Arguably some of the more evocative sorts of protest are those which adopt objects, either as their symbol or as their chosen means of causing turbulence. That object might be a referential character that then becomes the name or face of the protest. Or it could be a food item, a readily consumable product — which by its very nature adds an extra layer of impact to the demonstration. We’re taking a look at various protests, notably those that have employed edibles.

“Protesting is just another word for complaining or whining.

Whining in a group is more dangerous than whining on your own because people can become infected by your repugnant beliefs.

The council only tolerates grumbling silently in one’s own head.”

Richard Littler, 2019, Scarfolk Annual, William Collins publishers, London UK

This quote by the fictional Scarfolk Council is extracted from a book about an imaginary northern town in England. Curiously, there is a high probability that we would find at least a dozen politicians who would wish for this to be true; what’s worse, some of them likely believe it to be true. Alas.

Protest is an expression of discomfort, disillusionment, disappointment. It is interesting to observe the interval between the occurrence of a protest and its potential result. Most of the time, protests ignite a fever of infectious discontent. However, it might not be possible to see the results at the time, or even at all. Not every protest yields a positive, immediate, or visible outcome. But that does not mean the protest was unsuccessful.

Boston Tea Party, 1773

On 16 December, the Sons of Liberty, “a loosely-organised clandestine political organisation”, poured an entire shipment of tea belonging to the East India Company into the harbour in Boston, Massachusetts. They were protesting against taxation without representation. During this period, before the American Revolution, taxes on goods were applied to favour British companies. People, especially the American tradesmen, became agitated by this. After many years of resistance, boycotts and political manoeuvres, the options were diminishing. The new batch of tea coming from England was due to arrive soon. It couldn’t be sent back because “tea once exported from England could not be re-entered there”. Thus, the only viable option was to pour the tea into the sea. This act of cold tea brewing, one of the events that led to the American Revolution, could well be the most notorious food-related protest.

This objection to wrongful taxation and fiscal inequality was very reactionary and not very peaceful. Food was at the epicentre of the discussion; it was also the subject of the protest, thus irreplaceable in this context.

SUBSCRIBE & BUY TO READ MORE

Figure 1. W.D. Cooper. "Boston Tea Party.", The History of North America. London: E. Newberry, 1789. Engraving.

Lahmacun, 1998

I studied at a German Gymnasium [high school] in Istanbul. As students, we would all buy our lunch from the school canteen, in the form of toasted sandwiches and similar snacks — a model of micro monopoly in a school of fewer than 1000 students. Suddenly one day, there was a steep increase in the prices — this signified a small profit for humankind but a large profit for the canteen. As a protest, the students ordered around 100 pieces of lahmacun, also known as Turkish pizza, a mixture of meat and veggies spread onto a thin layer of dough and cooked in a stone oven. When the lahmacuns arrived, they were distributed for free to all students present, and then consumed near the teachers’ lounge. The pungent smell of garlic-flavoured minced meat covered the whole space, creating an olfactory incentive for the school administrators to reconsider the prices. Here, the food justified the presence of protesters in a particular location. It was challenging for the school to contest, since the activity of eating something makes it hard to render a meeting illegal.

This could be the least-known food-related protest of our age. Nevertheless, its ease of organisation, its peaceful, even joyful character, and its decentralised and repeatable-if-necessary nature made it difficult for the administrators to digest.

Figure 2. The characteristic smell of Lahmacun can be picked up from long distances.

SUBSCRIBE AND BUY TO READ MORE