Special Report: Representing Farmers
The Challenge of Ideological Appropriation in Two AOC Unions in FranceBy Juliette Rogers
This article analyzes the formation and consolidation of two organizations devoted to defending the interests of specific French denomination of origin (AOC) cheeses : the Époisses cheese union based in Burgundy, and the union for the three AOC cheeses of Basse-Normandy. Ethnographic studies in each region illustrate the ideological activity in this particular type of interest group, unions that are ideally composed of all actors along a given cheese’s production chain to define its production methods (to be strictly controlled under the law) and defend their collective interest. Yet in these two chains, dairy farmers had only recently been made aware of the use made of their milk and unexpectedly found themselves in a pre-existing collective undertaking. Union leadership encourages farmers’ participation and loyalty by training them in “the logic of terroir”, a crucial element in getting them to re-examine their milk production methods and guiding them toward an agreement on the rules governing how they should produce their milk for the AOC. Obtaining enough members and milk is only part of what’s at stake ; union leaders must also get participants to accept national AOC standards. These farmers are “captive members” of a union whose work includes the negotiation of local agronomic issues while respecting the conception of terroir espoused by AOCs’ national promoters, a situation that provokes tensions with other, better established belief systems held by various actors in the agricultural sector. These legacies influence the interpretations that terroir can take over the course of discussions between farmers, without undermining the economic opportunities that this ideological construction has to offer.