In February, 1917, rising food prices led rioters to attack food shops and burn peddler's pushcarts on the Lower East Side and in Brooklyn's Brownsville and Williamsburg sections, "rejecting suggestions that they substitute rice for potatoes and milk for eggs and meat. 6,000 Kosher poultry shops and 150 Kosher poultry slaughterhouses close down just before Passover to protest wholesalers accused of cornering the market."
- The New York Chronology: The Ultimate Compendium of Events, People and Anecdotes from the Dutch to the Present by James Trager
This is the first piece of research I discovered when searching for information about the 1917 food riots that took place on the Lower East Side.
Just a few months prior, we had officially formed our company. And now we were embarking on our first full-length play, inspired by a radio interview with author Raj Patel (Stuffed and Starved). I remember hearing Patel on the radio in April 2008 while driving to Boston. He was speaking about the food riots that were erupting in Haiti, Bangladesh, and Egypt and he referenced the food riots of 1917 on New York City's Lower East Side - led by women - as an example of when large protests worked. I was shocked - I had never heard of these riots.
This tiny seed of information sprouted into nine months of research and participation in local food conferences and organizing, and ultimately the creation of Give Us Bread in 2009.
One hundred years before the Women's March, and three years before the right to vote, women in New York City were organizing, welding the collective power of their voices to not only take care of their own families but to create a community of accountability to each other. One hundred years later, their experience and accomplishment is just as relevant.
You can read more about where my research began in the inaugural post on the research blog for Give Us Bread: The Food Riot Project.