`Freedom fries'' and ``freedom toast.''
Harold F. Schiffman
haroldfs at ccat.sas.upenn.edu
Wed Mar 12 14:11:02 UTC 2003
New York Times, March 12, 2003
An Order of Fries, Please, but Do Hold the French
By SHERYL GAY STOLBERG
WASHINGTON, March 11 The French may have Champagne, Brie,
croissants and even kisses. Americans, at least in the cafeterias of the
House of Representatives, now have freedom fries and freedom toast. With
frustration rising in the Capitol over French opposition to President
Bush's policy on Iraq, Representative Bob Ney, the Ohio Republican who is
chairman of the House Administration Committee, which is responsible for
House operations, ordered the word "French" stricken from all House menus.
The action was unilateral. No vote was required. "It's a symbolic
gesture," said Mr. Ney, who is of French descent and speaks French
fluently. "Not to slap the French around, but people are not hot on the
French government right now. This is just to send a message to the troops
to say that here in the Capitol, we are not happy."
But one man's symbolism can be another man's silliness. In a city where
the prospect of war looms like a foreboding cloud, where lawmakers keep
"go bags" packed in their offices in case of biological or chemical attack
and where Democrats and Republicans find little to agree on in any event
some in the minority party were quick to condemn Mr. Ney's action as,
well, small potatoes. "Making Congress look even sillier than it sometimes
looks would not be high on my priority list," said Representative Barney
Frank, Democrat of Massachusetts.
"There's a potential war going on. There's a lot of debate about is
Congress being actively involved in foreign policy. It's bad enough not to
be able to do anything, but I think self-caricature is a poor substitute
for thoughtful discussion." Of Russia, China and France, the three nations
threatening to veto a United Nations resolution urging war with Iraq,
France has been the most unequivocal in its opposition, which is why the
French have aroused the ire of House Republicans.
"They have isolated themselves pretty well," said Representative Tom
DeLay, Republican of Texas and the majority leader. But as the great
French fry debate raged in the House, Senator Robert C. Byrd, the West
Virginia Democrat who has long bemoaned his colleagues' lack of serious
debate on the war, took to the Senate floor. Through a spokesman, Mr. Byrd
declined to comment on the French fry/freedom fry uproar. But his speech
made clear he did not view a fight with the French, over fries or
otherwise, as sound foreign policy.
"The day after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on America, the French
newspaper Le Monde proclaimed, `We are all Americans!' " he said.
"Eighteen months later, the United States and France are hurling insults
at each other, and the French are leading the opposition to the war
against Iraq. In country after country, the United States has seen the
outpouring of compassion and support that followed Sept. 11 dissolve into
anger and resentment at this administration's heavy-handed attempts to
railroad the world into supporting a questionable war with Iraq." By the
time Mr. Byrd delivered his speech, the lunchtime offerings on the House
side of the Capitol complex had already been changed. A sign in the food
court in the House Longworth Office Building which, for the record, also
serves tacos, vegetable lasagna, Greek salad and Chinese lo mein
announced: "Update: Now serving in all House office buildings. Freedom
A highly unscientific survey of cafeteria patrons found opinion to be
either neutral, or anti-French. "There ain't a whole lot of need for the
French," said Roger Todd, an official with the Albany, Ga., chapter of the
Communications Workers of America, who was in town on a lobbying trip. "I
would just as soon call them freedom fries, even though I'm a Democrat."
Noting that French fries originated in Belgium, a French Embassy
spokeswoman did not seem amused. "I wonder if it's worth a comment," the
spokeswoman, Nathalie Loiseau, said. "Honestly. We are working these days
on very, very serious issues of war and peace, life or death. We are not
working on potatoes." There is, apparently, some historical precedent for
the switch, which was proposed by Representative Walter B. Jones,
Republican of North Carolina. Mr. Jones, whose district includes three
military bases, was inspired by Cubbie's, a restaurant in Beaufort, N.C.
Neal Rowland, the owner of Cubbie's, said he began serving freedom fries
after a local history teacher reminded him that during World War I,
anti-German sentiment prompted Americans to begin calling sauerkraut
liberty cabbage and frankfurters hot dogs.
"We bought little stickers, stuck it over French and put a couple of
posters in the window," Mr. Rowland said. "Next thing you know, we were
receiving phone calls from London, Ireland, Australia and all over the
continental United States." By this afternoon, some calls were being
directed to Mr. Jones, who said he did not eat fries, no matter what they
were called. (At 60, he is watching his cholesterol.) He did a string of
interviews, two with British television. "I thanked Tony Blair on both,"
he said of the British prime minister, a firm ally of Mr. Bush.
While Mr. Jones said he viewed the name change as a "lighthearted
gesture," some in Congress wondered what would come next. "If China vetoes
it," Mr. Frank said of the United Nations resolution, "what are we going
to call Chinese checkers?"
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