France’s Golden Arch-enemy?

“We have nothing against the Americans. It’s the American system we’ve had enough of – all that bad food makes for bad thinking.” Did she ever eat at McDonald’s? “Well, sometimes I have no choice. And I get a stomach ache.”

The Toronto Star
July 1, 2000

France’s Golden Arch-enemy?
Compatriots lend support to farmer accused of trashing McDonald’s
Charles TrueHeart

MILLAU, France – To hear the defendants and the 20,000 supporters who packed this little town tell it and yell it, the criminal trial that opened here yesterday was not really about 10 local men charged with trashing a McDonald’s. Not, it was farm vs. city, authentic food vs. junk food, local vs. global, France vs. the United States

“We’re making it the trial of globalization,” declared one of dozens of unnamed partisans pumping up the crowds in the sunny Millau town square before the trial started.

And no need, really, for the trial.

“The verdict is already in,” the speaker said. “No to the World Trade Organization. No to globalization.”

The man a the centre of this unusual spectacle, a sheep farmer and long-time rural activist named, was borne into the cheering, whistling crowd on a hay wagon – yet another symbol of the worldwide struggle he has helped to crystallize.

A CSA-Le Parisien poll released yesterday showed broad support in France for Bove. President Jacques Chirac and Prime Minister Lionel Jospin have cozied up to the jovial 47-year-old farmer with the oversized moustache. In taking a stand against all that McDonald’s stand for, he appears to have tapped into a swell of public discontent over a range from genetically modified food to plain bad food.

“The party is wonderful. WE must continue our fight this weekend with joy,” Bove declared before being propelled with his co-defendants through the throng and into the courthouse.

The 10 defendants, members of the Peasant Confederation charged with wrecking the restaurant while it was still under construction here last Aug. 12, have brought 17 witnesses, including activists form around the world, to speak for them in court. A verdict could come by summer’s end.

The “symbolic dismantling,” in Bove’s words, of the McDonald’s outlet resulted in the more than $150,000 in damages, according to the restaurant chain. Alain Soulie, a co-defendant, explained to a French newspaper that the event had been a “a festive dismantling with collateral damage.”

Those charged face as much as five years in jail and a $100,000 fine if convicted. Bove has warned of trouble if that happens.

“People will go on the streets across France and cause serious damage to the government,” he warned.

The famous restaurant – now completed – is closed today, as it was yesterday. It stood encircled by busloads of French security forces. No violence was reported.

Unlike his nine co-defendants, Bove spent 19 days in jail after his arrest, refusing to post bond. In custody he also has himself photographed, smiling, handcuffed wrists held in the air.

The cuffed wrists have become his symbol: The most popular T-shirt selling here today shows the glove open in the form of a huge jaw, and from its maw protrude the familiar arms in manacles, keeping the teeth from snapping shut.

The slogan on the T-shirt: “The world is not merchandise, and neither am I.”

Despite nine months of angry protest against the French criminal justice system, Bove and his friends have enjoyed international attention they could not have anticipated when they singled out the Golden Arches for a protest action.

Bove’s beef last August was specific, local and personal.

Retaliating against Europe for banning imports of hormone-treated U.S. beef, the U.S. government had just imposed 100 per cent tariffs on certain French and other European specialty products such as foie gras, mustard and Roquefort cheese. On a farm near here, Bove raises sheep whose milk is used to make the Roquefort, which is cooled in cellars to ferment the cheese’s bitter veins.

Said one young protester, Sylvie Monot: “We have nothing against the Americans. It’s the American system we’ve had enough of – all that bad food makes for bad thinking.”

Did she ever eat at McDonald’s?

“Well, sometimes I have no choice. And I get a stomach ache.”

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