This article analyzes a flour riot in New York City in 1837 as a conflict over capitalist food systems waged in a nascent center of finance during a period of rapid economic and territorial expansion. In the wake of the riot, the burgeoning “penny press” geared toward working people pitched a battle with newspapers catering to the mercantile elite over the meaning of the violence. The conflicting sympathies of the newspapers provide an opportunity to assess the vulnerabilities of a food system characterized by new economies of scale and a speculative commodities trade unmoored from the physical realities of production. The debates pitted expectations that “the necessaries of life” be secured at a fair price against a prevailing faith that markets operate according to natural laws of supply and demand.
Other|January 01 2014