This paper explores the framing of ‘food riots’ in the international media during the global food crisis period of 2007–12. This is an important issue because the international media’s overly simplistic treatment of food-related protests as caused by hunger leading to anger and violence, dominates public discourse, informing both global policy discourse and quantitative policy research into food riots. This paper draws on some basic analysis of a large news database to explore the effects of how food riots were framed in the international media. It confirms the overly simplistic ‘hungry man is an angry man’ thesis held across international media discourse as a whole. But it also notes differences within the media, and argues that those differences produce different effects depending on whether articles are intended to inform, analyse or advocate. Certain voices are silenced or subdued by the international media, but food rioters in the developing world appear to be treated with more sympathy than rioters in the North might expect, or than they receive in their own national media. Overall, the effect of international media coverage of the wave of food riots during the food crisis, particularly in 2008, was to indicate a global policy problem requiring global policy action. It therefore marked a political intervention on a global scale.
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There are a number of possible sources for the claim that there were ‘food riots in 37 countries’ found in several academic, policy and news articles during the 2007–12 period. The earliest instances may be an extrapolation of a Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) report on the impending food crisis in 37 countries in December 2007, which warns of possible riots (FAO 2007). Schneider’s valuable early initiative (Schneider 2008) catalogued events in 2008. By 2014 a World Bank report concluded that there had been 51 food protest-type events (they are hesitant to use the term food riot, rightly recognizing its contested nature) in 37 countries in the 7 years between 2007 and 2014 (World Bank 2014).
The fifth edition of the Oxford Dictionary of Proverbs dates its first recorded use to a Scottish proverb of 1641; other sources apparently include a play by Aristophanes, James Joyce’s novel Ulysses, and Bob Marley’s song Them Belly Full But We Hungry (Simpson and Speake 2009).
Some articles used the term euphemistically, perhaps to attract attention in a period where food riots had become common. For instance, the official response to teenage vandalism of a burger chain in Edinburgh, not long after the wave of global protests about food prices, was reported by the Daily Record as ‘Yobs Not Locked Up Over Food Riot’ (September 19, 2008, pp. 21).
Although more scholarly analyses of price movements found little evidence to support the view that regional or world food prices had in fact become more volatile over the period (Minot 2014; Gilbert and Morgan 2010). It is possible that ‘food price volatility’ was a convenient shorthand way of explaining why the world had faced two significant real food price spikes that affected global and national markets in such close proximity.
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The author is grateful for feedback, advice and assistance on this paper from Nick Benequista, Devangana Kalita, Helen Rehin, and Patta Scott-Villiers.
This research was supported by a UK Department for International Development-Economic and Social Research (DFID-ESRC) research grant, number ES/J018317/1.
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Hossain, N. How the international media framed ‘food riots’ during the global food crises of 2007–12. Food Sec. 10, 677–688 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12571-018-0802-7
- Food riots
- Global food crisis
- Media framing