatic and bloody collapse of the Ancien Régime. The situation is not so bad at the moment – the president of the French Confederation of Bakeries and Pastry Shops has said that unlike then, bread is still available, although it is more expensive.

All over the world, the inaccessibility or unavailability of food has, from time to time, led to mass unrest and even the collapse of governments. Bread riots preceded the fall of the Bastille in 1789, which was stormed in part because hungry sans-culottes were looking for grain. Likewise, in 1918, a dizzying rise in the price of rice sparked riots in Japan, which led to the resignation of Prime Minister Terauchi Masatake and his cabinet. And consider how often that Indian pantry staple – the onion – has caused electoral convulsions: from fueling public anger against Indira Gandhi’s government in the months leading up to the emergency to its resurgence in the 1980 general election. Rising onion prices were also a factor in the ousting of the BJP in the 1998 Delhi Assembly elections.

The current surge in the price of baguette in France is due to poor harvests in Russia, which has caused the price of wheat to rise worldwide. Rising energy prices have also made ovens more expensive to operate, and the heat is felt by famous bakeries across the country, as well as the average consumer of the long stick-shaped bread which is considered a heritage icon. French culinary. As history teaches us, when people complain that basic foods are not affordable, governments can’t just ask them to eat cake.

This editorial first appeared in the print edition on October 29, 2021 under the title “Du pain ou du sang”.

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