In a strange turn of events that reflects America’s future as a horror show of the dumbest proportions, you may have heard that a North Carolina man traveled to a Washington, DC pizza establishment over the weekend and fired shots because he was convinced by fake news that the pizza establishment was a front for a child sex ring run for Hillary Clinton.
Of course the notion of this is absolutely absurd and an insidious lie disprovable by anyone not too lazy to check snopes.com, but it was spread throughout the election as fact by fake news sites and eventually came to be known as #Pizzagate. No one was hurt in the incident at the pizza parlor in question, called Comet Ping Pong, and the perpetrator—Edgar Maddison Welch—was arrested. But one lesser concern is that the reputation of pizza itself is at stake, particularly after some members of the liberal media cheekily promoted pizza as a desirable foodstuff of protest in this current climate.
Cute jokes, fellas, but it reminds us of another time in the recent past in which absurdist rampant jingoism led to the vilification of a perfectly good junkfood: the Freedom Fries incident of 2003, in which a leading House Republican renamed French Fries on the menus of three separate cafeterias because he was pissed that France did not want to go to war with Iraq.
Painful as it is to revisit this absolutely stupid aspect of our governmental past, it’s instructional for our already stupider aspect of our governmental future. And the origin of “Freedom Fries” also came from North Carolina—specifically from Neil Rowland, the owner of a restaurant called Cubbies, who was inspired by restaurants renaming “sauerkraut” as “liberty cabbage” during World War II. But whereas America was actually at war with Germany back then, Rowland’s big freedom fries idea came about after France decided it would not support the US in using force against Iraq—not that France had become our enemy, but decided to do its own thing, rightfully as it turned out.
Freedom fries! That really showed them. Nonetheless, the concept caught on, at least momentarily, and by March 2003 Walter B. Jones (R-NC) and Bob Ney (R-OH) had the dish altered in the Congressional cafeterias, with the added pointless renaming of “Freedom Toast.” By August of that year, the menus returned to normal; within three years, Ney would be charged with three felonies, including taking bribes, in the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal.
Language is important, and the erosion of it has been incremental over the course of nearly two decades, from post-2001 jingoistic rebranding—that, however silly, helped introduce a sliding scale of truthiness and self-righteousness—to the point at which the very platform of our democracy was undermined because of the easy dissemination of made-up conspiracies by Macedonian teens and cynical click farmers. Combined with new leaders all too comfortable in manipulating reality—“truthiness”—to justify their endgame, it’s a point where even the most ridiculous claims have dangerous implications.
But what we have to remember is that no one owns the idea of pizza. Pizza, like the United States in which it thrives, is meant for everyone, no matter their beliefs; even with ongoing regional pizza wars about the proper way to make and eat it, it’s understood that everyone is on the same side, and that side is the side of pizza. As desperate as the InfoWars crowd is to co-opt its meaning, it will never be diminished. Pizza is a great American pastime, and no matter what it’s called or who is falsely implicated in the slander of it, it will always be that.