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7 Foods That Have Led to War

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As authors Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett mused in Good Omens, "civilization is 24 hours and two meals away from barbarism.” Human history is indeed filled with moments of violence that broke out because groups of people found themselves running on empty. Some scholars even argue that human warfare itself may have evolved alongside our move from a hunter-gatherer lifestyle into an agricultural one, given that any growing population (even a prehistoric one) will likely strain its available resources sooner or later.

Whether the cause of conflict was threats to a nation’s entire grain supply or simply the loss of a lone pig, these foods all ended up in the same place throughout history: smack in the middle of war.

1. PASTRIES

Prior to the Pastry War, a.k.a. the First Franco-Mexican War, tensions were high in the new Mexican republic as competing leadership factions, European nationals, and just about everybody else struggled for a better place in the new order. Clashes in the street reportedly destroyed the bakery of one French chef, and one thing led to another until the French government demanded 600,000 pesos as reparations for his losses and other French businesses that had been destroyed. King Louis-Phillippe was already miffed at Mexico over the matter of un-repaid loans, so he allowed these pastries to be the ones that broke the camel’s back. He dispatched his fleet to Veracruz, and kicked off what would be a three-month conflict between the countries from 1838 to 1839.

2. RICE

World War II took an enormous toll on the stability, economics, and resources of French Indochina, and was one of several major factors (including colonial occupation and unseasonable weather) leading to the Vietnamese Famine of 1945. As war was waging in Southeast Asia, some regions of Vietnam had rice surpluses, but the effects of the war made transportation between regions much more difficult. Meanwhile, both the French and the Japanese were more concerned about fighting then averting famine, with the French being accused of storing harvests past the point of edibility.

The scarcity of the regional staple crop caused physical and financial “rice war” struggles throughout the region, drove many (understandably) angry Vietnamese peasants to foment rebellion and seek independence, and led into the almost eight-year First Indochina War. Current estimates of the number of north Vietnamese lives lost during the 1945 famine are typically between one and two million.

3. A SINGLE PIG


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Often enough, reasons given for the eruption of a war will involve some minute detail or other that leaders have chosen for their "breaking point." In the case of the Pig War, an 1859 conflict between British and American forces on the West Coast of what's now Washington state, the "shot heard round the world" was fired at one very special porker.

Also called the Pig Episode and the San Juan Boundary Dispute, the confrontation occurred at the tail end of the period in which the U.K. and U.S. were expanding into the lumber- (and possibly gold-) rich Pacific Northwest of present-day Oregon, Washington, and British Columbia. As the finer points of the border lines were being drawn, the San Juan Islands, located between Vancouver Island and the B.C. mainland, were disputed territory.

With tensions running high, representatives of the British Hudson Bay Company on the small island chain suddenly found themselves living next door to U.S. settlers. When a British pig (worth either $10 or $100, depending which party you asked) started rooting around in a nearby American's garden and was shot for its trespass, both competing powers were ready to throw down. Fortunately, no shots were fired, and there were no casualties—except for the pig.

4. BREAD, GRAIN, AND FLOUR

As age-old staple crops for many millions of people, wheat and other grains have often been the focus of serious conflict when their supplies are threatened or running low. Food Republic points out, for example, that when the broad Roman Empire’s increasing demanding for bread “was leading to social unrest at home,” Roman forces responded by doing “what they do best: they brandished their imperial muscle and took other people’s grains, in this case Egypt’s, to placate their citizens.”

The struggle for access to grain-based food didn’t end there, though, and has followed Western culture throughout history. To name just a few examples: In the spring of 1775 (shortly before the French Revolution would finally erupt), the Kingdom of France was host to an ongoing series of riots referred to as the Flour War, when the price of flour skyrocketed thanks to a combination of poor harvests and new government trade policies.

In 1917, when Russia’s “average working woman was spending 40 hours per week” in bread lines, groups of such sick-and-tired women kicked off riots that quickly grew to over 100,000 people, and which led to the country’s first of two revolutions that year.

Conflict over bread and grain continues today, and was a perhaps lesser-known factor in the recent Arab Spring. Noting that Egypt, Algeria, and Morocco are the world’s absolute largest wheat importers, Salon explains that the movement “started in Tunisia when rising food prices, high unemployment, and a widening gap between rich and poor triggered deadly riots and finally the flight of the country’s autocratic ruler Zine Ben Ali,” whose last act as ruler (“too little too late,” Salon says) was “a vow to reduce the price of sugar, milk, and bread.” And with wheat and corn prices almost doubling through 2010 and 2011, “it was not just the standard of living of the [region’s] poor that was threatened, but their very lives as climate-change driven food prices triggered political violence.”

5. BLUE CRABS

Almandine viaWikimedia Commons// CC 3.0

After the partitioning of Korea, questions remained about the maritime boundary between the two countries—a matter of significant concern in a region that has, in recent years, fostered increasing competition and conflict for the seafood on which it relies. In particular, extremely valuable blue crabs can be found along this disputed line, and have sparked a number of clashes [PDF] between North and South Korea.

