Contemporary France is locked into an ongoing debate about French national identity in which the very notions of ‘France’ and ‘the French’ are under scrutiny. Today, fewer than 20% of the French population live in the country, only a tiny minority of them are farmers, and traditional-style small-scale farmers are literally dying out. Yet, the rurality that typified French life well into the twentieth century has put French agriculture and its produce on a political and cultural pedestal. ‘French national identity’, declared President Sarkozy in October 2009, ‘is based on the special relationship between the French and “the land”.’ Similarly, the French Constitution declares the French territory to be ‘indivisible’, and the six-sided outline of mainland France — ‘the Hexagon’ — is synonymous with France itself. The country has not always been this shape, however, having traumatically lost its eastern provinces of Alsace and Lorraine to Germany between 1870 and 1919 (and, again, for the duration of World War II), and until the twentieth century, when transportation and education became widespread, the geometric shape of the country was not even familiar to many of its own citizens.
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