A Beef With More Than Big Mac
- A Beef With More Than Big Mac
By Charles Trueheart
Washington Post Foreign Service
Saturday , July 1, 2000 ; A01
MILLAU, France, June 30 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 today was not
really about 10 local men charged with trashing a McDonald's.
No, it was farm v. city, authentic food v. junk food, local
v. global, France v. 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
The man at the center of this unusual spectacle, a sheep
farmer and longtime rural activist named Jose Bove, 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 today showed broad support in
France for Bove. Both President Jacques Chirac and Prime
Minister Lionel Jospin have cozied up to the jovial 47-year-old
farmer with the oversized mustache. In crusading against all
that McDonald's stands for, he appears to have tapped into a
deep well of public discontent over a range of ills 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 as it was still under construction
here last Aug. 12, have brought 17 witnesses, including activists
from 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 more than $100,000 worth of damage, according
to the restaurant chain. Alain Soulie, a co-defendant, explained
to a French newspaper that the event had been "a festive
dismantling with collateral damage."
Those charged face as much as five years' imprisonment and a
$73,000 fine if convicted. Although last week Bove said he
doubted they would be found guilty, he warned of trouble if
"People will go on the streets across France and cause serious
damage to the government," he warned.
Today and Saturday the famous restaurant--now completed--is
closed. It stood encircled by bus loads of French security
forces, on hand for the trial and possible violence. None was
"There is no question of taking French justice hostage," said
the presiding judge at the trial, Francois Mallet. "What happens
in the street does not interest the court."
Unlike his nine co-defendants, Bove spent 19 days in jail after
his arrest, refusing to post bond. In custody he also had himself
photographed, handcuffed wrists held in the air, a smile on his
face. The cuffed wrists have become his symbol: The most popular
T-shirt selling here today shows the globe 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. He has been quoted as
saying he could have embraced the young investigating magistrate,
Nathalie Marty, when he learned she had recommended charges be
brought against the Millau Ten.
"They handed this to us on a plate," commented a young Belgian
named Luc who drove through the night to join the crowd.
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 percent
tariffs on certain French, and other European, specialty products
such as foie gras, mustard and Roquefort cheese. On a farm near
here 50 miles northwest of Montpellier, Bove raises sheep whose
milk is used to make the Roquefort, which is cooled in cellars to
ferment the cheese's bitter veins.
Roquefort was as ubiquitous a presence here today as sandals and
backpacks. Hundreds of protesters lined up at the local sheep's
milk producers' association stand to buy a dab of Roquefort on a
bread crust and a cup of coarse local wine.
Chowing them down on the sidewalk nearby, a young woman named
Sylvie Monot said between bites: "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 stomachache. Every
The sacking of the McDonald's here was a loud pop on the fuse
that led to Seattle in November, when the World Trade Organization
meeting was besieged by a well-orchestrated rainbow of
anti-globalization, protectionist, environmentalist and other
demonstrators. More modest contingents of the same forces, feeling
their oats, confronted global pooh-bahs gathering at the World
Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, last winter and at the
International Monetary Fund-World Bank meeting in Washington in
They are now frequent unwanted visitors wherever the official
shepherds of the free market gather. Bove has often been among
them, a colorful talking head who speaks passable English after
spending a few years in California.
The gathering of the protest forces in this southwestern town at
the mouth of a dramatic mountain gorge--"Seattle-on-the-Tarn,"
the French media have dubbed it, referring to the Tarn River--
reflects the panoply of causes that seek the heat of the publicity
Bove has generated:
Housing activists, Greenpeace, anti-agribusiness protesters,
people fighting the Lyon-Toulouse superhighway, Young Communist
Revolutionaries, Occitan-language proponents, people protesting
the deaths of 58 Chinese refugees in a refrigerator truck in
England, the Young Christian Rural Movement, French public service
unions, anarchists and others.
The Website of Lord Weÿrdgliffe:
The Dan Clore Necronomicon Page:
"Tho-ag in Zhi-gyu slept seven Khorlo. Zodmanas
zhiba. All Nyug bosom. Konch-hog not; Thyan-Kam
not; Lha-Chohan not; Tenbrel Chugnyi not;
Dharmakaya ceased; Tgenchang not become; Barnang
and Ssa in Ngovonyidj; alone Tho-og Yinsin in
night of Sun-chan and Yong-grub (Parinishpanna),
-- The Book of Dzyan.