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Wednesday, March 12

French fries? Mais non, Congress calls em freedom fries

By Greg Wright

WASHINGTON - Want french fries on Capitol Hill? Better change that order to "freedom fries."

On Tuesday, Ohio Republican Robert Ney unilaterally ordered the word "french" removed from congressional cafeteria menus to protest Frances refusal to back the United States in war against Iraq. The directive from Ney, House Administration Committee chairman, affects three Capitol Hill cafeterias that sell french fries and five that offer french toast, which now will be dubbed "freedom toast."

Ironically, Ney is of French descent. He also lives in an Ohio town with the very French-sounding name of St. Clairsville. But Ney said he had no qualms about changing the menu to show support for 250,000 U.S. troops sent to the Middle East preparing to fight Iraq.

"The French government is pure wrong," he said. "Its a wonderful gesture to tell our troops overseas that were behind them."

The move to strike the French from fast-food joints and restaurants might have began in February in another French-sounding town, Beaufort, N.C. Neal Rowland, owner of Cubbies restaurant in the coastal town of about 4,000, was so angry at Frances refusal to support a U.S. war resolution at the United Nations that he transformed french fries into freedom fries on his menu.

Rep. Walter Jones, R-N.C., circulated a letter among lawmakers asking for a similar action in congressional eateries.

Ney thought that was a good idea. So did several people who stopped for lunch at the Longworth House Office Building cafeteria Tuesday.

Nancy White of New Bern, N.C., whose 21-year-old son, Army Pvt. James White, is in Kuwait, planned to send photos of Ney and Jones to her sons unit via e-mail.

"It shows our country and our House of Representatives care," she said.

Bob Dillinger, a lawyer from Clearwater, Fla., complained that thousands of U.S. soldiers died to defend France in World War I and World War II. The least the French could do is show support for America in the fight against terrorism, he said.

"I think its a good thing," he said of the renaming. "I wont drink Grey Goose (vodka) because its French."

But French Embassy officials in Washington said the move was more ridiculous than insulting. The embassy gets 200 to 800 phones calls a day from Americans about the Iraq war, spokeswoman Nathalie Loiseau said. Most support the French.

"Its exactly a non-issue," Loiseau said of the menu change in Congress. "We focus on the serious issues."

Fries in France arent French anyway. Theyre les pommes frites, which literally translates to fried apples. Potatoes, unfried, are apples of the earth, les pommes de terre. And Loiseau said the crispy potato side dish originated in Belgium, not France.

Ney is not the only lawmaker protesting France, which has been an ally of the United States since the Revolutionary War.

Rep. Jim Saxton, R-N.J., introduced a bill banning the Defense Department from participating in air shows in France for the next four years. House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., also is considering legislation against French wine and mineral water.

Some Americans said Ney is overreacting.

"I think its goofy," said Lorraine Kelly of Clearwater, Fla., who was eating lunch with Dillinger. "I love to eat french fries."

Dillinger corrected her: "You mean freedom fries."