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These bread revolts changed history. We should know why.

The history of bread wars have a lot to tell us about conflicts today.

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Gates Foundation: The Story of Food

You might have heard the saying "We're only three square meals away from anarchy."

It turns out that for many people throughout the centuries, that meal was ... bread.

Bread is actually one of the oldest, cheapest prepared foods in the world, with archeological evidence dating it back at least 30,000 years.


Historical accounts of breadmaking often say the Roman Pliny the Elder first detailed how the skim from beer was used to aerate bread. In ancient Egypt, the workers who built the pyramids are believed to have been given a daily allowance of bread loaves.

Grain farmers in ancient Egypt. Image via iStock.

Even today, a word used in Egypt for bread is "aish," which means "life." It's also considered haram, or taboo, to cut bread with a knife in many Middle Eastern countries.  

If you're like many Americans, you might wonder what your love/hate relationship with all of that gluten-y, carbelicious goodness has to do with centuries of civil conflict or even the recent Syrian crisis.

It turns out that there's an actual historical correlation between an increase in grain prices and civil unrest.

A crowd throws bread in Stockport, Lancashire, in 1842. Image via Getty Images.

That's because bread, a magical alchemy of grain, yeast, and water, has managed to sustain poor people for centuries. Historically, when people could no longer afford bread, they knew they would starve. So they revolted.

Entire nations have even toppled because of a lack of access to bread. We might not realize it, but bread uprisings throughout history have a lot to tell us about the global crises of today.

Here are five of the bread revolts that have changed the course of history:  

1. Flour Wars, France, 1775

Original lithograph of the French Revolution, 1789. Image via Getty Images.

Surprisingly, Marie-Antoinette may never have told French peasants to eat cake. According to historians, it might have actually been France's famous Flour Wars that played a major role in the French Revolution. Catalyzed by a poor grain yield and rising grain prices, scholars found more than 652 French food-based riots from 1760 to 1789 that ultimately led to the French Revolution in 1789.

2. Flour Riots, New York, 1837

Representation of depressed economic situation in America before the panic of 1837. Image via Getty Images.

When a depression caused flour to jump from $7 per barrel to $20 in 1837, two New York companies, Eli Hart & Co. and S.H. Herrick & Co., were accused of hoarding it. The public took action, and soon after, rioters destroyed 500 bushels of flour and 1,000 barrels of wheat in Hart's shop. The mob grew so violent that they had to be restrained by the Seventh Regiment.

3. Richmond Bread Riots, 1863

Southern women feel the effects of the rebellion and create bread riots. Image via Library of Congress.  

In 1863, a mob of Confederate housewives took to the streets with axes in Richmond, Virginia, chanting "bread or blood" while ransacking and looting shops for flour. Prompted by flour prices that had risen 10 times in two years as well as dealing with a tone-deaf leader, the women decided to take things into their own hands. They didn't take just the flour — they took a wagon of beef and 500 pounds of bacon, too.

4. Egyptian Bread Riots, Egypt, 1977

A woman protests with bread in Cairo in 2007. Photo by Khaled Desouki/AFP/Getty Images.

In 1977, Egypt decided to stop subsidizing basic food staples such as wheat and bread. As a result, many poor Egyptians took to the streets. Hundreds were killed, and even more were injured. The riots went on for two days until the government reinstated the wheat subsidies that so many poor Egyptians depended upon.

But that wasn't Egypt's last bread revolt...

5. The Arab Spring, 2008-2011

A protester holds bread in Tunisia in 2010. Photo by Fethi Belaid/AFP/Getty Images.

In 2008, sudden global increases in grain prices compounded with inflation that led to riots in Egypt, reminding a lot of people of the tumultuous events of 31 years prior. Government-subsidized flour, which had once sold for $3.14 per 100 kilograms, suddenly shot to $377 on the black market. Because 40% of Egyptians lived in poverty, many of them couldn't afford to live without the bread that the government helped them afford. Riots swept the nation, and several people were killed in front of government bakeries.

In 2010, as global grain prices continued to rise, Tunisians also began to revolt, bread in hand. The toppling of Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak in 2011 became the climactic beginning of a major destabilizing shift of an entire region, known as the Arab Spring.  

Many people said the Arab Spring was a revolution of the hungry.

Egyptian protestors hold bread in 2013. Photo by Khaled Desouki/AFP/Getty Images.  

The current crisis in Syria is also a prime example of what can happen when people don't have enough to eat.

Though it might be hard to fully understand Syria's current problems, some researchers think that it has to do in part with access to bread. At one point, Syria was the only country in the entire region that was completely self-sufficient in food production, specifically in wheat crops such as barley.

Experts have argued that it was a massive crop failure due to drought and possible climate change from 2006 to 2009 that drove Syrian farmers to finally challenge their ruler. When Syrian President Bashar al-Assad fired back, he also explicitly targeted bread bakeries that fell under rebel control.

For much of the world's poor, bread is a life-sustaining necessity. But numerous factors, such as worldwide droughts, are causing grain to become harder and harder to grow.

Syria and Egypt are part of what was once known as the Fertile Crescent, the area of the world where people first started to grow grain and form civilizations. But now, the grain that once made their lands famous is becoming harder and harder to access. When this delicate balance of access to basic foods is upset, history shows us that whole communities — and entire nations — can topple.

If history is an indication, where bread and grain become scarce, civil unrest follows. Now that's something to chew on.

