Freedom Fries: Freedom Never Tasted So Good
French fries, the Iraq War and some angry Americans.
2003. The year Madonna kissed Britney (and Xtina) at the MTV Video Music Awards; Finding Nemo and the final Lord of the Rings were released; the Black Eyed Peas had the biggest selling single in the UK with ‘Where is the Love?’; and Delta Goodrem had three top 10 UK hits. It was, clearly, a momentous year.
It was also the year the USA, and its allies, invaded Iraq.
In response to the US’s intention to invade Iraq, France’s Foreign Minister, Dominique de Villepin, gave an impassioned anti-war address at the United Nations. His speech received loud applause and reflected the anti-war views many countries and institutions held, including the European Parliament, Germany, Canada and the Vatican.
Lady Liberty wasn’t impressed
In the US, popular attitudes towards France quickly turned sour, with 60 percent of Americans feeling unfavourably towards the baguette-loving nation. In real terms, this meant Americans felt more positively towards long-time enemy Russia and about equal to that of Saudi Arabia, a country many felt was responsible for September 11.
In reaction to France’s UN speech, Fox News told its readers that, ‘France has a natural affinity for the globe’s uncivilized elements’. While FrontPage, a right-wing website, wrote, ‘Anti-Americanism and anti-Semitism have become endemic, as France chooses Islamicisation [not a real word] and friendship with Arab dictators over friendship with America and Israel.’ Even the New York Times declared, ‘France is becoming our enemy’.
Of course, the home of the brave wasn’t going to stand for any frog telling them which countries they could or could not invade, so they decided to take serious and decisive action against their former ally.
‘Freedom never tasted so good’
Neal Rowland, patriotic restaurateur and owner of Cubbie’s in Beaufort, North Carolina (sadly now closed), decided to get rid of any reference to France on his menu, whacking on stickers which exclaimed ‘Freedom’ across any mentions of the European nation. ‘French fries and French everything needs to be banned’ Rowland told Foxnews.com, adding, ‘Fry sales have really gone up. People who eat them now say, “Freedom never tasted so good.”’
And so, French fries were liberated and Freedom fries were born. Men in the highest offices duly heeded the call for change. Among them were US Representatives Walter B. Jones and Bob Ney. The two Republicans immediately directed the three House cafeterias to change French fries and French toast to Freedom fries and Freedom toast.
As Chairman of the House Administration, Ney’s actions required no vote and he passed the ruling with the following statement, ‘This action today is a small but symbolic effort to show the strong displeasure many on Capitol Hill have with our so-called ally, France.’ A sign was placed in the food court that read, ‘Update: Now serving in all House office buildings. Freedom Fries.’
Yeah! FU France!
This wasn’t the first time the US has been pissed off at a European nation and taken it out on their food. During WWI, dealers of sauerkraut reported a 75% fall in consumption as the fermented cabbage came to be seen as ‘food fit only for the Kaiser’. (Basically, Americans didn’t want to eat food good enough for an Emperor.) And so some sellers suggested sauerkraut should be changed to ‘Liberty Cabbage’ or ‘Pickled Vegetable’ to increase sales. In the same year, the New York Tribune implored, ‘“BUY, BUY LIBERTY CABBAGE! AND BYE-BYE SAUERKRAUT!”
But Liberty Cabbage was never to be, and neither were Freedom fries.
More important than potatoes
Freedom fries remained on the menus of the three House cafeterias until 2006. They were removed following Ney’s resignation from Congress after his involvement in the Jack Abramoff scandal (which subsequently led to a 30 months jail sentence).
And so, Freedom fries quietly reverted back to their French origins and once again American politicians could dunk their fries in a healthy dose of ketchup without worrying about what to call them.
When the Washington Times asked aides of the two congressman about the change back, they were told, ‘We don’t have a comment for your story.’ A spokesperson for the French embassy, on the other hand, commented, ‘Our relations are much more important than potatoes.’
Where are French fries actually from?
French fries or French lies?
Fries, or chips as they’re known in the UK, are commonly called French fries in North America. However, some suggest that fries are originally from Belgium, not France. Fried fish was a traditional dish eaten in Belgian villages along the River Meuse, and in winter when the river froze and fish became scarcer, enterprising villagers fried potatoes instead. American soldiers in Belgium during WWI apparently discovered the dish and, since the Belgian’s spoke French, dubbed them ‘French’ fries.
Or actually French fries?
In fact, French fries seem to have been sold from the 1870s (earlier than the Belgian origin story) by street vendors along Paris’ Pont Neuf. David Michael, author of The World is Your Burger, said it was French ‘gastronomic pioneers’ who tossed the potatoes in oil to make them light and fluffy. These fried potatoes gradually became the thinner and crispier fries we’re familiar with today. And like the Belgian tale, it was the return of American soldiers from France after WWI that helped popularise ‘French’ fries in the States.
Or patatas fritas?
But wait! Perhaps it was actually the Spanish who invented the fry. They were, after all, the first Europeans to come across the South American potato. Bringing the tubers back to Spain, it’s possible the Incan vegetables were fried in oil - a Spanish culinary tradition - and eaten. However, early potatoes were lumpy and small (no bigger than golf balls), so they wouldn’t have resembled the ‘French?’ fries we’re familiar with today.
All of the above is wrong. Fries actually originate from English chips. Chips were invented by King Arthur after Merlin magically created a potato portal between South America and medieval England, transferring the vegetable across. Arthur, fighting a dragon, threw bits of potato at the beast, who blasted them with fire - and the mighty English chip was born.