‘freedom fries’: meaning and origin

In 2003 in the USA, following France’s opposition to the proposed U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, the expression freedom fries was substituted for French fries.

The earliest occurrence of freedom fries that I have found is from the following Associated-Press story, published in The Herald-Sun (Durham, North Carolina) of Tuesday 18th February 2003:

Patriotic potatoes on menu
Restaurant owner names ‘freedom’ fries for support
Associated Press

BEAUFORT, N.C.—You can get fries with your order at Cubbie’s, but just don’t ask for french fries.
“Because of Cubbie’s support for our troops, we no longer serve french fries. We now serve freedom fries,” says a sign in the restaurant’s window.
Owner Neal Rowland said the switch from french fries to freedom fries came to mind after a conversation about World War I days when anti-German sentiment prompted Americans to rename familiar German foods like sauerkraut and frankfurter to liberty cabbage and hot dog. [cf. note 1]
Rowland said his decision to change the name of french fries reflects a political sentiment that comes as Americans watch France back away from support for war in Iraq.
“Everyone wants to have their freedom fries. They’re going right along with it,” said waitress Amy Foster, who cleared tables after the first lunch crowd to hear about the menu revision.
But Rowland said his intent is not to slight the French people, but to take a patriotic stance to show his support for the United States and the actions of President Bush.
“It’s our way of showing our patriotic pride,” he said, noting that his business has a lot of local military troops stop by as customers. “A lot of them stop here on their way back to Cherry Point.”

However, freedom fries, and other expressions in which freedom was substituted for French in 2003, may have been coined almost simultaneously by various persons, independently from each other—as the following three texts seem to indicate:

1-: From Sound Off, “a daily column featuring anonymous comments on virtually any topic”, published in The Sun Herald (Biloxi, Mississippi) of Friday 21st February 2003:

Change French to freedom
■ In response to French abstention in Thursday’s paper: Why should we give up all those things we’ve grown to love? Just don’t pay homage to the French. Let’s order “freedom fries,” have “freedom bread,” enjoy that “freedom kiss” and, of course, wake up to “freedom toast.”

2-: From The stuff of boycotts, by Al Martinez, published in the Los Angeles Times (Los Angeles, California) of Monday 3rd March 2003:

One Web site, quoting Bart Simpson, calls the French “cheese-eating surrender monkeys” [cf. note 2] and, while acknowledging their contribution in the First World War, goes on to tell them that “only the perverse, the effete, and the ‘University’ educated Sodomite remain in your despicable country.” I didn’t know that.
The boycotters are insisting that we change the name of French fries to freedom fries, but then what about all those other French things? Freedom toast? Freedom bread? Freedom onion soup? Freedom kissing?

3-: From the following sarcastic letter, published in the Santa Maria Times (Santa Maria, California) of Friday 7th March 2003:

There’s plenty of French to boycott

Why would I not visit the Statute [sic] of Liberty, that’s so un-American? That is, unless you are participating in boycotting all French products.
That’s right, my fellow citizens, Lady Liberty is French! And so are french fries, let’s rename them freedom fries. And french toast, let’s rename that freedom toast. And French’s mustard, let’s rename that Freedom mustard.
Once we have changed these French items, we can move on to the other nasty French stuff like Cognac, which becomes Freedom Brandy, and Champaign, which becomes Sparkling Wine (oh, we already did that one). Also, Creole food becomes Freedom food, and New Orleans becomes New Freedom.
After we have swiped the word “French” out of the American language, we should stop using French products like the printed language for blind people, Braille. Sorry blind people, Braille is French.
We will not use all those other insignificant French inventions like parachutes, lead-acid batteries, canned food, margarine, Diesel engines, Etch-A-Sketch boards, neon lamps, surgical instruments, turbine engine airplanes and let’s not forget bikinis and pencils.
That will show those wimpy French!
Orlando Dozier
Santa Maria

On Tuesday 11th March 2003, two Republican Members of the U.S. House of Representatives, Robert Ney (born 1954), who was then the Chairman of the Committee on House Administration [cf. note 3], and Walter B. Jones (1943-2019), replaced French fries and French toast with, respectively, freedom fries and freedom toast in the menus of the Congressional cafeterias—as reported for example in Congress is fed ‘freedom fries’, published in The Capital Times (Madison, Wisconsin) of Tuesday 11th March 2003:

WASHINGTON (AP)—House cafeterias will be serving fries with a side order of patriotism today with a decision by GOP lawmakers to replace the “French” cuisine with “freedom fries.”
“This action today is a small but symbolic effort to show the strong displeasure of many on Capitol Hill with the actions of our so-called ally, France,” said Rep. Bob Ney, R-Ohio, chairman of the House Administration Committee.
Ney, whose panel oversees House operations, ordered the House administrative officer to change the menus in House office building cafeterias to read “freedom fries” and “freedom toast.”
The House action follows moves by several restaurants around the country to remove “French” fries from their menus to protest French opposition to U.S. military action in Iraq.
Also leading the anti-French campaign was Rep. Walter Jones, R-N.C., who noted in a letter to colleagues that Cubbie’s restaurant in Beaufort, N.C., in his district, was now serving “freedom fries.”
“Watching France’s self-serving politics of passive aggression in this effort has discouraged me more than I can say,” Jones said.
Members of Congress have been sharply critical of France for threatening to veto a new U.N. resolution holding Iraq in violation of disarmament agreements and paving the way for a military strike against the Saddam Hussein government.

