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This Study Suggests that a Better Diet Will Lead Nations to Democracy

Through an analysis of 157 countries, a Russian researcher says he found that when the people of a nation transition to eating wider varieties of food, political change is on its way.
Photo via Flickr user oskar karlin

They say you are what you eat. As to what that says about your junk food habits, well, you get the idea.

But apparently what people eat can be indicative of more than just skin-deep characterizations. Eating well means you're more likely you live in—or will soon live in—a democratic society.

A new study (out of Russia, no less) to be published soon contends that good nutrition speeds up the transition to democracy. Through an analysis of 157 countries, Andrey Shcherbak, a researcher at the Higher School of Economics, says he found that when people transition from eating bread and cereals to eating a wide variety of food, in particular protein-rich meat, political change is on its way.


Shcherbak suggests that diet is a more important indicator of democratic reform than income growth and free trade policies, though they are all inextricably linked.

A better diet—one perhaps achieved through growing wealth and trade with other countries—leads to greater earnings and a growing, better-educated middle class, and a middle class brings democracy. First, you get the dairy and booze, Shcherbak says; then, you get the right to vote.

WATCH: The Politics of Food

"Once you have more money, you will not just buy more of the same cheap sausages or frozen dumplings. Instead, you might switch to sirloin steak, jamon, Parmesan and virgin olive oil. A demand for these products is driven by new lifestyles," Shcherbak said in a press release. "People in many cultures pray before meals, giving thanks to God for the food, but there are virtually no societies where people pray before payday."

His thesis goes counter to some lines of thinking that inversely, suggest democracy leads to better nutrition. Reliable food sources and better diets give people a sense of security, he says, removing the reliance on government authority figures and leading to people placing a greater value on individual rights. Once people can stop worrying about food, they tend to think about politics.

Scherbak also ponders whether providing humanitarian aid, including food supplies, might be more useful than money as aid for developing countries. You can bet the West would have found the study useful during the Cold War.

In the future, rather than providing arms, let's bring on the steaks and wine and start the revolution.