Five Memorable Food Protests

Food isn't much fun when it's unaffordable. Today, cash-strapped Americans tell survey takers they're planning to eat out less and use more coupons. But eaters haven't always taken such a passive approach: There's a centuries-old tradition of demanding lower prices. Here, City of Ate presents five memorable food-related boycotts and demonstrations:

The Boston Tea Party, 1773
All that hoopla in Boston Harbor had more to do with taxes than tea, as members of the latter-day political organization are quick to point out. But if colonists didn't cherish their tea so ferociously, the argument that the Tea Act was intended to lower the price of imported tea so American settlers would drink more of it (and pay more taxes) probably wouldn't have inspired a group of rabble-rousers disguised as Indians to dump 342 chests of tea in the sea. It all turned out OK for the tea lovers: The revolutionaries won.

The kosher meat boycott, 1902
A group of Lower East Side housewives in New York, styling themselves as the Ladies Anti-Beef Trust Association, organized thousands of women to protest a sudden surge in kosher meat prices. Group members plastered Manhattan with anti-butcher leaflets, broke into butcher shops and flung overpriced meat into the street. Although The New York Times fumed, "it will not do to have a swarm of ignorant and infuriated women going about," the meat sellers lowered their prices.

Meat trust boycott, 1910
Standard Oil had nothing on the meat industry, which conspired to keep the price of beef high. Although farmers claimed they'd be hurt by a boycott -- and waiters complained they'd have to carry more dishes if diners ate only vegetables -- tens of thousands of consumers pledged to swear off meat. The casualties of the strike were the hated trust and a Chicago sign painter, who was so eager to eat a steak sandwich after four says of self-enforced vegetarianism that he choked to death on it.

Milk boycott, 1946

After World War II price controls were lifted, the prices of meat and milk doubled. Women's groups urged shoppers to buy condensed or powdered milk instead of the fresh stuff, and abide by the slogan printed on a then-popular button: "Don't buy high." According to organizers, prices eventually returned to acceptable levels.

Coffee boycott, 1977

The price of a pound of coffee more than doubled between 1975 and 1977, leading consumer advocates to call for a nationwide boycott. The tactic worked, largely because grocery stores and restaurants had an interest in keeping coffee cheap. Supermarkets distributed coupons for tea and hot chocolate and urged their customers to skip coffee on Wednesdays. New York City's 21 Club lowered the price of tea to free.