A change in people's eating habits can serve as a
predictor of impending political change, revealed a cross-country comparative study using data on 157
Apparently, a richer diet is associated with an increase in the
middle class, which tends towards economic and political independence
and democracy-fostering values.
‘A richer diet is associated with an increase in the middle class, which tends towards economic and political independence and democracy-fostering values.’
Diets Drive Politics
According to Andrey Shcherbak's, Senior Research Fellow, Laboratory for
Comparative Social Research of the Higher School of Economics, the recipe for democracy is fairly
simple: above all, people should be able to eat well. The researcher
uses a series of statistical models to prove this (the study uses OLS,
factor analysis and SEM).
His focus is on a type of diet common among western Europeans,
with plenty of meat, dairy products, confectionery, alcohol, and other
foods available in sufficient quantities to most people.
Contrary to what established literature often suggests, Shcherbak
has found that improved nutrition precedes democracy rather than the
other way around. According to Shcherbak, once people start consuming a
wide variety of foods with an emphasis on animal protein, instead of
mostly bread and cereals, democratic change is likely to follow.
The author's other conclusion that runs counter to conventional
wisdom is that improved nutrition is even more important for political
change than economic factors such as income growth and liberalization of
To prove his point, the author compares the effects of income,
trade and diet on democratization. He measures income as a function of
per capita GDP and purchasing power parity (current international US
Dollars); trade as a sum of exports and imports expressed in proportion
to the GDP, and diet as daily per capita consumption of calories,
proteins and animal products based on the FAOSTAT database. Democracy
was measured by the Freedom House index data for years 1992 to 2011.
Shcherbak's findings demonstrate that increased consumption of
calories, proteins and animal products has a higher statistically
significant correlation with democracy than income growth and trade
liberalization. People in democracies tend to consume more animal
proteins, i.e. meat and dairy products.
New Foods Lead to New Lifestyles
Logically, higher income should lead to better nutrition. In
addition to this, Shcherbak points out an association between nutrition
and globalization: open markets favor food imports; new food items
become available; and more people switch to eating out or to buying food
in large retail chains, rather than small shops and farmer's markets.
While diet, income and trade are interrelated factors, the effect of
people's dietary habits on political change is so significant as to
merit a separate study.
Special dietary preferences are integral to a middle class
lifestyle. "Once you have more money, you will not just buy more of the
same cheap sausages or frozen dumplings. Instead, you might switch to
sirloin steak, jamon, parmesan and virgin olive oil. A demand for these
products is driven by new lifestyles," Shcherbak explains.
Research has shown that an improvement in diet, in the long term,
leads to economic growth, and also that the availability of
high-quality foods can promote modernization. However, until now a
relationship between diet and democratic reforms has not been
considered, and the common assumption has been that better nutrition is a
consequence rather than predictor of democracy.
For the Poor, Food More Important Than Money
There are a few reasons why people's diet is associated with political change.
First, consistent availability of high-quality food contributes
to a sense of existential security; indeed, having enough good food -
rather than just having more money - is the number one reason why
societies begin to feel safer. "People in many cultures pray before
meals, giving thanks to God for the food, but there are virtually no
societies where people pray before payday,' Shcherbak notes.
Once people start feeling safe, the entire society tends towards
emancipative values making it more likely to stand up for individual
rights compared to a society concerned with survival.
Second, food security makes people less dependent on politicians
and power hierarchies. In contrast, in poorer countries, politicians
often buy public votes in exchange for food.
And third, according to Shcherbak, good nutrition is essential
for good health and thus can have important social and biological
implications. Healthier populations tend to be better educated and more
active in terms of political engagement.
According to Shcherbak, the above findings may have important
implications for development assistance: if good nutrition is key to
establishing democracy, then perhaps humanitarian aid may be preferable
to financial assistance for poorer countries.