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From famine to food crisis. What history can teach us about local and global subsistence crises


  • Vanhaute, Eric


The range of famine prone regions in the world has been shrinking for centuries; it’s currently mainly limited to sub-Sahara Africa. Yet the impact of endemic hunger has not declined and the early 21st century seems to be faced with a new threat: global subsistence crises. In this essay I question the concepts of famine and food crisis. I will formulate some suggestions to understand these seemingly unrelated processes in a more integrated way. The article successively debates historical famine research, Europe’s ‘grand escape’ from hunger, past and contemporary ‘depeasantisation’, and the state of 21st century food systems. Only more integrated models of interpretation can supersede the dualistic histories of food and famine that have been dominating developmentalist stories for so long.

Suggested Citation

  • Vanhaute, Eric, 2009. "From famine to food crisis. What history can teach us about local and global subsistence crises," MPRA Paper 17630, University Library of Munich, Germany.
  • Handle: RePEc:pra:mprapa:17630

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Martin Ravallion, 1997. "Famines and Economics," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 35(3), pages 1205-1242, September.
    2. Vanhaute, Eric, 2008. "The End of Peasantries? Rethinking the Role of Peasantries in a World-Historical View," MPRA Paper 13291, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    3. Robert W. Fogel, 1989. "Second Thoughts on the European Escape from Hunger: Famines, Price Elasticities, Entitlements, Chronic Malnutrition, and Mortality Rates," NBER Historical Working Papers 0001, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    4. Plümper, Thomas & Neumayer, Eric, 2009. "Famine Mortality, Rational Political Inactivity, and International Food Aid," World Development, Elsevier, vol. 37(1), pages 50-61, January.
    5. Cormac Ó Gráda & Eric Vanhaute & Richard Paping, 2006. "The European subsistence crisis of 1845-1850 : a comparative perspective," Working Papers 200609, School of Economics, University College Dublin.
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    Cited by:

    1. van Bavel, Bas, 2016. "The Invisible Hand?: How Market Economies have Emerged and Declined Since AD 500," OUP Catalogue, Oxford University Press, number 9780199608133.

    More about this item


    famines food crisis peasantry depeasantisation;

    JEL classification:

    • N10 - Economic History - - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics; Industrial Structure; Growth; Fluctuations - - - General, International, or Comparative
    • N50 - Economic History - - Agriculture, Natural Resources, Environment and Extractive Industries - - - General, International, or Comparative
    • Q10 - Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics; Environmental and Ecological Economics - - Agriculture - - - General
    • Q18 - Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics; Environmental and Ecological Economics - - Agriculture - - - Agricultural Policy; Food Policy

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