PARIS—With talks collapsing at the 11th hour, Franco-American relations hit an all-time low Monday, casting the future of Spaghetti-Os-brand canned pasta in serious doubt.
"Thus far, three months of negotiations have yielded bitter fruit," French minister of foods Guy Charpentier said. "Despite concessionary offers from both sides, no acceptable compromise has been reached on a number of key issues, including sauce tanginess, sodium levels, and pasta-ring size. As a result, the sort of friendly Franco-American partnership necessary to produce the neat, round spaghetti one can eat with a spoon may no longer be possible."
U.S. Canned Goods Secretary James Miller echoed Charpentier's sentiments with a terse, "Uh-oh... Spaghetti-Os are in grave jeopardy."
An ambitious Franco-American joint venture, Spaghetti-Os have been a source of tension between France and the U.S. since August, when the 10-year accord governing its production expired. U.S. delegates have refused to renew the pact unless numerous revisions are made, including a 60-40 split of profits.
"We contribute a majority of the ingredients, including all of the thiamine mononitrate, ferrous sulfate, and enzyme-modified butter—not to mention all the paper for the labels—so we should get a majority of the proceeds," Miller said.
At 11 a.m. Monday, operations at L'Usine Des Os, the world's largest Spaghetti-Os manufacturing plant, ground to a halt, leaving the world with as little as a week's supply of Spaghetti-Os in reserve. Meanwhile, French efforts to replace the O-shaped pasta with plain, easier-to-produce long spaghetti have proven fruitless, with the U.S. threatening to withhold Ravioli-Os from French supermarkets if there is an "embarg-O."
The international dispute casts a pall over the proud and storied history of Spaghetti-Os. A symbol of trans-Atlantic friendship dating back to 1965, the canned lunchtime staple began as a cooperative effort between U.S. president Lyndon Johnson and French president Charles de Gaulle, who shared the conviction that the convenient pasta meal was a delicious and nutritious way to maintain good Franco-American relations.
From 1965 to 1968, a panel of top U.S. food engineers painstakingly developed the four sizes of Os while France's most esteemed chefs developed the distinctive tomato-and-cheese sauce. Unveiling Spaghetti-Os at a White House dinner, Johnson hailed the breakthrough as "the zesty, flavorful glue that holds our two nations together in peace." Subsequent development of meatball and sliced-frank varieties of the product only added to its enduring mythos.
After years of mutual amity, however, the Age Of Spaghetti-Os may have finally come to an end. More fuel was added to the fire earlier this month, when U.N. Secretary Of Quick-Heating Prepared Foods Stefan Fredriksen openly questioned the Franco-American venture in the November issue of Bon Appetit.
"In an age when Kellogg's Pop Tarts™ are being dropped on the impoverished people of Afghanistan, the notion that the U.S. and France would devote so much of their resources to the production of circular spaghetti is ludicrous," Fredriksen said.
In a stopgap attempt to alleviate the crisis, Italian minister of cuisine Hector Boyardee offered the Franco-American alliance an emergency airlift of "ABCs & 123s"-brand pre-cooked pasta. French officials declined the offer, however, due to their American counterparts' insistence on pronouncing "123s" "one, two, threes" rather than "un, deux, troises." In a recent speech to European convenience-food authorities, French President Jacques Chirac also preemptively rejected any Italian offer of pasta shaped like Spider-Man™.