Rather than questioning the nutritional deficiencies of subsistence
protestors or asking what hungry people do, this chapter asks how hunger as
an idea, a discourse, was mobilised by poor and the rulers of Britain alike.
Hunger, it suggests, was a constant spectral presence, something mortally
feared by the poor who wondered how they might feed their families and by
the rich as the possible trigger for disorder and sedition. This complex
interplay – much like E.P. Thompson’s ‘moral economy’ – was understood by
both sides. The poor mobilised the fear of hunger as likely to have mortal
consequences not only for themselves but also for the rich in threatening
letters and as threats made during food riots; the rulers of local
communities acted preemptively in the emergence of relief funds and in
developing new forms of surveillance.