Were the London Riots a food riot? Aberystwyth academics publish book on food politics

A GROUP of academics from Aberystwyth University have written an interdisciplinary publication discussing the role of contemporary food politics. Professor Richard Marggraf Turley from the Department of English and Creative Writing, Emeritus Professor Howard Thomas from the Institute of Biological, Environmental and Rural Sciences, and Dr Jane Archer, a former lecturer at the Department of English and Creative Writing, have completed and published their research on Chaucer, George Eliot and the 21st Century food crisis in their new book titled Food and the Literary Imagination. 

The book argues that the 2012 London Riots began as a traditional food riot, rather than the general assumption that it was merely a smash-and-grab for consumer goods and branded trainers. The trio’s 2013 research into William Shakespeare’s King Lear garnered international attention for their work on Shakespeare’s grain hoarding and tax avoidance. Shakespeare himself was prosecuted in February of 1598 for holding grain during a food crisis.

Similarly, they examine the play Coriolanus, also written by Shakespeare, about a famine created by rich merchants and politicians to maximise the price of food. The trio’s research has led to a potentially different interpretation of the play. 

Authors: Emeritus Professor Howard Thomas, Dr. Jayne Archer and Professor Richard Marggraf Turley.

Authors: Emeritus Professor Howard Thomas, Dr. Jayne Archer and Professor Richard Marggraf Turley.

Also covered in the new book are the watermills included in Geoffrey Chaucer’s classic, Canterbury Tales and George Eliot’s The Mill on the Floss. The researchers reveal, in entirely new ways, the importance of food in literature, and how our ideas of food and its distribution are governed by literary representation.

One of the authors, Professor Richard Marggraf Turley, said: “The partnership between us wasn’t just complementary; it was transformative. Our ways of looking at food security were changed and transformed due to our unlikely combination of expertise. It might not have occurred to people, but English literature and the arts have a significant part to play in understanding and responding to issues of food values, supply, provenance and equitable distribution in the UK.”
“What our book shows is that we need radically to recalibrate our ideas of the field and food; we need to recalibrate our sense of what the present food crisis is, and how we might shape and coordinate our responses to it, by looking at historical attempts to process similar crises of sustenance through literature. We’re not facing the current crisis for the first time, or alone – some of our greatest writers have already dedicated their best work to thinking through the problem.”

Another, Emeritus Professor  Howard Thomas, said: “Our new book shows the land as a source of food and as a source of story. We can look at the past, present and future to see where we are now, as well as the importance of food in culture and history, and socially and economically, as part of understanding the effects of disruptions to the food chain – especially with a food crisis looming”.