chapter  3
Food Supply
ByHugh Clout
Pages 11

No fewer than 7 million extra mouths were being fed in France in the mid-1830s by comparison with the end of the ancien régime and this was achieved predominantly from domestic sources of food. This feat was made possible by a combination of processes including land clearance, division of commonlands and large estates, increased production of established cereals and more widespread cultivation of relatively new crops such as maize and, more especially, potatoes. Each of these processes commenced before 1789 and the resulting agricultural achievements have been recognised as 'revolutionary' in their magnitude by members of what one may call the 'symbolic' school of historical interpretation who select symbols of the potential for agricultural change but often fail to demonstrate that productivity was raised. The work of Octave Festy provides a clear argument in favour of an early agricultural revolution so that, in his own words, 'one may take 1750 as the date when the new agriculture started to demonstrate its existence'. 1 It was at this time that a number of processes converged and began to generate an atmosphere in which change might be possible in limited sectors of French farming. A new enthusiasm for agriculture developed among people of more comfortable social status than the peasantry, that is the nobility, rich and poor, and possibly some successful bourgeoisie who were intent on becoming members of that class'. 2 English experiments in agricultural practice were publicised across the Channel in books and pamphlets to which a small number of French landowners had access. The physiocrats proposed their principles, believing that the wealth of any country existed in proportion to the fertility of its land. They were opposed to the excess and luxury of urban living and the evils of manufacturing and defended the virtues of agricultural life instead.