For the aspiring politician, eating can be a very dangerous thing. President George H. W. Bush once alienated a powerful constituency when he banned broccoli from the menus of the White House and Air Force One, prompting broccoli growers to send truckloads of the vegetable to the White House in protest. Bush famously responded at a press conference: “I do not like broccoli. And I haven’t liked it since I was a little kid and my mother made me eat it. And I’m president of the United States and I’m not going to eat any more broccoli. Now look, this is the last statement I’m going to have on broccoli.” In 1992, Hillary Clinton got into even more trouble for observing that she had decided to pursue a career as a lawyer when she could have merely “stayed home and baked cookies.” (She would later make amends by winning a cookie bake-off with Barbara Bush convened by Family Circle magazine.) And in 2004, we endured what seemed like months of debate on cable stations about the culinary properties of the Philly cheesesteak, after John Kerry made the grave error of ordering his with Swiss cheese instead of the de rigeur Cheese Whiz. The Washington Monthly‘s Peter Laufer and Markos Kounalakis recently spoke with Chris Kimball, the founder and editor of Cook’s Illustrated magazine and the editor of America’s Best Lost Recipes about the intersection of food and politics in the American presidential campaigns. Subscribe Online & Save 33%

WM: One of the things that strikes me about food and politics is that the presidential candidates spend a lot of the time traveling. Do they get exposed to the regional cuisines of the areas they travel to?

CK: My guess is that they very rarely come across real local home-cooked food. Most of it is going to be fast food or restaurant food or banquet food or dinner at the local Marriott. Once in a while, in the early states like Iowa and New Hampshire, they might get some home cooking, but I think most of it is still chicken kiev.

CK: Well, politicians have to eat things that are easily catered and last a long time, and rubber chicken probably has as much staying power as anything.

CK: There’s a lot of historical context to that. Back in the nineteenth century, barbecue was the one dish that was cross-cultural. Poor people showed up, rich people showed up. It actually became the food of choice for politicians because when they wanted to stand up and talk for two hours and answer people’s questions, they would serve barbecue, because it would draw a crowd. You’d get people from both sides of the crowd, from both parties, or all three parties depending on the time. Barbecue was the ultimate political food.

CK: Yeah, the fact that we’ve gone from free barbecue for the everyman, the average guy, to the $10,000-a-plate fund-raiser for Hillary or Barack, it tells you a lot about where politics has gone. In the Lincoln-Douglas debates, people stood up for hours, talked in the hot sun, and gave away free food to attract a crowd. It was real retail politics.

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