Why are these American restaurants still serving freedom fries”?

Restaurants still have the patriotically named offering on their menus. We asked five owners to explain why.

Back in 2003, France refused to support the US in their invasion of Iraq. This made US officials extremely unhappy with France. 

George W. Bush said he felt that the French position was anti-American”, and suggested that the country would be excluded from future summits of world leaders. Then Secretary of State, Colin Powell, somewhat ominously said that France would face consequences” for failing to support the US.

France’s stance also proved to be extremely unpopular amongst some members of the American public, and anti-French sentiment began to sweep the nation. People began to boycott French products like wine and cheese. Companies started selling bumper stickers that read, First Iraq. Then France.” Organisations that place foreign exchange students complained that they were having difficulty finding US families willing to host French students. The French-owned hotel chain Sofitel was forced to temporarily remove the French flags that hang outside their US hotels. We were getting some severe feelings and threats directed toward the safety and security of our employees and customers,” a Sofitel spokesperson told CNN at the time.

But the pettiest way this anger manifested itself was in the spread of freedom fries”, which are exactly the same as regular french fries, but renamed as a fuck you” to France. 

The name freedom fries” first came to prominence when former North Carolina Representative Walter B. Jones instructed the House of Representatives’ cafeterias to start using the term on their menus. He had been introduced to the concept by North Carolina Representative Bob Ney, who had seen the item being sold at a restaurant in his state. 

The idea took off, and restaurants across the country renamed their fries, including Fuddruckers, a national fast-casual dining chain with over 200 locations. The chefs aboard Air Force One took it a step further, adding freedom toast” to their inflight menu. 

However, the reason that most people are familiar with freedom fries” is not because they ate them somewhere, but because they became a national punchline. They were mocked in late night monologues. The Colbert Report and SNL and American Dad featured bits about them. A New York Times opinion piece called them so incredibly stupid”.

I wonder if it’s worth a comment, honestly,” said a spokesperson for the French Embassy when asked about freedom fries” at the time. We are working these days on very, very serious issues of war and peace, life or death. We are not working on potatoes.” The spokesperson also noted that fries are a Belgian invention, not French.

Public perception of the invasion of Iraq has changed drastically since 2003. A 2018 poll by Pew found that 48 per cent of Americans disagreed with the US’s use of military force in Iraq – up from 22 per cent at the time of the invasion. Even Walter Jones, one of the two politicians responsible for popularising freedom fries”, felt the war was a mistake. I helped kill 4,000 Americans, and I will go to my grave regretting that,” he said in 2015.

So it’s surprising that some restaurants are still using the name on their menus. Looking at Postmates and Yelp, I found around 30 restaurants in the US that are still selling them (and, weirdly, one in the Philippines). I called some of them up to see what their deal was. 

Interviews have been lightly edited for length and clarity. 

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Firehouse BBQ, Soldotna, Alaska

Why do you call the fries freedom fries”?

Terry Johnston, owner: Because when I was overseas that’s what we called them over there.

Were you in the military?

Yes.

So there’s no particular aversion to the French on your end?

Well, yeah, I’m not a big French fan. You could say that. 

Why not?

Well, because I’ve had issues in France with the French. I’m just not a big fan of them. I don’t like the way they were overseas when I dealt with them. 

People that you served with?

Yeah.

What was the issue you had with them?

I just didn’t care for them. 

Do you think that France was right to not support the invasion of Iraq?

Do I think they were right? No. I’ve never been a big fan of the French. That’s why I don’t shop at Target. I don’t like them. I don’t like France. So we just call them freedom fries”. 

Is Target a French company?

Yes, it is. [Editor’s note: it’s not.]

Oh, I didn’t know that. 

Yeah. They support gay and lesbian fundraisers in their parking lot but they won’t let the boy scouts or POW/​MIA have fundraisers in their parking lot. 

Is that because –

Because they’re French? I don’t know. You’d have to take that up with them.

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Portofino Pizzeria & Deli Restaurant, Long Beach, California

Why are your fries called freedom fries” rather than French fries”?

Gonzalo Zuviria, manager: It’s been like that for a long time. I just found out maybe two months ago why, and it was because of the Iraq war, and how the French pulled out. 

