I’m sure everyone (in the US, at least) is totally and completely fed up with this damn election. I know I’m constantly refreshing 538 and foxnews to see who’s outflanking whom in the my-polls-are-holier-than-thine debate. Though we’re all suffering from election fatigue, I thought this would be a good time to look back on the campaign in a different way – what sort of domestic culinary diplomacy has been going on? What have the candidates been eating to reach out to their constituencies?
Many others have tackled this subject, of course. The Times Magazine Food Issue featured a slide show on “How to Stuff Your Face Like a President.” Esquire did some deep investigative journalism to declare that “Barbecue is the swing vote of campaign food. …It signals ‘common man’ genuineness in hard times.” The Zagat blog revealed that chocolate milk is Mitt’s guilty pleasure while Obama’s weakness is Tex-Mex.
What each candidate eats, of course, signals something that they want to communicate to the electorate. In this way, campaign dining is a sort of domestic culinary diplomacy – both private and public. We may not know many of the menus of private fundraising dinners – tens of thousands of dollars a plate hopefully buys something good – but we can know what the candidates are saying through their public meals.
I’ve defined culinary diplomacy as the use of food and cuisine as an instrument to create a cross-cultural understanding in the hopes of improving interactions and cooperation. That definition applies here, too, if we can interpret “cross-cultural understanding” as applying among the multitude of American cultures and the latter half as “in the hopes of gaining voters and support.” When Mitt Romney ordered mustard sauce with his barbecue in South Carolina, knowing it to be a local iteration, or the President sat down for a half smoke at Ben’s Chili Bowl in DC to show his place in the city, they were using food as an instrument. When the President had his series of “Dinners With Barack,” he knew that he could raise support – both financial and civic – for his campaign.
One interesting signal that the President sent earlier this year was his newfound passion for homebrewing. As I blogged (in a different capacity than this one, please excuse the Internet Archive link) 3 years ago, everyone was into homebrew in 2009 – what made the President take it up this year? Well, he likes beer, for one. We know that after the Beer Summit of 2009, and even before, when he was photographed drinking PBR in the 2008 campaign.
But why homebrew? To reach out the the 67% of Americans who drink, of course. Obama’s one of us, unlike the other guy – who abstains. It’s a subtle but manipulative move on Obama’s part. He never has to come out and say that Romney’s Mormonism sets him apart from the rest of America, he can show it through a hip and catchy activity.
This topic is obviously a rich one – we could discuss at length the weirdly gendered First Lady Cookie Bake-Off or speculate how dining at the White House would change if a Mormon family moved in or just look at pictures of Obama delivering pizza to volunteers but instead I’ll leave you with these (all courtesy of joebideneatingasandwich.tumblr.com)t: