All The President’s Foods

Do politicians’ eating habits influence the products in the supermarket aisles?

Now that we have officially entered the presidential campaign season, it is time we got to the real issues impacting the grocery industry—what presidents and presidential hopefuls really like to eat.

Will it sway the election or give voters any insight into future domestic and foreign policy? Probably not. But it could make for some dandy little in-store promotions over the next several months as we try to determine whether it will be the incumbent or the challenger who will screw things up less.

Until I started researching this, I did not realize there are as many books, articles and academic papers out there on presidential food preferences as there are about their politics. After some due diligence, I’m not sure a candidate’s taste in food is any indication of their character. But if you’re still not sure about where to throw your support, maybe a little Twitter-like history lesson will help.

  • George Washington. His estate in Mount Vernon was completely self-sufficient with extensive farms, orchards and meat preservation facilities. Talk about local food trends that appeal to liberals. On the other hand, it all sounds a bit survivalist. He and Sarah Palin might have enjoyed field-dressing dead animals together.
  • Thomas Jefferson. After years in Paris he favored fancy French cooking, which is a bit elitist for today’s voters.
  • Andrew Jackson. He liked to serve White House guests Daniel Webster’s punch, a concoction that included lemon, sugar, green tea, brandy, claret, champagne, bananas, orange pineapples, cherries and strawberries. That is what I call a smoothie.
  • William Henry Harrison. Not one of the great political thinkers, but Harrison was a shrewd food campaigner. His idea of a political feast was “Burgoo,”  a squirrel and vegetable stew. He thought it was the perfect election dish since it was expandable to the size of the crowd. But do you really want to sell it in the meat department?
  • Abraham Lincoln. It seems that the Great Emancipator was indifferent to food but was fond of bacon, eggs and honey.
  • Theodore Roosevelt. He was a zealous eater who was known to consume an entire chicken by himself at one sitting.  Hey, a president’s got to keep his strength up.
  • Woodrow Wilson. His favorite breakfast was two raw eggs in grapefruit juice. Clearly, a hard man for hard times. But he did love strawberry ice cream.
  • Franklin Delano Roosevelt. FDR hated Brussels sprouts, which gave him common ground with both Bushs, neither of whom are fans of broccoli. Nice to know that Democrats and Republicans can reach across the aisle on some things.
  • Dwight D. Eisenhower. Washington insiders said that he and First Lady Mamie were fond of frozen TV dinners on trays.
  • John F. Kennedy. Politics always took preference over food, but JFK was not above some sweet treats from time to time.
  • Lyndon Johnson. LBJ’s favorites were steak, steak and more steak. A true Texan.
  • Ronald Reagan. Mac and cheese, meatloaf, steak with chili (a California favorite) and jelly beans were his food preferences. Now that is a man of the people.
  • Bill Clinton. Big Macs, chicken enchiladas, cinnamon rolls, doughnuts, jalapeno cheeseburgers and barbecue were all on the menu. He was more fun before that bypass operation.

Which brings us to the current political chow-down.

Republican frontrunner Mitt Romney is hard to read. It seems that after extensive vetting, all we really know is that he is obsessed with chocolate milk and anything with a peanut butter coating. That is great if you are courting the youth vote. But those with the same tastes are probably too young to vote anyway. He really needs to broaden his culinary base.

Then again, do we want a foodie flip-flopper in the White House?

President Barack Obama seems to have fairly eclectic tastes. While the First Lady’s White House vegetable garden has been something of a hot potato, it has helped him score points among the left-leaning electorate for whom “local food” seems to be as big an issue as jobs.

However, the Connoisseur-in-Chief also favors Mexican food and his two favorite haunts back in Chicago are owned by celebrity chef Rick Bayless. This is a pretty shrewd political move. Not only is he courting a burgeoning Hispanic population, but also the moderate “Blue Dogs” who feel more liberal when they are making their own salsa and tortillas.

Of course, burgers, ribs and Tex-Mex are also on the Obamas’ menu. Is he building support among more conservative foodies? Or, does he just like to get a bit messy?—when Michelle is not looking of course. 

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