- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 12, 2003

The House of Representatives has turned up its nose and said "non" to french fries.
Joining the growing protest against French products, House Administration Committee Chairman Bob Ney, Ohio Republican, changed the House cafeteria menu yesterday to "freedom fries." He also declared "french toast" anathema, too. The toothsome breakfast treat will henceforth be patriotic "freedom toast."
The reform of nomenclature, which began last month in North Carolina, has a wartime precedent. Sauerkraut, a German specialty, was renamed "liberty cabbage" on the eve of World War I, and after the attack on Pearl Harbor that set off World War II, there were serious but unsuccessful attempts to cut down the cherry trees around the Tidal Basin, which had been a gift of the Japanese government.
"We realize it's symbolic," Mr. Ney says of freedom fries and toast. "But I take it seriously. And I'll tell you, a lot of people around the building are taking it serious in the sense of we're sending a message to our troops.
"This is not a boycott or a trade action, but we're sending a message to our troops we respect these men and women who stand in harm's way ready to defend us."
It's also a message about French policy: "It's nothing against the French people, the French language. This is simply stating the French government is wrong."
"Freedom fries" began at Cubbies restaurant in Beaufort, N.C., where owner Neal Rowland announced he was changing the name as a sign of support for U.S. troops, particularly those from the three nearby military installations.
Rep. Walter B. Jones Jr., the North Carolina Republican whose district includes the bases and the restaurant, decided the idea was good enough to bring to Washington.
"We thought it was a good idea my constituent came up with, and why shouldn't the House side of Congress, if we could get enough of our colleagues to join us, why wouldn't it be a good idea to rename the fries in the House cafeteria 'freedom fries?'" Mr. Jones said yesterday.
Mr. Ney agrees with Mr. Jones and, as chairman of the committee that oversees operations of the House, put the plan into place, as well as expanding it to the breakfast menu.
Mr. Jones said the move was lighthearted, but he said there is a serious message in it about the French. "They are sitting on the sidelines. We lost 3,000 Americans on September 11 and I think many Americans, I'm one of them, are very disappointed about the attitude of the French."
Many of his colleagues were also lighthearted in their comments.
"Hit 'em where it hurts," said House Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer, Maryland Democrat.
But other options are under consideration. "We're not touching French dressing yet," he says, "but we'll consider it." There's no word yet on whether congressmen who wear shirts with French cuffs will be served their freedom fries.
Brendan Daly, spokesman for House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, said the effort seems "kind of absurd when the country is facing such difficult times economically and when we're facing war. That's a reflection of what [Republicans] think passes for serious debate."
Officials at the French Embassy pointed out that french fries actually originated in Belgium.
"We are at a very serious moment dealing with very serious issues and we are not focusing on the name you give to potatoes," said Nathalie Loisau, an embassy spokeswoman.
For his part, Mr. Ney said he has heard complaints only from "a couple of people with accents."
Rep. Jose E. Serrano, New York Democrat, was not amused, dismissing the measure as "petty grandstanding."
"Should we ban French wine, Belgian waffles or Russian dressing?" he asked in a statement. "If Mexico votes no, should Mexican restaurants … also be banned, and should the taco salad buffet at the House cafeterias be shuttered?"
Mr. Rowland, the man who started it all at his restaurant in North Carolina, says the idea has brought him new customers from all over.
"We're all of the sudden starting to see new faces from new places from as far away as New York, Texas, Pennsylvania," he said. "We see lots of troops being deployed out, and we understand what France is trying to do, but we support our president and we support his decision and we stand behind our troops.
"It's a good gesture. Walter came up with a way to unite people, send a message without getting into trade wars."
Lighthearted or not, the boycott of the name if not of the actual dishes follows sentiment for more serious trade warfare, including sanctions. Several congressmen have suggested tariffs on French wine and water, as well as a ban on Pentagon participation at the Paris Air Show this year.
This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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