The “food weapon”: The foundations for the history of a concept (seventeenth–nineteenth centuries)

Alain Clément

Table of Contents


Access to food is humankind’s most basic need, and the “food weapon” refers to all the means employed to voluntarily starve a population. When a country has an export monopoly on an essential agricultural commodity or a dominant position on the market of such a foodstuff, it can use its management and storage resources to place political pressure on countries importing that foodstuff. In other words, the food weapon is a deadly power that one or more exporters of cereals (in particular) may possess, with the potential to condemn a dependent import country to famine. There have been numerous uses of the food weapon observed throughout history. This analysis will examine the various forms that the food weapon can take, the economic conditions for its implementation, its consequences, and the ways in which countries threatened by the food weapon can protect themselves. We study economic texts from the seventeenth and nineteenth centuries, a period during which the question of food supplies became of central importance for economists.


  • food weapon
  • independence
  • security
  • mercantilism
  • liberalism

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