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Book offers a taste of state subsidised bread and its politics

By Saeb Rawashdeh - Mar 14,2023 - Last updated at Mar 14,2023

The cover of the book

AMMAN — State subsidised bread and its politics in Jordan is the focus of the new book “States of Subsistence” by Jose Ciro Martinez, a lecturer at the University of York.

Speaking during a lecture titled “States of Subsistence: The Politics of Bread in Contemporary Jordan” at the American Centre of Research on Monday, Martinez explained that the nature of the book is ethnographic.

“Subsidised pita bread is something that everyone eats, while the poor and refugees rely on it,” Martinez said during the presentation, noting that subsidised bread is “more than just to nourish, nurture and sustain”.

For some, the slightly leavened flatbread known to many as pita is “a customary pleasure, while for others, pita saves them from starvation”, Martinez said, adding that bread is a way to discuss societal issues and social welfare provision.

“The book deals with routine practicality, and how bread is never lacking,” Martinez emphasised, adding that welfare remains “pretty static”.

Readers of the book will learn about ambiguous regulations, haphazard standardisations and bread ingredients, Martinez said, adding that welfare has “formative dimensions”.

Bakeries in Jordan are the vital hubs for food supply during snow storms, Martinez said, adding that in crisis, citizens tend to stock bread for a few days.

“Everyone was rushing to buy bread during the 2015 snowstorm,” Martinez remembered, adding that bread was “insurance and protection against deprivation”.

While preparing the book, Martinez also worked as a baker in East Amman, learning first-hand how vital state-subsidised bread is for the poorer segments of Jordanian society.

“In Jordan, bakeries are sites of communal encounter, houses of friendships, sources of food security,” Martinez noted.

 “The state is best understood as the product of routine practices and actions, through which it becomes a stable truth in the lives of citizens,” he added.

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