For politicians on the campaign trail, food is another way to show everyone how they're "regular people" — to connect with voters. But the most memorable moments are usually the gaffes, from chowing down on ever-unflattering corn dogs at the Iowa State Fair to cracking open a slightly-too-rehearsed beer on Instagram. In this week's show, we talk with current and former presidential candidates about the perils of eating on the campaign trail. How do you use food to win votes?
Plus, Sean Rameswaram (host of the daily news podcast Today, Explained) analyzes what the current presidential candidates' food choices say about them — including President Trump’s fast food feast at the White House.
We're working on an episode about pasta and we need your help! Take our quick pasta survey now. Thanks!
Interstitial music in this episode by Black Label Music:
- "Worldly Endeavors" by Cullen Fitzpatrick
- "Gravity" by Hayley Briasco
- "Rooftop" by Erick Anderson
- "Kenny" by Hayley Briasco
- "New Old" by James Thomas Bates
Photo courtesy of IowaPolitics.com.
John Delaney: So the first time I went to the Iowa Fair a couple of years ago, it was my wife and I.
Dan Pashman: This is John Delaney. He was a Democratic congressman from Maryland, and although he hasn’t qualified for recent debates, he’s running for president. The Iowa State Fair is one of the most famous campaign stops for presidential candidates. That’s where the congressman and his wife were headed.
John Delaney: And our oldest daughter called us up. She’s a journalist. We’re very proud of her. I answered the phone. She goes, “I don’t have much time to talk. Don’t eat anything at the fair. The photographers will take pictures of you looking funny eating things.” And then she said, “Listen, I don’t have time to talk, I gotta go.” And I said to my wife, April, I said, “April, she said we shouldn’t eat anything.” And April goes, “Oh that’s ridiculous.” And so we go to the fair and April gets a corn dog. And the next day, on the Washington Post, front page, above the fold, is a picture of April taking a huge bite into a corn dog. You can look it up.
Dan Pashman: Oh man, and what did you and April think when you saw that?
John Delaney: I said, “Well, we should’ve listened to our daughter.”
Dan Pashman: It’s hard to look elegant eating a corn dog.
John Delaney: Exactly.
Dan Pashman: This is The Sporkful. It’s not for foodies, it’s for eaters. I’m Dan Pashman. Each week on our show we obsess about food to learn more about people.
Dan Pashman: Quick note before we get started: We are working on an episode about pasta and I want your input! I need you to take a quick survey all about pasta. It’s gonna be fun, right? It’s only 6 questions, it’ll take one minute, and it’ll really help us out. Take the pasta survey now at www.sporkful.com/survey. Thanks!
Dan Pashman: OK, let’s get into it…
Dan Pashman: You might’ve noticed it’s a presidential election year. Next week is the Iowa caucus, and the New Hampshire and South Carolina primaries are around the corner. So today we’re going to look at what happens when candidates eat on the campaign trail.
Dan Pashman: Later in the show I’ll talk with my friend Sean Rameswaram. He hosts the daily news podcast Today, Explained. We’ll look at what all the current candidates like to eat, and what that says about each of them.
Dan Pashman: But before we get to that, let’s take a deeper look at why this matters.
Mike Huckabee: Everything you do can and will be used against you in a campaign.
Dan Pashman: This is Mike Huckabee, former presidential candidate and Arkansas governor, and current Fox News contributor. In his years campaigning he’s gone to all the small-town diners and big fundraising dinners. Including one where raccoon is on the menu...
Mike Huckabee: The Gillett Coon Supper, which is an annual event that's been going on for decades, is a must-do for Arkansas politicians. Let me just put it this way. Raccoon is not something you would order off the menu if you ever saw it and had ever had it before. But as a politician, you're obligated to at least pretend that it's pretty good... and it isn't. It's slimy, greasy, and the only way you can get it down is to douse it with sauce and swallow it quickly.
Dan Pashman: And isn't that kind of the perfect metaphor for a lot of campaign events?
Mike Huckabee: I think it is. Yeah, it is.
Dan Pashman: Huckabee knows that each time a candidate takes a bite, they have a chance to win over voters... or lose them.
Mike Huckabee: A lot of times I'd be at some banquet and people would come up and look at my plate and say, “I just wanted to see what you were eating.” And it suddenly made me realize people were really paying attention.
