Food Budget Stress–What Is the Role of Expensive Food in the Egyptian Uprising?

Photo from Waleg.comAs a media event, the Egyptian uprising has been exhilirating.

In all the hoopla and celebrating, though, it’s easy to lose sight of some fundamentals. One is the important role of food lurking in the background. Egypt has been wracked by food riots in the recent past–most notably in 1977 and again in 2008–when the government attempted to reduce its food subsidies, which led to significant price increases.

Egyptians spend about half of household income on food. I don’t know the exact dynamics, but it seems as if Egyptian agriculture suffers from tight government controls, while at the same time, the country is America’s largest customer for wheat and corn.

By contrast, Americans spend between 10% and 14% of their household incomes on food, or less than a third as much as the Egyptians.

One of the big reasons Americans spend so much less of their incomes on food is because of this country’s factory food system that has developed over the last sixty years. Of course, government subsidies have played a role in encouraging massive production of such basic crops as corn, soy, and wheat.

Part of the reason our government has pushed so hard for the factory system is to encourage exports, so developing countries like Egypt and Tunisia pay top dollar for our food. But another less discussed reason is that full bellies and cheap food discourage discontent at home.

Go back in history, and more often than not, uprisings are fueled at least in part by empty stomachs. When people have to pay 40% and more of household income for food, you are likely to have discontent. Nothing is more threatening to politicians than a hungry populace.

The publication Business Inside last month identified “25 countries whose governments could get crushed by food price inflation”…and already two have gone down (Tunisia and Egypt).

By the way, the Egyptian uprising isn’t a lock to lead to democracy. An intelligence service I like to monitor is expressing skepticism (as it did when the Iranian riots failed to produce serious change two years ago). “We do not want to be killjoys now, since everyone is so excited and happy. But we should point out that, in spite of the crowds, nothing much has really happened yet in Egypt. It doesn’t mean that it won’t, but it hasn’t yet. An 82-year-old man has been thrown out of office, and his son will not be president. The constitution and parliament are gone and a military junta is in charge. The rest is speculation.”

It’s important to understand as well why events like the Egyptian and Tunisian uprisings help reenforce our government’s commitment to the factory food system, despite growing concerns about health issues tied to cheap food. We may see people demonstrating for human rights. Our leaders see people with empty stomachs clamoring for cheap food.

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14 Comments on "Food Budget Stress–What Is the Role of Expensive Food in the Egyptian Uprising?"

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Tim wightman
February 15, 2011 12:00 pm

While food prices have taken a role in the Egyptian demonstrations, there are many levels of discontent that fueled the event, not one at the least was the USA role in the daily lives of the Egyptian people.
Many in Egypt have come to see the interfernce of US policy as a major problem to quality of life in the region.
If one looks at the unrest as it spreads in the region it closely follows US foreign policy and the support of the governments in those countries now seeing unrest.
As for percent of total income spent on food,… Read more »

Bill Anderson
February 15, 2011 12:22 pm


This is in the nature of agricultural civilization which are heavily dependant on annual cearal grain crops to feed the population.

America too will be facing open public revolt as we continue to severely erode some of the richest topsoil in the world (the Midwest) through the destructive FOOD INC policies of cheap corn, soy, wheat, etc… and food prices skyrocket as oil shortages collide with the need for more and more chemical agriculture because of depleted topsoil.

The solution to all this is PERMACULTURE, the replacement of desertifying annual monocultures with management-intensive perenial polycultures.

This will mean that it will take… Read more »

Sylvia Gibson
February 15, 2011 12:25 pm

"military junta is in charge"

And how many countries are ruled by the juntas? and their fate–has it improved?

Today I read that the recent freezes have destroyed many crops, here and around the world and food prices are to raise significantly. Perhaps it will encourage buying local grown? And growing in your own backyard.,8599,2048885,00.html

Mark McAfee
February 15, 2011 12:35 pm

Hey Fellow Food Revolutionaries,

The Food Revolution is alive and well in California. Jamie Oliver has been drinking raw milk along with his four kids and wife in LA since arriving here months ago to produce his Round Two series of The Food Revolution. The new series is airing this spring….stay tuned. He caused quite a stir when the LA City Schools would not let him work his food revolution activism on their turf.

