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Food Riots in England Bad weather and bad governance bring out the beast in people

A letter from Captain Swing to a Cambridge college.

Portrait of Diane Purkiss, who has long, brown hair and large glasses and stands in front of a brick wallIn her latest book English Food: A People’s History, Diane Purkiss offers just that, an entrancing survey of what and how the English ate, with due recognition that “‘the English’ are not a single entity” and that the past necessarily illuminates the present. Impossible to cover all that in a single episode, or even several, we set out to explore what happens when the vast bulk of the English do not have enough to eat. Food riots are a recurring feature of rural life in England, often the result of bad weather and always exacerbated by the action — or inaction — of the ruling classes. As Diane told me at the outset, “it might be faster to talk about what rebellions don’t have a food element”.

Notes

  1. You can buy English Food: A People’s History online from an independent bookseller. It has just won the Guild of Food Writers award for Best Food Book of 2023.
  2. Those uprisings:
  3. An episode from the vaults dealt with Food prices and social unrest in the context of the Arab Spring and more recent manifestations.
  4. Swing letters from the British National Archive.
  5. Here is the transcript.

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