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Capsule Review

Food, Farms, and Solidarity: French Farmers Challenge Industrial Agriculture and Genetically Modified Crops

In This Review

Food, Farms, and Solidarity: French Farmers Challenge Industrial Agriculture and Genetically Modified Crops
Food, Farms, and Solidarity: French Farmers Challenge Industrial Agriculture and Genetically Modified Crops
By Chaia Heller
Duke University Press Books, 2013 352 pp. $25.95 Purchase

Although Heller shrouds her conclusions in opaque academic jargon, her engaging book contains many insights into the surprisingly divergent fates of French and U.S. agricultural interest groups. Her basic thesis is that French farmers have been more successful than their American counterparts at persuading their government to oppose the use of genetically modified organisms not because that position is intrinsically French (it originated in Vermont) or because French farmers enjoy more political clout. Rather, the French farmers have prevailed because they linked their cause to powerful legitimating symbols and political values in France: preserving small farms and small towns, resisting unjust state authority, maintaining the power of unions, combating the spread of McDonald’s and other fast-food chains, and defending the integrity of local communities and traditional practices. In the United States, such tactics would be less effective, she argues, because the American public lacks a sense of solidarity with unions, farmers, or purveyors of gourmet food. It is hard to know if Heller is right, but her tale of earthy farmers becoming postmodern ideological entrepreneurs makes for fun reading.

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