George Graham

American Image Abroad Takes Another Hit – Over Mustard

My sister-in-law Faye, who lives in London, Ontario, phoned me yesterday with troubling news. She was reading her hometown newspaper and came across a column ridiculing American politics. The writer was not looking askance at the revelations of Bush-era “enhanced interrogation” or lamenting the civilians killed by those U.S. drones in Pakistan. The topic was Dijongate.

burgerYou are probably aware of Dijongate, but just in case you’ve been hiking in Alaska for the past week or so, I’ll bring you up to speed. President Obama and Vice President Joe Biden recently made an impromptu stop at a burger joint in Arlington, Va., and the President asked for Dijon mustard on his hamburger. You remember those Grey Poupon commercials a few years ago? Where the guy in the Rolls Royce peeks out of his window to ask if another motorist has that brand of Dijon mustard?

Normally, that’s not much of a news story. Presidents eat. Sometimes they eat hamburgers. Sometimes thay put mustard on their hamburgers. And, historically, Dijon, in eastern France, is considered the mustard capital of the world.  The French are rather passionate about their mustard and have strict laws controlling the use of the Dijon label. So when you ask for Dijon mustard, you can be fairly confident about its taste, unlike some of the other yellow stuff you see on the counters of burger joints. To me, that kind of caution is just what I would expect from a careful guy like Barack.

But the President’s preference for Dijon has set off a hot debate in America, with Fox News and a conservative blogger leading the charge against the president and the “liberal” media (and blogosphere) rushing to his defense.  And this tempest in a mustard jar is making the U.S. look rather silly to the rest of the world.

The column that caught Faye’s attention was written by Lee-Anne Goodman of the Canadian Press, and appeared in newspapers across Canada. Ms. Goodman opened by declaring:

The United States is in the midst of a devastating recession, mired in two overseas wars and grappling with a swine flu outbreak, but conservative critics are assailing President Barack Obama on another pressing issue: his choice of burger topping.

Ms. Goodman noted that Fox News and conservative bloggers were accusing MSNBC of a “cover-up” in connection with the burger incident. “There’s no evidence of wiretapped hotel rooms or a Deep Throat lurking in the shadows, but there are indeed accusations of a coverup,” she said. “MSNBC, apparently, edited out the president’s request for Dijon in order to help Obama maintain his “man of the people” street cred.” Here’s more from the syndicated column:

Fox’s Sean Hannity has been telling his viewers that MSNBC – and reporter Andrea Mitchell in particular – are trying to hide Obama’s Dijon-loving ways from the public.

Hannity has been referring to the President’s lunch as his “fancy burger.”

“It was Grey Poupon, which is equally snotty,” alleged one commenter on Hannity’s website.

William Jacobson, a Cornell law school professor who has also been blogging about Dijongate, noted that Mitchell “didn’t mention one arugula-like fact” about Obama’s order earlier this week at Ray’s Hell Burger in Arlington, Va.

Surely, I don’t have to explain the arugula reference. That was the topic of exhaustive discourse during the Presidential campaign, when Obama’s critics were trying to convince voters that his choice of salad ingredients was “elitist.” You might even remember how  Republicans torpedoed John Kerry’s candidacy by (among many other sneaky tricks) pointing out his “French” taste. And you might also recall Bush Administration folks trying to change “french fries” to “freedom fries” when France balked at joining America’s Iraq misadventure. So, you will see the political danger in Obama being perceived as a francophile in this xenophobic country.

But, ironically, despite the French name, the seeds from almost all Dijon mustard – and actually most mustard in the world – are grown in western Canada today. And, it might surprise some Americans to learn that Western Canadians don’t speak French.

About the author


I am a Jamaican-born writer who has lived and worked in Canada and the United States. I live in Lakeland, Florida with my wife, Sandra, our three cats and two dogs. I like to play golf and enjoy our garden, even though it's a lot of work. Since retiring from newspaper reporting I've written a few books. I also write a monthly column for