Salisbury steak and freedom fries


I was reading a book on food the other day, as I often do. It wasn’t a recipe book, but a dictionary and leafing through its pages I came onto Salisbury steak. For those who don’t know this, a Salisbury steak is simply a hamburger patty, sometimes served with gravy. During the Second World War, Americans weren’t too keen on eating anything that sounded vaguely German, and so the humble burger was renamed after James Salisbury, a barmy 19th Century physician who maintained that the way to achieve good health was by eating three well cooked beef patties a day. He recommended that these be washed down with several glasses of hot water and that the intake of fruit and vegetables should be limited. Today, many snazzy American restaurants that could never admit to serving burgers have Salisbury steak on the menu.


A euphemism for sauerkraut also appeared at the time of WWII. Liberty cabbage sounded…well… less German. Frankfurters became hotdogs, and, unrelated to food, German Shepherds were dubbed Alsatians. No one had German measles anymore. Instead, they now had liberty measles.


More recently, after Jacques Chirac famously told GW Bush “Non” regarding the invasion of Iraq, French fries and French dressing were dropped for a while on American menus and replaced with freedom fries and liberty dressing. It started with Cubbie’s, a small restaurant In North Carolina that proudly declared on its window: “Because of Cubbie’s support for our troops, we no longer serve French fries. We now serve freedom fries.” Others followed suit, as did the cafeterias in the House of Representatives. Never mind that French fries are Belgian in origin. Even Reckitt Benkiser, makers of French’s mustard had to place ads saying “There is nothing more American than French’s mustard”. One of their websites notes that French’s Dijon mustard “the first truly American Dijon made for American tastes” is “as American as apple pie.” Ah yes, apple pie, first made by the Pennsylvania Dutch (who were German) and based on the German apfelkuchen and, perhaps, the French tarte aux pommes.


Had Tony Blair not confessed his undying love for Mr Bush, English muffins might have been renamed liberty muffins. Similarly, thanks to Denmark’s participation in the “coalition of the willing” we were spared from the cream cheese freedom pastry.


To be fair, many, perhaps most, Americans found the euphemisms ridiculous. And of course, the Americans are not the only ones to have waged their wars with words. During WWII, the Japanese replaced American baseball terms with home grown ones and a 1941 edition of the Escoffier cook book called the Vichyssoise a Crème Gauloise to avoid any connections that would be made to the Vichy government, rightly unpopular because of its collaboration with the Nazis.


On our little island the war with words continues. Here we do not produce Turkish delights but Cyprus delights or Yeroskipou delights. I’m also not sure whether to call that hot cup of strong sludgy coffee a Turkish coffee, Greek coffee or Cypriot coffee. Fortunately, since I’m not too fond of it, this is a good excuse to avoid drinking it.


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