In This Review

States of Subsistence: The Politics of Bread in Contemporary Jordan
States of Subsistence: The Politics of Bread in Contemporary Jordan
By José Ciro Martínez
Stanford University Press, 2022, 368 pp.

The nine million residents of Jordan consume ten million loaves of the local flat khubz arabi a day, nearly all of it made with government-subsidized wheat. Martínez worked as a baker in Amman, accompanied government inspectors on their rounds, talked to customers, and visited bakeries from Aqaba to Ma’an. In this fascinating book, he reveals the extent to which the bread subsidy is intimately woven into the economic, social, and political life of the kingdom. The Jordanian government did not always support this staple: the Ministry of Industry, Trade, and Supply and its subsidy were introduced in the mid-1970s; before that, as one of Martínez’s informants observed, “We used to feed ourselves.” As bread-making moved from the family hearth to the neighborhood bakery, bread became both an essential staple and a symbol of state authority. Decades of economic liberalization, however, have left the Jordanian welfare state in tatters. As Martínez deftly shows, the public debates about bread—a universal demand in the Arab Spring uprisings—illustrate both the state’s profound role in shaping national identity and its fading influence in popular understandings of political authority. As Martinez says, “The bread subsidy was never just about providing food.” It symbolized the monarchy’s patrimonial responsibility for its people, a role lost in neoliberalism’s cash transfers to low-income families.