6. SUGAR AND SPICE (NOT ALWAYS SO NICE)

When many of us Yanks think of our split from Britain in the Revolutionary War and the foods that spurred it, tea (and a certain party with it) often comes to mind. When it comes to clashing over edible resources, though, England, France, and the soon-to-be U.S.A. were much more concerned about the fate of two other commodities: spice and sugar. As one financial advising firm explained to Business Insider:

From a European perspective the U.S. revolt was a sideshow to a larger British/French conflict fought mainly over the agriculturally rich East and West Indies trade routes. While the British lost to the colonists at Yorktown, the Royal Navy's victory over a French [and] Spanish fleet at the Battle of the Saintes was bigger news at home as it secured [sugar-rich] Jamaica as a British possession.

7. SALT


Salt Riot on Red Square, Ernest Lissner via Wikimedia Commons//Public Domain

Frankly, salt has been a source of conflict among humans for about as long as we’ve been utilizing it. Trouble tends to arise whenever one group (usually a ruling and/or powerful one) puts strain on another group’s access to this vital resource—something we’ve relied on through the millennia for preserving our food, treating our ailments, and balancing our bodily fluids.

There was the Salt War of 1482-84, for example, involving the duke of Ferrara, salt mining, and the Papal forces of Sixtus IV, and also the Salt War of 1540, involving the rightly fed-up denizens of Perugia, a new salt tax, and the Papal forces of Paul III. In 1648, too, the people of Moscow responded to Tsar Alexei I’s new universal salt tax with days of violent uprising.

Of course, as Mohandas Gandhi and co.’s famous Salt March across India proved, the struggle for fair access to salt—or anything else, for that matter—doesn’t always have to get rough.

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These Sparrows Have Been Singing the Same Songs for 1500 Years
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Swamp sparrows are creatures of habit—so much so that they’ve been chirping out the same few tunes for more than 1500 years, Science magazine reports.

These findings, published in the journal Nature Communications, resulted from an analysis of the songs of 615 adult male swamp sparrows found in six different areas of the northeastern U.S. Researchers learned that young swamp sparrows pick up these songs from the adults around them and are able to mimic the notes with astounding accuracy.

Here’s what one of their songs sounds like:

“We were able to show that swamp sparrows very rarely make mistakes when they learn their songs, and they don't just learn songs at random; they pick up commoner songs rather than rarer songs,” Robert Lachlan, a biologist at London’s Queen Mary University and the study’s lead author, tells National Geographic.

Put differently, the birds don’t mimic every song their elders crank out. Instead, they memorize the ones they hear most often, and scientists say this form of “conformist bias” was previously thought to be a uniquely human behavior.

Using acoustic analysis software, researchers broke down each individual note of the sparrows’ songs—160 different syllables in total—and discovered that only 2 percent of sparrows deviated from the norm. They then used a statistical method to determine how the songs would have evolved over time. With recordings from 2009 and the 1970s, they were able to estimate that the oldest swamp sparrow songs date back 1537 years on average.

The swamp sparrow’s dedication to accuracy sets the species apart from other songbirds, according to researchers. “Among songbirds, it is clear that some species of birds learn precisely, such as swamp sparrows, while others rarely learn all parts of a demonstrator’s song precisely,” they write.

According to the Audubon Guide to North American Birds, swamp sparrows are similar to other sparrows, like the Lincoln’s sparrow, song sparrow, and chipping sparrow. They’re frequently found in marshes throughout the Northeast and Midwest, as well as much of Canada. They’re known for their piercing call notes and may respond to birders who make loud squeaking sounds in their habitat.

[h/t Science magazine]

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18 Smart Products To Help You Kick Off Summer
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Whether you’re trying to spiff up your backyard barbeque or cultivate your green thumb, these summertime gadgets will help you celebrate the season from solstice to the dog days.

1. ROSÉ WINE GLASSES; $60

Rosé Wine Glass
Amazon

Why It’s Cool: Wine not? When the temperature rises and beer isn’t your thing, reach for the rosé. Riedel’s machine-blown SST (see, smell, taste) wine glasses will give the sparkly stuff ample room to breathe, making every refreshing sip worthwhile.

Find It: Amazon

2. NERF N-STRIKE ELITE SURGEFIRE; $25

Nerf SurgeFire
Hasbro

Why It’s Cool: The N-Strike Elite SurgeFire (say that five-times-fast) sports a pump-action rotating drum for maximum foam-based firepower and holds up to 15 Nerf darts in its arsenal.

Find It: Hasbro Toy Shop

3. BUSHEL & BERRY PLANTS; $34

plant
Amazon

Why It’s Cool: You don’t need to have a green thumb to create a brag-worthy garden this summer. Besides producing snackable mid-season berries, these open-growing bushes can be planted immediately for easy set-up to make you look like a botanical pro.

