Thursday, January 29, 2009

Freedom Fromage

I almost didn't believe this story the first time I heard it. A 300% duty on France's prized Roquefort? That can't be true. Oh, but it is. The news of a last minute War on Cheese declared by the Bush administration started out as a small, nearly overlooked sound bite. Now that the DC power transition is complete and things have settled down, the Roquefort issue is growing into a big stinking mess. With an insanely high duty now in effect, the U.S. market for this, the most famous of the blue cheeses, has been effectively shut down. French officials, American gastronomes and villagers from the tiny provincial town that has been the sole owner of the rights to produce Roquefort since 1411 are crying foul.

The reason for the duty? Payback for years of European Union refusal to import American beef that has been treated with growth hormones. If that sounds childish to you, it's because it is. Frankly, I think the Europeans have a right to avoid beef that they feel might not be safe. But forget the Europeans, what about us? The poor Americans who have now been told they can't eat a delicious French cheese? It's not like the ban on American beef prevents Europeans from eating any beef at all. They still produce their own supply of steaks, ribs and burgers. Not to mention the fact that they can import from other non-growth hormone sources. And it's not that we don't want to eat Roquefort the way Europeans don't want to eat growth hormone beef. Au contraire! Plenty of Americans love digging into that blue, moldy goodness. I'm not a huge fan of it myself, but I love other French cheeses enough to fully understand the attachment one can have to one's favorite aged dairy product. Americans do not (cannot, actually) produce their own Roquefort. If we can't get it from France, we simply can't get it at all.

The duty didn't stop at Roquefort. Lots of other edible treats from Europe - Irish oatmeal, foie gras, Italian sparkling water - have also had their prices artificially raised. Not as much as Roquefort, but raised just the same. Why punish the American consumer? We're just trying to diversify our diets. Besides, this totally lame, "nah nah nah boo boo" move isn't winning us any points for maturity around the world. As far as I'm concerned, the last thing this country needs is to get on someone's badside for something so silly as a food fight.

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