Nations go to war for various reasons including territorial expansion, religious differences, ideological differences, or racial or ethnic hatred.  To those we may include things like national honor and prestige.  How about because of food? I mean, why not? It was not in Maslow’s “most essential” category of the Hierarchy of Needs for no reason. Whether it was because of misunderstandings, used as an excuse, or purely because someone was just hangry (anger caused by hunger, which is totally relatable), there have been instances where wars were started(or nearly started) over food. Here are some of those instances.

War Waged for Wine

What are you willing to risk and lose for something you love?

Sultan Selim II was the head of the Ottoman Empire from 1566 to 1574. He happened to be known as “Selim the Drunkard.” For him, he’s willing to wage war for his beloved wine.

Sultan Selim’s father, Suleiman the Magnificent, was one who oversaw the rise of the Ottoman Empire. Unfortunately for him, his heir was a sozzled ruler who would bring the empire to its doom, making enemies and losing huge amounts of money and territories, all for his love of booze. Cypriot wine, to be exact.

Portrait Of Sultan Selim II. (Haydar Reis, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

When he became the leader of the empire, he would usually let the trusted advisors run the country while he partied hard, and that’s how he got his moniker. In 1571, it was believed that he ordered the mighty men of the Ottoman Empire to invade Cyprus due to his love for their wine. At first, everything went well, and the Sultan successfully conquered the many riches of the island, the alcohol included. Soon enough, the European forces struck back after 12 months, and hundreds of ships from both sides clashed at the Battle of Lepanto. In the end, the Ottoman Empire lost almost all its navy in that battle, while those who survived were taken as slaves. For Selim, he was a winner, as he managed to get a hold of some parts of Cyprus, and he had his steady supply of Cypriot wine for the rest of his drunken life.

The War of the Pig and the Potato

The story began in 1846 when the US and Britain signed the Oregon Treaty that aimed to end the long-standing border issue between the US and British North America, specifically the land between the Rocky Mountains and the Pacific coastline.  The border between the US and British Canada was drawn pretty carefully, but in Washington state, there was some ambiguity over the who side the San Juan Islands were on.  Both the US and the British claimed them as their own. As a result, both American and British subjects lived on the islands and pursued agricultural interests. They generally got along pretty well.

A sign commemorating the Pig War at the entrance of the English Camp. (HoneyKnutCC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

This status quo continued, and by 1859, the British presence on the island increased, with the Hudson’s Bay Company setting up a salmon-curing station and a sheep ranch. On the other hand, about 20 to 30 US settlers also arrived and decided to make the island their home. The neighboring settlers were getting along nicely until June 15th, 1859, when one of the pigs of the British wandered onto the land of Lyman Cutlar, an American farmer. The pig helped himself to a generous serving of the farmer’s potatoes, and when Cutlar saw what was going on, he went into a fit of rage, got his shotgun shot the pig, killing it.

The pig was the property of Charles Griffin, an Irishmen and British employee of the Hudson’s Bay Company. When he found out what happened to his poor animal, he went to confront the American. They had some exchange of words along the lines of,

“You should have kept your pig out of my potatoes!” met with, “You should have kept your potatoes out of my pig!”

In the spirit of neighborly reconciliation, Cutlar offered to pay Griffin $10($300 today) to compensate for the Griffen for his tuber stealing oinker, but the hot-headed Irishman refused, demanding $100($3,000) in damages for his injured porcine pride.  Cutler told him to pound sand of course.

One like to imagine Griffen saying to Cutlar, “Of course you know, this means war?”

Griffin then reported what happened to the local British authorities, who threatened to arrest the American for this grave insult to British pig farmers. Of course, the American citizens were freaked out about being snatched up by the law of a foreign country, and they requested US military protection. On July 27, 1859, a 66-man company of the US 9th infantry was sent to the island by General William Harney determined to protect US potato interests on the island.

When the governor of British Columbia, James Douglas, heard the news, he responded by sending three British warships in a display force. The following month was a tension of power struggle. Both of them slowly increased their military presence until the arrival of Admiral Robert Baynes, Commander-in-Chief of the British Navy in the Pacific.  By now, there were nearly 500 American troops and 14 cannons in fortifications while the British had about 70 guns on five ships and more than 2,000 sailors and Marines. Governor Douglas wanted the Royal Navy squadron to land his troops and fight the American troops, but Admiral Baynes refused saying he would not begin a war between Great Britain and the United States “over a squabble about a pig.”

A long official stalemate that lasted 12 years until a settlement was finally reached over the border between the two countries. Settlement over the price of the pig was not part of the negotiations.


Pork and Beef Grease

The Indian Rebellion of 1857, also known as the Indian Mutiny against Britain, had several causes. One was when the British provided the Indians with the new Enfield rifle. When loading the Enfield rifles, the lubricated cartridges had to be bitten off first. As it turned out, the grease used to lubricate the cartridges was a mix of lard from pigs and cows; a downright insult to both Hindus and Muslims. They refused to bite them off, and the British punished them; thus, the rebellion started.

Sepoy Rebellion from book ‘Campaign in India 1857-58 26 Hand-colored Lithographed plates’ by George Frank Lin Atkison, 1859. (George Frank Lin Atkison, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

There was no solid evidence that these materials were indeed used. Still, the rumors spread among the Sepoys that added to the suspicion that the British were trying to wipe out Indian traditional society and religious practice. The British had also banned things like child marriages and the practice of throwing widows on the funeral pyres of the deceased husbands.  The British were smart in that they didn’t just have Bengal regiments of Sepoys but also units comprised of Sikhs and Muslims who did not participate in the mutiny.  The Sepoys wanted to restore the Mughal Empire to India and that would be bad news for the minority populations of Sikhs and Muslims, so they sided with the British in putting down the Sepoys in a war that lasted 18 months.