Find It: Amazon

4. INFLATABLE DONUT; $17

Doughnut float
Amazon

Why It’s Cool: When the only dunking you’re doing is taking a dip in the pool, a 48-inch inflatable donut is the perfect way to stay afloat.

Find It: Amazon

5. STAR SPANGLED SPATULA; $21

American flag spatula
Amazon

Why It’s Cool: O say can you see by your grill’s charcoal light / Meats so proudly we cooked ... with a star spangled spatula. Depending on the specific model, these all-American grilling tools (designed in New Jersey and made in Chicago) are made of a combination of walnut and stainless steel or nylon. As an added bonus: 5 percent of the proceeds go to the Penn Abramson Cancer Center.

Find It: Amazon

6. MLB HOT DOG BRANDERS; $8 AND UP

MLB San Diego Padres Hot Dog BBQ Brander
Amazon

Why It’s Cool: Take your hot dogs, sausages, brats, and more out to the ballgame without ever leaving your grill. These branders from Pangea Brands are dishwasher-safe and made of ceramic-coated cast iron.

Find It: Amazon

7. UNA GRILL; $139

grill
MoMA Shop

Why It’s Cool: This portable charcoal-heated grill is as efficient as it is stylish. The compact size lets you cook at the park, after hitting up MoMA, or anywhere in between.

Find It: MoMa Shop

8. HAMBURGER GRILLING BASKET; $21


Why It’s Cool: Made of steel and finished with a non-stick coating, this grilling tool flips four burgers at once and maintains perfect burger proportions to guarantee nobody stays hungry for long.

Find It: Amazon

9. COPPER FIRE PIT; $121

metal fire pit
Amazon

Why It’s Cool: The grill isn’t the only place for a roaring fire this summer. This 100 percent solid copper fire pit makes for the perfect gathering spot at your next BBQ, or just to warm up after a cool summer evening.

Find It: Amazon

10. BENDY STRAW POOL NOODLE FLOAT; $10

Bendy Straw Inflatable Pool Float
Amazon

Why It’s Cool: Inflatable pool floats shouldn’t be boring, and this bendy straw float definitely does not suck. This unique spin on traditional pool noodles is sure to make for some cheesy jokes, but at least you’ll be comfortable floating in the pool or at the beach.

Find It: Amazon

11. GRIDDLER DELUXE; $111

Cuisinart GR-150 Griddler Deluxe
Amazon

Why It’s Cool: If you’re looking for some serious panini power, this griddler offers up a versatile lineup of six cooking options in one. And with dual-zone functions you can sling burgers while searing filets and sautéeing vegetables all at the same time.

Find It: Amazon

12. VINTAGE SNOW CONE MAKER; $30

Vintage Snow Cone Maker
Amazon

Why It’s Cool: With its old-timey design, dual cone shelf, and endless flavor options, this snow cone maker is guaranteed create a cool treat.

Find It: Amazon

13. DACHSHUND CORN ON THE COB HOLDERS; $7

Dog Corn Holders
Amazon

Why It’s Cool: While meat-lovers will inevitably scarf down a lot of hot dogs this summer, vegetarians who happen to love another kind of dog will be smitten with these stainless steel, Dachshund-shaped corn on the cob prongs. They’re a fun spin on a summer grilling favorite.

Find It: Amazon

14. ICE CREAM SANDWICH MAKER; $16

Ice Cream Sandwich Maker
Amazon

Why It’s Cool: Four sandwiches are better than one, especially when they're of the ice cream variety. Make four ice cream sandwiches at once with this homemade spin on a classic cold treat.

Find It: Amazon

15. UE WONDERBOOM; $68

Bluetooth speaker
Amazon

Why It’s Cool: Besides delicious food and great company, some memorable tunes are required for the quintessential barbeque. This portable bluetooth speaker offers up some booming sound in a small package, and with a battery power of 10 hours on a single charge you can keep the party going all night.

Find It: Amazon

16. ROLLORS GAME; $38

Rollors Backyard Game
Amazon

Why It’s Cool: When you’re sick of bocce, hate horseshoes, and you’re over cornhole, you might want to take up “rollors,” a family-friendly game that combines your favorite traditional backyard festivities into one game for people of all ages.

Find It: Amazon

17. HAMMOCK; $174

hammock
Amazon

Why It’s Cool: Rest easy knowing that this 100 percent hand-woven and hand-dyed cotton hammock contributes to artisan job-creation in Thailand.

Find It: Amazon

18. VSSL SURVIVAL ESSENTIALS; $59

Emergency Survival Tent Outdoors
Amazon

Why It’s Cool: Compact, convenient, and durable, the VSSL Shelter can come in handy when things don’t go quite as planned. The device—which features a lightweight emergency shelter all within the handle of a compact, weather-resistant aluminum LED flashlight—is designed to keep you safe under the worst conditions.

Find It: Amazon

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