The fear of want is one of the great protagonists of human history. Grain riots are its most spectacular illustration. Indigence, however, always combines with a sense of deprivation before leading to upheavals. The relations between biological and cultural definitions of need form the subject matter of this article. It offers a reflection on the ways in which historians have construed the rapports between individual metabolism and collective representation. It argues that accounting for foodways requires their inscription in pertinent contexts before they are measured in calories and cents. Comprehension of the meaning of alimentary practices constitutes an indispensable step for assuring a chance of success to attempts at inflecting behavior—whether in consumer societies where profusion brings about a great many life-style related afflictions (obesity, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, etc.) or developing countries where malnutrition continues to undermine health and hunger remains responsible for a majority of deaths.

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