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Why Do We Say That?

June 2024
1min read

The Road to Freedom Fries

“Because of Cubbie’s support for our troops, we no longer serve French fries. We now serve freedom fries.” So proclaimed the sign posted this past February on the window of a small chain restaurant in Beaufort, North Carolina. It was the owner’s way of protesting France’s refusal to support the United States in its desire to make war on Iraq. The restaurant also stopped listing French dressing on its menu. Instead, diners were offered liberty dressing .

Other Cubbies followed suit, and the movement soon spread. In Washington, D.C., the word French was banned from menus in government cafeterias that serve members of the House of Representatives. The announcement posted in the food court of the Longworth Office Building on March 11 read: “Now Serving … In All House Office Buildings FREEDOM FRIES .”

In Florida, meanwhile, a commissioner of Palm Beach County proposed to make freedom fries or American fries the official name of the side dish in his county. “I won’t even mention the other name,” he said. The host of a radio show, “Smoke This,” broadcast from Tampa and syndicated nationally, went a step farther, declaring that he would stop buying French wine and German cars. “And I am not going to have any Belgian waffles. That’s out as well,” said the host, who goes by the name of Cigar Dave but presumably does not indulge in Havanas.

Freedom fries and liberty dressing continue a well-established culinary tradition. During World War I, patriotic Americans took to eating liberty cabbage instead of sauerkraut and liberty sandwiches instead of hamburgers. The war also helped popularize Salisbury steak (after Dr. J. H. Salisbury, 1823-1905, who believed that people should eat hamburger at least three times a day). Naturally, frankfurters and wieners were sold more often as hot dogs during this period.

The very word German became, so to speak, verboten . Thus, German toast was dropped as an alternative name for French toast, German shepherds began to be called Alsatians , though such dogs are not native to Alsace, and children started coming down with liberty measles instead of that other kind.

There was less of this semantic tomfoolery during World War II. True, the collaborationist government in France gave Vichy such a bad name that the 1941 edition of The Escoffier Cook Book opted for Crème Gauloise instead of vichyssoise , but Eisenhower herring never displaced Bismarck herring , and the National Association of Meat Merchants declined to adopt a proposal to change hamburger to defense steak .

—Hugh Rawson

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