From socks, to sand, to French Fries. Like a night in bed with me, the variety keeps on coming. But let’s be happy about this one, because who doesn’t love a good old French fry? The British perhaps. We love our chips, which are like French fries, but fatter. Comparing chips to fries is like comparing Queen Lizzy to Pluto. One is completely irrelevant and should be consigned to history, and the other is the Queen. Let’s start our odyssey with the name itself. Here’s a nice easy quiz question to get us started. What does the French kiss, the French bulldog, the French horn and French Fries have in common? What’s that? They all come from France? You couldn’t be more wrong. French kissing was an English creation and, indeed, the French didn’t have a word for this until 2014 when they invented the word ‘galocher.’ French bulldogs are English, too. They were deemed too small to be of any use and were sent to France, where they became a new breed. The French horn is German. And French fries are actually Belgian. France really has contributed nothing to the world but the hideous metric system. Interestingly, the English bulldog that became the French one was, initially, most popular amongst Parisian prostitutes. Make of that what you will…
Potatoes were being fried in the Meuse Valley in Belgium in the 1680s. The locals loved fried fish, but since the river froze quite a lot, they ate fried potatoes as a substitute, the common theme here being that they love to fry things. America celebrated its 25th birthday not just with a cake but also by the introduction of fries into America, in a restaurant probably named ‘Ye Olde McDonalds.’
When American soldiers showed up in Belgium during the First World War, they named the fries ‘French fries,’ not doing a great deal to convince others that Americans really do have a fantastic grasp of geography.
Let’s give the French some credit. They were the ones who saw to the spread of fries around the world. The Americans then popularised them through a variety of fast food chains and, funnily enough, many countries in the world do know them as ‘American fries.’ That’s even more a kick in the teeth for the Belgians, isn’t it?
It gets even worse for them, too. They have a museum dedicated to Belgian fries, but everyone else just knows it as the French fry museum. “Welcome to the Belgian fries museum!” “Look, I’m a tourist, I’m here to learn about French fries, why are you harping on about Belgian fries?” “They’re ours! THEY’RE OURS! Damn you France, damn you to hell! ARRRRGH!” “Say what you like, but I’m giving this five stars on Trip Advisor…”
The Belgians consume a staggering 165 pounds of fries per person per year. Over 320 million imperial tons of potatoes are produced globally each year, with two thirds of this consumed as fries. And they are good for you, too. The fibre in them helps waste pass through your system as smoothly as possible, like Derrick, the computer whiz kid who works at your local waste treatment facility and will not shut up about how great he thinks he is…
But fries can also be curious little buggers. Did you know, for example, that pregnant and nursing women should not eat fries? They contain an agent known as acrylamide, which can cause cancer in pregnant and nursing women. So there you go, pregnant women. As if your nine months of vomiting and no alcohol didn’t sound pleasant enough, you can now add fries to your list of things you can’t enjoy. At least things are much better for the pregnant not living in Belgium. They have vending machines for fries, not a new idea, either. They were hugely popular across America in the 1990s and new ones are being trialled in top-secret locations. Because, apparently, French fry vending machines are a secret worth holding on to.
It would be remiss of me not to mention the ill-fated Freedom Fries phenomena. In 2003, France opposed the American invasion of Iraq and, as such, many accused France of ‘betrayal’ and anti-French sentiment quickly spread across America. That year, a restaurant in North Carolina renamed ‘French fries’ ‘freedom fries,’ citing similar actions during the First World War. During said war, ‘sauerkraut’ was renamed ‘liberty cabbage’ in America (not kidding) and frankfurters were renamed ‘hot dogs,’ a name that stuck. In 2003, republican dickheads Bob Ney and Walter Jones said that all references to French fries and French toast should be renamed ‘freedom fries’ and ‘freedom toast.’ It’s almost as bad as liberty cabbage, isn’t it?
In a remarkable turn of events, French Embassy spokeswoman Nathalie Loiseau said, “We focus on the serious issues. Plus, fries originated in Belgium.” They admitted it! Victory for Belgium! She went on to say, “Our relations are definitely much more important than potatoes.” Tee, he, he… 66% of Americans thought the renaming was stupid, 33% said it was patriotic (kill me), and 1% couldn’t care either way. Many restaurants still use ‘freedom fries,’ sadly. One restaurant renamed their French fries ‘Impeach George W. Bush fries.’ I like that.
This story rumbled on, however. Many American restaurants renamed their French fries ‘American fries,’ whilst it was reported that American cheese was being called ‘idiot cheese’ in France. The ‘freedom fries’ name was quietly dropped around 2006, but it could’ve stuck, like hot dogs did during the war. And it wasn’t all that was renamed during the world wars. Berlin, Michigan became Marne, Michigan. German measles became liberty measles. Not kidding. Again. Hamburgers became liberty sandwiches. Even dachshunds became liberty pups. And until then, French toast was named ‘German toast,’ another change that stuck. I’m sorry, but am I the only one who prefers ‘liberty pups’? That’s utterly adorable…
In 1982, Quaker John Calvi wrote an ode to the Belgian fries. Yet again, not kidding. He actually wrote an actual ode to actual fries. He claims they are harbingers of world peace. You can look this up online if you don’t believe me. ‘This old world has troubles, everyone knows,’ he wrote. ‘There’s garbage in all of our lives. We try to get through it, each our own way. And for me, I just eat French fries.’ It’s a masterpiece, really. ‘Some got religion, devotion and guilt. Charity and grace are divine. I hear things are hotter than ever in hell, but in heaven, do they have French fries?’ I’ll stop now. Hang on, no I won’t. ‘Some think the army, the bombs and the guns will one day save all of our lives. I don’t believe it. Heat up your pans, make peace and lots of French fries.’ I love this man. So very, very much…
Belgians are making a bid to get their fries recognised as an official cultural icon of Belgian heritage and I say good on those beautiful Belgians. Their fries are wonderful. They took the world by storm and have held on to that crown ever since. They are an icon and a wonderful one at that. They may not be the most interesting thing in the world, but who cares? When Quakers are writing odes to them, I think that tells you all you need to know. French fries are awesome, and they are most certainly not French. So thank you Belgium, not something I’d ever thought I’d say, for giving the world this marvellous gift.
Now, if you don’t mind, I’m off to try to forget this week of questions ever happened…
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