Do you ever get people commenting on them?

Someone commented on them for the first time [two months ago]. They asked if I knew why it was called that and I said no and they explained it to me. 

So you didn’t name them yourself?

No, the people who named it were the original owners and they’re no longer here. I’m pretty sure the only reason it’s never been changed back is out of pure laziness. If I’m being honest, no one’s ever thought about changing it back until you mentioned it right now. 

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HK’s Bar and Grill, Rancho Cucamonga, California

Are you aware of the history of freedom fries” and how they got their name?

Karl James, co-owner: There’s really no particular thing to it. It’s just that we support our military. So we fly an American flag, we fly a blue line flag which is police and military. We support all that. Anything to do with freedom. That’s kind of how the name [freedom fries] came up. 

The original freedom fries came about when France wouldn’t support the US during the Iraq war. Does it date back that far?

It doesn’t have anything to do with that. It’s just a name that we use for it. A lot of people, like McDonald’s, call them French fries”. We just call them freedom fries”. 

So you have no aversion to France?

No. No particular political statement or anything. It’s just what we’ve always called them since the day we opened. 

How long have you guys been open?

Since 2013.

  • Yankee Doodle’s Cafe    Yankee Doodle’s Cafe    Yankee Doodle’s Cafe    Yankee Doodle’s Cafe    Yankee Doodle’s Cafe    Yankee Doodle’s Cafe    Yankee Doodle’s Cafe    Yankee Doodle’s Cafe    Yankee Doodle’s Cafe    Yankee Doodle’s Cafe    Yankee Doodle’s Cafe    Yankee Doodle’s Cafe    Yankee Doodle’s Cafe    Yankee Doodle’s Cafe    Yankee Doodle’s Cafe    Yankee Doodle’s Cafe    Yankee Doodle’s Cafe    Yankee Doodle’s Cafe    Yankee Doodle’s Cafe    Yankee Doodle’s Cafe   

Yankee Doodle’s Cafe, Alpine, Wyoming

How come you guys call them freedom fries” rather than French fries”?

Alicia Trujillo, co-owner: It’s just because we’re an all-American restaurant. So we call them freedom fries”. 

Are there other menu items that have different names to make them all-American?

Yeah, we have American toast, and American dip. 

Most places changed the name to freedom fries” when France wouldn’t back up the US during the Iraq war. Do you know if that’s the reason you guys changed?

We just bought it two years ago and that’s what they called it, the people that owned it previously. We have all American stuff everywhere. Everything’s red, white, and blue. 

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Anglea’s Restaurant, Tacoma, Washington

You have freedom fries” and freedom toast” on your menu, correct?

John Fraizer, owner: That’s correct. 

Why?

I guess, probably back during the first Gulf War, the French government wouldn’t allow our government to fly over their area and so that was just my own little protest, I guess. The customers really liked it, that’s the real reason I went that way. 

Why have you stuck with it until now? 

The customers like it, that’s the reason. 

Has anyone ever gotten annoyed about it?

I’ve had a few people say they wouldn’t eat here for that reason. I’ve had a lot of compliments, a lot of comments. Sometimes it’s not bad to have little talks about things.

It’s good to get people talking, I suppose. 

Yeah, because honestly I’m a little bit of an instigator, so if you’re a Republican I’ll be a Democrat and if you’re a Democrat I’ll be a Republican. Just because I like people to think about what they’re going to say when they say things. And I don’t begrudge anybody because of their party line. That’s your choice. I have tonnes of customers here that don’t think you have that choice. 

Do you not identify as a Republican or a Democrat?

I do not.

Do you vote?

Absolutely I do. I’ll tell you a story right now, my dad, when I was a young man, 18 years old, he asked if I was going to vote and I said, Why would I vote? My vote doesn’t count.” No your vote does count,” he told me. I said, I don’t know anything, I’m not educated, I don’t know how to vote.” And he said, Here’s what you’ve got to do, you need to read as much as you can, listen to as much as you can, then you try to vote for the one who’s going to steal the least from you, because you know they’re all going to steal from you.” That’s been my motto for 50 years now. 


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