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Freedom fries is a name given to French fries by some Americans angered at France’s strong opposition to the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003. Anti-French sentiment, known as francophobia, led to calls for boycotts of French companies and products. Another culinary casualty included French toast.
The term originated in Beaufort, North Carolina, when private restaurant owner Neal Rowland swapped the word French for Freedom in his menu. The renaming was reported in the press and attracted national attention. Several others followed Rowland’s lead, including members of the US Congress.
On March 11, 2003, the insult to the French came directly from the US government. Walter B. Jones Jr. and Robert W. Ney, both republican members of the US House of Representatives, had the name French replaced with Freedom from the menus in the three House of Representatives office buildings. Ney’s position as chairman of the Committee of House Administration allowed the change to occur without a congressional hearing.
Freedom fries did not come without controversy. Several journalists in the American media opined the measure ridiculous and called it an attempt to demonize a long-standing ally. French response to the culinary snubbing was minimal; they pointing out that French fries come from Belgium. Nathalie Loisau, spokesperson for the French Embassy in Washington D.C., said, "We are in a very serious moment dealing with very serious issues, and we are not focusing on the name you give to potatoes." These changes reflected similar events during World War II when hamburgers became Freedom sandwiches and sauerkraut Liberty Cabbage. Critics pointed out that Germany was a direct enemy of the US during World War II, whereas France is a NATO ally.
Along with Freedom fries, other criticisms roared to the mainstream. The phrase "cheese-eating surrender monkeys" became a notorious phrase used by conservative journalists in the days leading up to the war. The phrase first appeared in a 1995 episode of American TV shoe The Simpsons. Several media outlets used the phrase, including The New York Post and National Review. The phrase reflected one American opinion of France’s military success, or lack thereof, in the mid-to-late 20th century.
When jingoism gave way to reason, representative Jones called for a reversal of his Freedom fries policy. In July 2006, the House of Representatives restaurants returned "French" to their fries and toast. Jones expressed regret and was quoted as saying, "I wish it had never happened." As of 2007, Neal Rowland’s nod to patriotism was still on his restaurant’s menu.
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