It's a fact: Every year, we're spending more and more time looking at our phones.

Estimates indicate that on average Americans spend anywhere from three to five hours on their smartphones every day. That's an astoundingly high number — and the perfect excuse for a little perspective.

There's an extraordinary world buzzing all around us, and we miss so much of it staring endlessly at our tiny screens. You say your busy life won't let you escape to some of our planet's most remarkable places? Not to worry. You can bring those places back home to your phone.


Here are 31 marvelous world wonders we think would look perfect as your lock screen.

1. Iceland's northern lights are a stunning sight, in person or online.

Who knew geomagnetic storms could be so stunning? Image by iStock.

2. Find peace in this photo of a storm-swept lighthouse.

Image by iStock.

3. The arch at Palau's Rock Islands is beautiful above water and below.

Image by iStock.

4. Milford Sound on New Zealand's South Island is an Instagram filter-lover's dream.

Image by iStock.

5. A huge statue of the Hindu god Lord Murugan greets visitors to the Batu Caves in Malaysia.

Image by iStock.

6. Watch sunlight break over the peaks in the Himalayas.

Image by iStock.

7. About 45 million gallons of water rush over North America's largest waterfall, Niagara Falls, every minute.

Image by iStock.

8. This ginormous "Christ the Redeemer" statue watches over Rio de Janeiro's six million residents.

Image by iStock.

9. Live vicariously through these thrill-seeking spelunkers.

Image by iStock.

10. Looking at Haystack Rock near Cannon Beach, Oregon, might inspire you to head to your nearest beach.

Image by iStock

11. Soothe your muggle heart with this image of the IRL Hogwarts Express chugging across Scotland.

Image by iStock

12. These towering redwoods are some of the largest trees in North America.

Image by iStock

13. This tiny sandbar in the Pacific didn't think it'd end up a helicopter perch. But sometimes life — and conspicuous wealth — finds a way.

Image by iStock

14. Mossy green wonderlands — like this one near Oregon's Punch Bowl Falls — are unique to the temperate rainforests of the Pacific Northwest.

Image by iStock

15. Follow the stepping stones of Northern Ireland's Giant's Causeway straight into the North Atlantic.

Image by iStock

16. Decades of pounding surf carved a perfect alcove in the rocks at Lands End in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico.

Image by iStock

17. Mother Nature really shows off her sculpting skills in Utah's Paria Canyon.

Image by iStock

18. The Matterhorn is more than a ride I got stuck on for 45 minutes at Disneyland. It's a breath-catchingly stunning peak in the Alps.

Image by iStock

19. The Grand Canyon is so incredible, it really deserves a better adjective. "Astoundageous" maybe?

Image by iStock

20. The narrow, rocky green peaks of the Wulingyuan scenic area in China's Hunan province are both a Unesco World Heritage site, and the inspiration for Pandora, the world in "Avatar."

Image by iStock

21. Creeping tree roots reclaiming this temple in Angkor, Cambodia, are a reminder that, eventually, no matter how hard we work, nature always wins.

Image by iStock

22. Find your most flattering light in Arizona's Antelope Canyon.

Image by iStock

23. The Colorado River's Horseshoe Bend in Arizona will keep you coming around for more.

Image by iStock

24. This Norwegian waterfall is stunning and proud, naturally.

Image by iStock

25. This icy blue Icelandic cave is guaranteed free of abominable snowmen.

Image by iStock

26. Gold dunes and golden skies are everywhere in Morocco's eastern desert.

Image by iStock

27. This solitary tree in New Zealand's Lake Wanaka isn't content to live on land.

Image by iStock

28. This secluded beach at Knysna Heads in South Africa's Western Cape Province is #goals.

Image by iStock

29. Baobab trees beat the thirst by storing water away in their thick trunks. Just like your phone's text message archive.

Image by iStock

30. Nobody knows for sure where the Sphinx's nose is, but she's a towering beauty nonetheless.

Image by iStock

31. Find peace — however you define it — in the stark cold beauty of the Himalayan mountains.

Image by iStock

Did we miss your favorite spot in our wallpaper roundup? Let us know!

Whether you're clued up on what's been happening in Egypt over the past few years or you're just delving into this fascinating country, check out this documentary trailer for "The Square." It goes behind all the headlines and follows young bad-ass activists who dig deep into the uprising.

According to the New York Times, the Egyptian authorities aren't too happy with the Egyptian public seeing it and have heavily censored and restricted it. Good luck with that, guys.


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We love this British actor. We love him even more after he held up these bits of paper.

I've noticed more and more celebrities using the limelight to spread worthwhile messages. Well whaddya know, even Sherlock — I mean British actor Mr. Benedict (God) Cumberbatch — is at it.Read what he's been voicing his thoughts about below.

Last week, dressed in a fully zipped hooded jacket, he sent this message to photographers:


This week, he took his message even further, holding up more paper signs that attacked the UK government over its abuse of civil liberties.

He approached a group of photographers holding a paper addressed to British Prime Minister David Cameron that read: "Questions we have a right to ask in a democracy."

Here, one tweeter tells us the story as it happens.

"Hard drives smashed, journalists detained at airports. ... Democracy?"

Here's what was written on that paper:

Here the tweeter continues to decipher what the bits of papers say.

And when he finished off his political statement, he returned to filming "Sherlock."

Oh look, British actor Martin Freeman joins him at the end as they continue filming.