Interview with Jose Bove

Interview with Jose Bove

January 6, 2002

Unhappy Meals

Antonio Ribeiro/Gamma

Your activism -- against a local McDonald's, most famously -- has
made you a national hero in France. But it has also gotten you in
trouble. Last month you were sentenced to six months in jail for
helping to destroy genetically modified rice plants. What are you
trying to accomplish?

Listen, the best answer I can give you is that when the future of the
human race is in jeopardy due to bad decisions -- like the decision to
develop genetically modified plants -- and when debate doesn't solve
the problem, you're obliged to disobey the law. The example I follow
is that of Henry David Thoreau, one of the first to apply the
principle of civil disobedience.

In your new book, ''The World Is Not for Sale: Farmers Against Junk
Food,'' you call genetic modification a ''technique of tyranny.'' What
do you mean by that?

The moment you have G.M. seeds in a field, the other fields around it
are inevitably going to be contaminated. You can't grow conventional
corn next to the genetically modified stuff. The same with soybeans.
This imposes on all farmers a single kind of agriculture that is
contrary to the natural biodiversity. So the technique itself is

The press has portrayed your attack on McDonald's as a kind of
anti-Americanism. But you dispute that claim.

Of course. The same thing that is happening in the United States is
happening in France and everywhere else: big conglomerates are trying
to standardize food production and consumption to their exclusive
advantage. It's not at all a question of the company's national

Perhaps Americans just get defensive, because the French always seem
to think their culture is so, well, superior.

That's one of the problems with the United States. Criticism directed
at a particular issue is automatically taken as a global criticism of
the United States and its population. There's this impulse to justify
and defend everything without realizing that it's through debate that
people begin to understand each other.

Do you ever eat fast food yourself? Have you ever had a Big Mac?

No. It's not the kind of food I like.

How do you know it's so bad if you've never had it?

I know how the hamburgers are made. I know where the meat comes from.
I know what kind of vegetables are used and how they're cultivated. I
know how everything is formatted and industrialized. This kind of food
has absolutely no relation to what I consider food to be. Food is
something that's different every time, that varies from place to

So you avoid fast food not on political principle but because you
don't like the way it tastes?

It's everything: the desire of these multinationals to impose this
kind of food on the entire planet, their social organization in which
employees are treated like pawns, their way of destroying local
agriculture. Taste is one reason but not the only one.

How do you explain the fact that millions of people all over the world
seem to love the stuff?

The paradox is that in the United States, more and more people are
trying other options. In some countries where fast food is taking off,
I think there's a sense of buying into the American dream. People
don't realize that in the United States, fast food is nobody's dream

Don't you have a weakness for any kind of junk food? I eat quite well,
but I do have a weakness for French fries.

French fries are not necessarily bad for you. It depends on the kind
of potatoes you use.

What do you do when you're stuck for hours in an airport?

Even in airports, there are places where you can eat more or less

McDonald's just announced it has bought the rights to use the French
cartoon figure Asterix in ads in France. You've often been compared to
Asterix, a symbol of Gallic independence who also happens to have a
handlebar moustache. Did you take McDonald's action personally?

Well, I don't think it's an accident that they did this.

Any truth to the rumors that you were planning to run for president?

No. Those were false rumors put out by people who thought I could
present an alternative. But I'd rather devote my energy to developing
political opposition than to trying to unite the votes of the

Before we go, one last question: It's lunch time in France. What are
you going to eat?


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