However, in 2006, Vernon Ehlers (1934-2017), a Republican Member of the U.S. House of Representatives, who had replaced Robert Ney as Chairman of the Committee on House Administration, substituted French fries for freedom fries and French toast for freedom toast in the menus of the Congressional cafeterias—as reported by Christina Bellantoni in Hill fries free to be French again, published in The Washington Times (Washington, District of Columbia) of Wednesday 2nd August 2006:

The fries on Capitol Hill are French again.
So is the breakfast toast in the congressional cafeterias, with both fries and toast having been liberated from the appellation “freedom.”
Three years after House Republicans trumpeted the new names to get back at the French for snubbing the coalition of the willing in Iraq, congressmen don’t even want to talk about french fries, which are actually native to Belgium, and toast.
Neither Reps. Bob Ney of Ohio nor Walter B. Jones of North Carolina, the authors of the culinary rebuke, were willing this week to say who led the retreat, as it were, from the frying pan. But retreat there has been, as a casual observer can see for himself in the House’s basement cafeterias.
“We don’t have a comment for your story,” said a spokeswoman for Mr. Ney.
Several Republican staffers and lawmakers suggest that the change isn’t worth investigating, unlike the eagerness in March 2003 to get into the headlines about patriotism on the menu.
Mr. Ney, who was then the chairman of the House Administration Committee, which oversees the cafeterias, gleefully announced the change at the height of anti-French sentiment, when Paris scolded Washington that the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq was premature.
“This action today is a small but symbolic effort to show the strong displeasure of many on Capitol Hill with the actions of our so-called ally, France,” he said on March 11, 2003.
The Ney spokeswoman, who wasn’t aware Monday that fries and toast had reverted to their original names, observed that Rep. Vernon J. Ehlers of Michigan, the Republican who chairs the House Administration Committee now, “has the right to change the name.”
But Jon Brandt, a spokesman for Mr. Ehlers, doesn’t want to talk about it, either. “Officially the committee has no comment on the matter,” he said. “I really don’t see how this is a story.”
A spokeswoman for the panel’s Democrats said she is unaware of the change, and none of the House staffers are willing to talk about it. A manager in the House’s basement cafeteria said “freedom fries” and “freedom toast” were taken off the menu last week, and referred all calls to the Capitol’s guest services department. The cafeteria in the Longworth Office Building apparently restored french fries in January.
Democrats on the panel did not return calls requesting comment, but other Democrats, who had called the switch in nomenclature “absurd,” are free with the quips.
“Now that they’ve changed the name of the french fries back, maybe they will admit their other foreign policy mistakes were wrong, too,” said Brendan Daly, a spokesman for Rep. Nancy Pelosi of California, the House minority leader.
The Senate never made any such changes at its cafeterias.
The change apparently reflects shifting public attitudes. A Pew Global Attitudes survey in June revealed a sharply different opinion of France from the days at the beginning of the war in Iraq. Fifty-two percent of Americans surveyed now have a favorable impression of France, up from 46 percent last year and 29 percent in May 2003. Before the Iraq war, 79 percent of Americans said they had a favorable opinion of France.
The term “freedom fries” actually originated at Cubbies, a restaurant in Beaufort, N.C., which caters to U.S. troops stationed at three nearby military bases. Mr. Jones, whose district includes the bases and the restaurant, circulated a letter to his colleagues seeking to call the spuds “freedom fries” because, he said, the French were “sitting on the sidelines.”
A spokeswoman for the French Embassy noted that her country has been working “very closely” with the United States on the Middle East and that Presidents Bush and Jacques Chirac dined on french fries in February 2005.
“Our relations are definitely much more important than potatoes,” Agnes Vondermuhll said. “French fries are back in the Capitol, back on the presidential dinner menu and our relations are back on track.”

Notes:

Note 1: In fact, hot dog, in the sense of a frankfurter served hot in a long roll split lengthways, is first recorded in the late 19th century. And, during the First World War, victory dog, also liberty dog, was substituted for frankfurter, and victory cabbage, also liberty cabbage, for sauerkraut. The following is from The Boston Herald and Boston Journal (Boston, Massachusetts) of Sunday 2nd June 1918:

The Wollaston Yacht Club […] patriotically rechristens frankfurters “victory dogs.”

The following is from The Lakeland Evening Telegram (Lakeland, Florida) of Thursday 6th June 1918:

The St. Augustine chamber of commerce is operating a canning factory, and has already put up several tons of sauer kraut, but patriotically terms it victory cabbage.

And the following is from Jane Over Here to Jim Over There, by Phil Ponce, published in The Jackson News (Jackson, Michigan) of Thursday 17th October 1918:

Anytown, U. S. A.,
October 17, 1918.
Dear Jim:
[…] Everything German has been changed but the accent. […] Sauerkraut changed its name to liberty cabbage, Frankfurters are now liberty dogs. They always did take lots of liberties. German fried potatoes changed their nationality to American.

Note 2: In fact, it is Willie, the school’s groundskeeper, who says cheese-eating surrender monkeys in ’Round Springfield, an episode of the U.S. animated television series The Simpsons first broadcast on Sunday 30th April 1995—cf. ‘cheese-eating/tea-drinking surrender monkeys’.

Note 3: The Committee on House Administration deals with the general administration matters of the U.S. House of Representatives.

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