Food riots may occur when there is a shortage and/or unequal distribution of food. Causes can be food price rises, harvest failures, incompetent food storage, transport problems, food speculation, hoarding, poisoning of food, or attacks by pests. Hence, the pathway between food related issues such as crop failure, price hike or volatility and an actual “riot” is often complex.
Some argue that volatile and high food price are just part of a “perfect storm” combining with climate change, population growth, resource scarcity, and urbanization leading to social unrest. When the public becomes too desperate in such conditions, they may attack shops, farms, homes, or government buildings to attain bread or other staple foods such as grain or salt, as in the 1977 Egyptian bread riots. Often, it is more than an issue of hunger and the need to obtain bread for immediate caloric satisfaction; food riots are part of a larger social movement, such as the Russian revolution or the French revolution. Thus in places with low political freedom there is an increased likelihood for social unrest when food prices are volatile or suddenly rise. Historically, women have been heavily involved in leading food riots; food riots have thus served as a form of female political action even in societies without women's suffrage or other guaranteed political rights.