On Sunday, I was asked to come to a school in the LA City district and present my "Share the Raw Milk Secret" educational… Read more »

Don Wittlinger
February 15, 2011 8:28 pm

In 1955 a quarter would purchase a gallon of gas for us teenage boys to cruise around town so as to impress the young ladies. Today that same 25 cent quarter will still purchase a gallon of gas even at the inflated fiat paper currency price of $3.19 per gallon. In 1913 the paper dollar equaled the same purchasing power of a silver dollar however the paper dollar now will only buy 2 cents worth of goods compared to the purchasing power of its once twin the silver dollar.

Don Wittlinger
February 15, 2011 10:34 pm—new-york-stock-exchange—sold-to-germany—feb-13–2011—read-below
OT NYSE to be sold to Germany!
But on topic halfway into the video a guest states "we are exporting inflation to Egypt thats why the Egyptians cannot put food on their tables"
Its all about runaway printing of fiat dollars is it not??? Will not this soon befall us as well???

Sylvia Gibson
February 15, 2011 11:45 pm

It amazes me that they probably paid for this study. What a waste of time and money.
In all the years that I have been reviewing/instructing about diabetic diet, the majority of people have no clue what a carb or calorie is. People at work eat processed foods and feel they are eating "healthy" foods as they spout off the calorie counts..Low calories does NOT mean it is healthy..They can't respond to the chemicals in the phoods.

The most simple way was to teach patients how to read the actual ingredient list and figure… Read more »

Bill Anderson
February 16, 2011 12:50 am

OOPS "Temperature savannas"

You'll have to forgive me, I meant to say TEMPERATE Savannas have the most bio-mass of any eco-system.

Mark McAfee
February 16, 2011 2:15 am

"military junta is in charge"

The FDA is a "military hunta" in charge and in control of our food. At the NCIMS they are the Military and they are in charge of the Milk Mafia. They refuse any democratic review of anything that we the people want!!! and or ask for?? They refuse to follow their own "Citizens Petition" policies and proceedures. If you want them to follow their policies you have to sue them and then they tell the court that: " US Citizens have no right to bodily health, have no right to select foods of our… Read more »

Bill Anderson
February 16, 2011 4:48 am


Have you heard of this book:
"The Grip of Death: A Study of Modern Money, Debt Slavery and Destructive Economics"

Good read.

Interesting to note that the term "mortgage" has the same etymology as the word "morgue." Our entire money supply is created by debt-slavery!!

Don Wittlinger
February 16, 2011 5:11 am

Bill no I had not read that book. But some where I read that in French the word mortgage means death pledge!!!

Mark McAfee
February 16, 2011 12:39 pm

I find this comment listing very insightful.

At the Healthy People FDA DHS Website there is a list of comments regarding the 2020 Health People FDA Goal of increasing the number of states that ban raw milk.

Not one of the comments supports this vision or goal. Not one.

Read them all at this link…..I find this fascinating. If this FDA goal remains intact then we know that we definitely have a Miltary Hunta in Power and it is not answering to the people.


February 16, 2011 10:23 pm

Anyone who still believes that FDA really has the people's benefits (as opposed to commercial interests) at heart, needs to read this:

Just one example:

"Also curious is that the {GMO} salmon is being categorized as a new animal drug which means that the advisory committee in charge of evaluating it is composed mostly of veterinarians and animal scientists, instead of, say, fish ecologists or experts in food safety. Not surprisingly, the biotech industry has spent over half a billion dollars on G.M.O. lobbyists in the last decade, and Michael Taylor, the F.D.A. deputy commissioner for foods, was… Read more »

Ingvar Odegaard
February 17, 2011 3:24 am

We must deal with forests and trees.
To my mind Michelle Malkins lead story today is germane to our issues [ Super Nanny: First Lady of Junk Science Michelle Obama] and I followed her lead quotation to what looks like fertile ground for thought and action at: which shows links to:Robert Higgss superb article, Were All Sick and Government Must Heal Us, as well as Health Insurance before the Welfare State: The Destruction of Self-Help by State Intervention, by Pavel Chalupn?ek and Luk Dvo?k. I'll read all these references later.
The… Read more »