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Food as a Form of Protest

I've noticed several stories lately that mention potatoes being used in a surprising way. Icelanders, or possibly Santa, have dumped potatoes on the steps of the parliament building in Reykjavik to protest the country's economic collapse. Nathan Heller of Slate inquired about the symbolism:"Iceland...

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Politicians don't look nearly this happy when protesters hit them


I've noticed several stories lately that mention potatoes being used in a surprising way. Icelanders, or possibly Santa, have dumped potatoes on the steps of the parliament building in Reykjavik to protest the country's economic collapse. Nathan Heller of Slate inquired about the symbolism:

"Iceland has become a 'potato country,' " a woman says by way of explanation, so poor its people can subsist solely on tubers. 'And also the leaders are, like, stupid, like a potato.' "

And as for why one of the potato-plopping protesters wore a Santa suit, well, that's because potatoes are the Icelandic version of lumps of coal.

In this week's New Yorker, Ian Parker reports that potatoes aren't the only food that Icelanders have cast in roles far from the kitchen. Bananas, eggs, milk, cheese, and skyr (Icelandic yogurt) have also entered the fray. (Good grief, don't they need to save anything to eat?)

It goes on all over the world: Demonstrators have used eggs as ammunition in Hungary, Thailand, Taiwan, and many other places. They've lobbed citrus in Cyprus and Chile, and flung eggs and tomatoes at the Olympic flame in South Korea. And in a bizarre incident in my own home state of Vermont, Santa threw a pie in the governor's face at a Fourth of July parade. (I think it's safe to say that wasn't the real Santa, kids.)

The British are particularly fond of food fights: During Tony Blair's tenure as prime minister, he was a target for everything from tomatoes (reason? He "looked smug") to purple flour (okay, that one barely counts as food, if you note the container used). Just last week, the British business secretary Lord Mandelson got a hearty taste of green custard, courtesy of an environmentally-minded protester. (The Guardian offers video clips of that and other notorious incidents.)

So what is it with people throwing food to express contempt? I'm curious about the history of this tradition. Anyone know more than me, or care to share another noteworthy example?
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About Amanda Bensen

Amanda Bensen is a former assistant editor at Smithsonian and is now a senior editor at the Nature Conservancy.

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