Belgians Seek UNESCO Protection for Fries & Mayo

An artisanal mayonnaise maker amplifies a national push for greasy recognition.

By Ethan L. Johns
June 04, 2018

Image: Shutterstock

Look out, French fries; Belgium is coming to reclaim you. And this time, they want it to be legally binding.

Tired of seeing its golden-brown treasures mislabeled and misattributed, Belgians are taking yet another stand to have the world recognize their ownership of the fried potato stick. They say, according to a petition launched in May, that mayonnaise, in addition to frites and the culture of the fritkot (a shack or truck that serves them) belongs to Belgium and Belgium alone, and requests that UNESCO recognize it as intangible cultural heritage.

Though Belgians have been requesting this recognition for years, this latest initiative comes six months after the French Community of Belgium’s Minister of Culture recognized the fritkot as a masterpiece of oral and immaterial heritage—an endorsement that is required in order to be considered by the UN organization.

The petition push, made by condiment company Natura, is a blatant marketing ploy for its natural, artisanal mayonnaise. Yet recognition by UNESCO’s Representative List of Intangible Cultural Heritage also requires rallying cries and motivation of the masses to fight for their practices.

For example, before “Art of Neapolitan ‘Pizzaiuolo’” was recognized in 2017, the nomination procedure included participation on social media forums, educational efforts with primary schools and a petition that was signed by over a million Neapolitans.

In addition to protection benefits (and occasionally funding) for the continuation of intangible heritage, being added to the UNESCO list also adds a certain degree of legitimacy to a cultural practice. This is particularly important to Belgians, who see the term “French fry” as an affront to their very gastronomic existence. Blame that one on the Americans.

In order to be considered “traditional and authentic,” Belgian frites from a frikot must be made using potatoes from Wallonia and must sell them in paper cones or cardboard barquettes for customers to take away.

So far, Natura’s petition has about 600 signatures, and so is not likely to make a whole lot of difference. But the wheels have already been set in motion, and only time will tell if the French fry legally becomes the Belgian fry.

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About Ethan L. Johns

Ethan is the Food News Writer at Genius Kitchen. An expert on the Parisian bistrot, he likes bitters and salted butters, and is no fan of dessert unless it's made with fruit. His hobbies include reading up on the history of borscht and attempting to roll perfect couscous by hand. Twits & Instagram @EthanLJohns