Brandishing his knife with elan, Philippe Folliot scrapes the Roquefort cheese from his plate, spreads it on a piece of crusty bread and takes a bite.
"Roquefort is made from the milk of only one breed of sheep, it is made in only one place in France, and it is made in only one special way," Folliot explains. "It is the opposite of globalization. Coca-Cola you can buy anywhere in the world and it is exactly the same."
From his perch as mayor of the southwestern French village of St. Pierre-de-Trivisy, population 610, Folliot is fighting for Roquefort cheese -- and against the Americanization of Europe. His weapon: a tax on Coca-Cola.
Last month, the United States imposed 100 percent tariffs on a range of European food and luxury products, Roquefort cheese among them, in retaliation for Europe's refusal to drop its ban on American beef raised with growth hormones.
Last Saturday, Folliot and the St. Pierre-de-Trivisy town council responded with a 100 percent "tax" on bottles of Coke sold at the town campground and recreation center, doubling the price from $1.60 to $3.20. They vowed the tax would stay until the United States lifts its tariffs on Roquefort, which is produced only in this region of southwestern France.
Elsewhere in France, and in Europe, there have been other anti-tariff protests against Coca-Cola, as well as McDonald's restaurants, another symbol of U.S. ubiquity, in this latest in a series of trade conflicts between the United States and the 15-nation European Union.
A crepe restaurant in Dijon mustard country -- mustard also was a victim of the U.S. trade sanctions -- imposed its own tax on Coca-Cola. Demonstrators protested in front of the McDonald's on the Champs-Elysees in Paris. In nearby Millau, members of a small Roquefort producers' union ransacked a McDonald's. Four people were arrested. And in Auch, foie gras producers blocked the entrance to the McDonald's there for a few hours.
"They wanted to mark their disagreement with the tariffs," said Franck Boutaric, manager of the McDonald's in Auch. "McDonald's is the most visible American symbol. This action was symbolic but not really justified because our products are 100 percent French or European."
St. Pierre's town council members had economic reasons for imposing the Coca-Cola tax, even if it is largely symbolic. St. Pierre's 10 ewe's milk farmers are a crucial part of the town's fragile economy, and the higher tariffs -- which were imposed in July and effectively doubled the U.S. price of the French products -- will reduce Roquefort exports to the United States.
But they also were standing up for France, and things French. They were standing up for food -- natural food, pure food, French food. And, by inference, the French way of life.
"In this corner of France, on our little mountain, eating is not just to live. It is conviviality, family, business," Folliot said over a lunch of foie gras, pike, duck breast, cheese, sorbet and a pungent local red wine. "We have a saying around here: Decisions are always made between the cheese course and the dessert."
To those protesting the U.S. tariffs, it does not seem to matter that the World Trade Organization has ruled that the EU cannot block hormone-treated beef from the United States or Canada, and that those countries have the right to impose retaliatory tariffs. Nor does it matter that in 11 years of research the EU has not been able to produce one persuasive scientific study showing that hormones added to beef are harmful to human health.
What is important, as Folliot and his fellow protesters see it, is that the Americans want to make the French eat food they do not want to eat.
"My personal opinion is that this has been imposed on us," said Jean-Louis Cavailles, a St. Pierre sheep farmer who every day of the seven-month Roquefort season must milk 300 ewes. "Today it's ewe's milk, tomorrow it's meat, then someday it's fruits and vegetables."
Viewed from here, the U.S. government's decision seems arbitrary -- why penalize Roquefort when it has nothing to do with beef? -- and petty. Surely, residents say, the Americans have better things to do than drive French family farmers out of business. (While exports to the United States account for only 4 percent of total annual Roquefort production, the profit margins of the town's farmers are thin.)
"It's like the war against Yugoslavia: We have the impression we are victims of collateral damage," Folliot said.
The village took action against Coke because it could not think of any other way to express its displeasure. The French government cannot retaliate because the EU speaks for it on trade, and the EU has run out of avenues of protest. Discussions between the United States and the EU on possible compromises, such as labeling hormone-treated beef, have been tried, but a solution is not expected this year.
Folliot has nothing against the United States. He doesn't want to ban Coke outright, and other Coca-Cola drinks sold at the campground have not been taxed. He picked Coke, he said, because "it is a symbol of the American multinational that wants to uniformize taste all over the planet. That's what we are against."
Compare that with Roquefort, a cheese that has enjoyed a special government designation since 1411, that can only be called Roquefort if it is ripened in the caves of the town of Roquefort itself, down the road from St. Pierre. That is what will be lost, in Folliot's view, if the Americans are allowed to impose their mass-produced food on people all over the world.
The only winners, in the meantime, will be the less well-off in the region of St. Pierre. Any revenue collected by the Coke tax will go to buy Roquefort cheese, which will be donated to a local soup kitchen.
Researcher Daphne Benoit in Paris contributed to this report.