In 1999, when the French peasant leader José Bové trashed a McDonald's under construction near Montpellier, so becoming a national and, soon, international resistance hero, one motive for his virtuous vandalism was cheese. The Americans had unilaterally imposed trade restrictions on the excellent local Roquefort, and, if there was going to be no Roquefort in the US, there was no reason to tolerate the 'McMerde' double bacon cheeseburger in France. American multinational muck was malbouffe: bad to eat, bad for the peasant farmers in la France profonde who produced the proper stuff, bad for France. The sentiment was popular, and that's why Bové spent only six weeks in jail, and why Lionel Jospin called his action 'just': the defence of fine French food against American anti-cuisine was recognised as a moral act. Invited by Ralph Nader later that year to the demonstrations against the World Trade Organisation in Seattle, Bové underlined the point, smuggling some unpasteurised Roquefort past American customs officers and posing for the cameras eating a Roquefort sandwich in front of a local McDonald's, which was duly vandalised in its turn. 'You are what you eat,' Bové said, 'where you live and what you do. We are peasants and citizens, not shareholders, not servile slaves at the mercy of agribusiness.' The peasant-shepherd - the Astérixian champion of local food - has become world-famous, and you can download his dicta in defence of localism from that least local of media, the World Wide Web.
LRB 20 November 2003 | PDF Download