Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Abominable: A Light-Hearted Look at French-American Relations

Merriam-Webster describes the word “abominable” in the following way: worthy of or causing disgust or hatred: detestable. Interestingly enough, the word is spelled the same way and means the same thing in French. If I had to give abominable a face, it would look like the face of my 2nd grade classmate, Stacey Johnson, when I told her at the swing set one day that my parents and I ate snails for dinner the previous night. It was not that dissimilar from the look my father gave me when he bit into his first chili cheese dog with extra onions from 7-Eleven. I’ve always been a big fan of liquid orange cheese dispensed from a pump. My dad not so much.

What’s complicated about how the French and Americans find each other mutually abominable is how the feeling comes and goes. In the early days of U.S. History, during the American Revolution and its afterglow, many Americans looked to the French for enlightenment. 

One of the leaders of this francophilia was none other than Thomas Jefferson who served as Minister to France from 1785 to 1789 and urged support for France, even during the unsavory Reign of Terror. It’s been well documented that Jefferson was a lover of all things French, including French food. In 1802, Jefferson may have inadvertently launched the single most important culinary adaptation in U.S. history when he had “potatoes served in the French manner” at a White House dinner. Jump forward 200 years, and the tables are completely turned when U.S. Congress officially changes the name “French Fries” in Congressional cafeterias to “Freedom Fries” to contradict France because of its distaste for the invasion of Iraq.

When I contemplated the food of my childhood, there was no doubt that I had loved some of my father’s dishes: Cassoulet, Quenelles, Beef Bourguignon, Ratatouille, Moules Marinieres. These are just some of the legendary French classics he served that you’ll find in the great French cookbooks by Escoffier, Bocuse, Ducasse and which were later replayed by francophiles such as Julia Child.

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