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What do starving people eat? The case of Greece through oral history


‘Famine foods’ seems a self-explanatory term but careful reading of the existing literature suggests otherwise. ‘Famine foods’ seem to suggest repulsive and unfamiliar foods consumed only in famine situations. This paper, using the Greek famine of 1941–43 as a case study, suggests that this is not the case. Starving people continue to use foods that they are familiar with or that other sections of the population are familiar with. The very poor sections of the population may well use fodder food, which nevertheless they are familiar with and which in most cases was also used by some of their members even in ‘normal’ times.

Que mangent les affamés ? Le cas de la Grèce, vu à travers l'histoire orale

“Aliments de famine” semble une expression d'elle-même bien explicite. Cependant, si l'on s'appuie sur les témoignages disponibles à ce jour, c'est une autre réalité qui surgit. La formulation “aliments de famine” suggère a priori à l'esprit une nourriture repoussante et inhabituelle, spécifique aux temps de grande pénurie. La présente étude, qui s'appuie sur le cas de la famine qui sévit en Grèce de 1941 à 1943, suggère qu'il en va autrement: les affamés continuent à consommer des aliments familiers ou des produits qui sont familiers à d'autres secteurs de la population. Quant aux personnes les plus démunies, elles se rabattent sur ces «herbes et racines» qui leur sont de toutes façons familières et que certains des leurs, d'ailleurs, consomment même en temps normal, lorsqu'il n'y a pas de crise alimentaire.

Was essen Leute, die hungern? Der Fall Griechenland im Spiegel der Oral History

Der Begriff „Hungernahrung“ scheint für sich selbst zu sprechen, aber wenn man die einschlägige Literatur genauer liest, sieht es ganz anders aus. „Hungernahrung“ scheint auf abstoßende und ungewöhnliche Nahrung zu verweisen, die nur in Hungersnöten konsumiert wird. Dieser Beitrag, eine Fallstudie über die griechische Hungersnot von 1941–43, behauptet jedoch, dass dies nicht zutrifft. Auch Hungernde nehmen weiterhin Nahrungsmittel zu sich, mit denen entweder sie selbst oder andere Bevölkerungsschichten vertraut sind. Die ärmsten Bevölkerungsschichten mögen zwar auch „Futternahrung“ zu sich nehmen – aber eben nur solche, mit der sie vertraut sind und die in den meisten Fällen zumindest von einigen ihrer Mitglieder auch in „normalen“ Zeiten konsumiert wird.

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Jane Corbett , ‘Famine and household coping strategies’, World Development 16, 9 (1988), 10991112

R. Dirks , ‘Social responses during severe food shortages and famine’, Current Anthropology 21, 1 (1980), 2144

Megan Vaughan , ‘Famine analysis and family relations: 1949 in Nyasaland’, Past and Present 108 (1985), 177205

J. R. Speakman , ‘Thrifty genes for obesity, an attractive but flawed idea, and an alternative perspective: the “drifty gene” hypothesis’, International Journal of Obesity 32, 11 (2008), 1611–7

F. R. Irvine , ‘Supplementary and emergency food plants of West Africa’, Economic Botany 6 (1952), 23–5

Abdelazim M. Nour and David B. Harper , ‘Chemical and nutritional composition of two famine food sources used in Sudan, Mukheit (Boscia senegalensis) and Maikah (Dobera roxburghi)’, Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture 57 (1991), 367–77

G. P. Alivisatos and A. Joustinianos , ‘Nutrition in rural districts in Greece’, Bulletin of the Health Organization of the League of Nations 12 (1945), 411

Alexander Gammie , ‘A note on plants used for food during famines and seasons of scarcity in the Bombay Presidency’, India Botanical Survey Records 2 (1902), 172

U. Sayce , ‘Need years and need foods’, Montgomeryshire Collections 53 (1954), 66–7

David Hooper , ‘Analyses of Indian pot-herbs of the natural orders Amarantaceae, Chenopodiaceae, and Polygonaceae’, Agricultural Ledger (Calcutta) 6 (1904), 423–34

James Shortt , ‘List of wild plants and vegetables used as food by people in famine times’, Indian Forester 3 (1887–1888), 232–8

M. M. Bhandari , ‘Famine foods in the Rajasthan Desert’, Economic Botany 28 (1974), 7381

Vinita Damodaran , ‘Famine in a forest tract: ecological change and the causes of the 1897 famine in Chotanagpur, Northern India’, Environment and History 1 (1995), 129–58

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Continuity and Change
  • ISSN: 0268-4160
  • EISSN: 1469-218X
  • URL: /core/journals/continuity-and-change
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