From the Roman grain dole to Food stamps

By Victor Smith

Historically food supplies have created a source of Social challenges across societies. One of the first social reforms to deal with food, I would argue, comes from the Roman Empire. The Cura Annonae was established by the Gracchi brothers, Tiberius and later Gaius, in 134 BC to sell grain collected by the state as revenue to citizens at a subsidized rate. Eventually what happened with the grain dole was grain collected was given to all roman citizens for free (Beard, 2013). In today’s world we don’t have the grain dole but what we do have is a food and nutrition problem in the middle and lower class that isn’t helped by the current food assistant program and if left untouched may lead to serious social problems within the medical world. For this analysis I chose to look at the macro level of our society even though you can argue every level is effected by this problem.


In Rome it didn’t matter if you were Plebeian-term given to the lower class, Aedile, or Praetor in their social hierarchy you were entitled to the dole (Mennen, 2011). In today’s society that really isn’t the case. Just like Rome we have different classes but based more on things like wealth, power, and prestige instead of the ascribed status given with the family name; because of this each class has different roles and needs in our society. This leads to an example of what I would consider conflict theory when talking about food in our society because since food is a scarce resource it leads to competition between the classes in our society on how to get it. It also leads to an unbalanced idea of what food is good or bad for you. There has been research done by many people on what is being eaten by the various classes. A study done by Christianne L.H. Hupkins looked at food consumption in the middle and lower classes to see what could be said about how the classes viewed nutrition (Hupkin et al, 2000). They found out that the middle class tends to eat healthier than the lower class. Also they found out through data collection that mothers in the middle class tend to lean towards healthier food options when shopping than lower class mothers. What this means than is that there is a clear problem with what food is being consumed at the different class levels due to conflict theory.
Besides having the Tribune of the Plebeians, their political say in the senate, the only other thing offered to help a plebeian was the grain dole (Mennen, 2011). In today’s society at least we have more representation in politics which, to me, is why we have more social reforms. In regards to food in America for the lower class we have a few system in place to ensure that people get food. The most common is the newly named SNAP program or the old food stamp program. The big issue I see with this program in regards to nutrition is when you look up everything eligible in the program, everything including energy drinks and junk food is covered under the program. The few exceptions are beer, tobacco, non-food products, and readymade food that can be eaten right away ( USDA Staff, 2017). The USDA collects information on what people in these program spend most of their expenditures on and it’s very surprising to see things like people spending more on soft drinks than milk or water or fruit (Coleman-Jensen et al., 2016). So with the lower class already not paying as much attention to the way they eat, giving them the option to eat less healthy foods will eventually lead to problems.


The biggest problem that faced Rome was keeping its population up. At its height of the empire it was over a million. In order to keep their population up it was necessary to have Roman expansion and also in some case would even free slaves to keep their populations numbers up (Beard, 2013). Now in today’s world, the world map is pretty much fixed and we can’t really change the death rate but we can fix some health problems that would kill someone back then. . The biggest problem with the uncheck nutrition system is there is a massive problem in the united states with Obesity and malnutrition. The center for disease control collects statistics on obesity and one of them for adults says that one third of the country population is overweight which is an alarming statistic when you figure in the annual medical cost of obesity people at 147 billion dollars (Ogden et al., 2015). On the opposite side of the coin when talking about hunger 20% of the population in 2015 was reported to live under the poverty line an in that 20% 13.1 million children were reported to not have access to nutritious food in their household (Coleman-Jensen et al., 2016). Even though we have better medical care across the board the population is still facing many problems that hurt our population due to nutrition.

Read More: What Food Says About Social Class – Newsweek

Even though the Roman Empire fell in 476 at the hand of Romulus, the last Roman emperor, problems that faced Rome are still seen today. I don’t think there will ever be a solution to this problem instead it will just morph into something else altogether with different challenges to face and it will need a new temporary or long lasting solution. What that temporary solution will be I have no clue. For today’s issue though dealing with food and nutrition there is a problem with a poor diet in the middle and lower class that is effected by a bad food assistance program and if these problems are left uncheck will lead to an even worst medical problem.

Work Cited

Beard Mary (2013 May 16), Meet the Romans. [Video File]. Retrieved from


Coleman-Jensen Alisha, Matthew P. Rabbitt, Christian A. Gregory,Anita Singh. (2016, September). Household Food Security in the United States in 2015.


Hupkins H. L. Christianne, Knibbe A Ronald, Drop J. Maria. ( 2000, June 1). Social class differences in food consumption: The explanatory value of permissiveness and health and cost considerations. European Journal of Public Health


Mennen, Inge (2011) Power and Status in the Roman Empire AD 193-284. Book. Boston, MA: Brills

O’Connor, Anahad. (2017, January 13). In the Shopping Cart of a Food Stamp Household: Lots of Soda.


Ogden L. Cynthia, et al. (2015, November). Prevalence of Obesity Among Adults and Youth:United States, 2011–2014.


USDA Staff. (2017, March 22). Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) Eligible Food Items.




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