Tom Vilsack: People do pay attention to that. They get concerned if you don't go to the iconic place in their community. If you're not willing to take a bite of a big pork tenderloin, then you're not one of them.
Dan Pashman: This is Tom Vilsack. These days he heads the US Dairy Export Council, but before that, he had a long career in politics, most recently as President Obama’s Secretary of Agriculture. He also ran for president back in 2008, and was a two-term governor of Iowa. So he’s been around the campaign trail.
Tom Vilsack: You know, every day there are a series of missteps that can happen with food that can create problems.
Dan Pashman: One example: Back in 1976, Gerald Ford is running for president against Jimmy Carter. Ford is from Michigan. He gets to a campaign stop in Texas and someone hands him a tamale. Seems harmless enough, right? Possibly delicious? Well, Mike Huckabee was living in Texas at the time. He still remembers what happened next.
Mike Huckabee: So he took it and he tried to eat it, but he didn't take the shuck off. So he left the shuck on the tamale. Well, every newscast in Texas all weekend long, all they did was show Gerald Ford not knowing how to eat a tamale. To this day, I am convinced that it was that gaffe with the tamale that cost him the state of Texas. Carter won Texas and Carter won the presidency. And it may have been a tamale that did it.
Dan Pashman: Yeah, that's right. When you’re eating on the campaign trail, one false bite can cost you the presidency. That's why your staff goes to such extreme lengths to plan every tiny detail of every event.
Josh King: Who's the quintessential waiter or waitress that I might want to have serve the candidate? Is there going to be room to bring in about 15 members of the press?
Dan Pashman: This is Josh King. He's a former White House aide. When you hear him talk about how he plans a campaign event in a restaurant, it actually sounds like he's shooting a movie, or I guess maybe more like a commercial.
Josh King: I'd love it if ideally the candidate will be captured in a place that just looks like they're having a natural snack or a lunch, and it doesn't seem to be this circus atmosphere that actually has 20 people brought in to gawk.
Dan Pashman: Then comes the question that I would stress over if I was running for president. What should the candidate order? Another campaign staffer, Jonathan Prince, had that question on his mind when he worked for Bill Clinton. He says a lot depends on what the event is about, what kind of story the campaign is trying to tell.
Jonathan Prince: Some of these events are about the place. The character there is the restaurant. The character there is the waitresses who've been working there for 30 years and the stories that they tell. There are other times where the food really is the character, and especially when you get into regional specialties, local specialties... In those places, obviously, part of what you're looking for is to actually try out the specialty.
Dan Pashman: But regional foods can also get you into big trouble. In 2012, when Utah Senator Mitt Romney was running for president, he went to Mississippi and referred to the cheese grits as “cheesy grits.” Big mistake. Back in 2004, when John Kerry was running for president, he went to Philly and ordered his cheesesteak with Swiss cheese, which is not one of the accepted options there.
Dan Pashman: And Kerry was already fighting a perception that he was fancy-pants. Now, I know Swiss cheese ain't exactly cave-aged Roquefort. But compared to the cheesy goop they actually put on a cheesesteak in Philly, Swiss cheese does sound kind of fancy-pants.
Jonathan Prince: So the thing about all these gaffes across the board — and there are food gaffes and non-food gaffes — is that they generally are damaging when they play into preconceived notions that people already have about the candidate.
Pat Schroeder: It's hard.
Dan Pashman: This is former Colorado Congresswoman Pat Schroeder, a Democrat. She briefly ran for president back in 1987.
Pat Schroeder: We would brief presidential candidates who came in on how to eat an enchilada. So it is always important to know those little details.
Dan Pashman: So if you manage to survive the ordering process without screwing up and offending anyone, now you've got to actually get the food into your mouth. And it was that eating part where Schroeder sometimes had trouble. Back in the ‘70s she was at a dinner, wearing a plaid dress, and she spilled something on it...
Pat Schroeder: The next night there was an event and I didn't go to it. And I remember turning on TV and the commentator said, “Schroeder wasn't here. Her plaid dress was probably at the cleaners.” And I thought, oh, my, was it really that bad?
Dan Pashman: Now, sometimes the issue isn't the way a candidate eats at all. It's the way they cook. At the Iowa State Fair, they have this thing called the Iowa Pork Producers Tent, and it's a must-stop for candidates. It's one of those traditions. They come by the grill, flip a few pork chops for the cameras. Simple photo op, right? Well, not so much on one fateful day in 2007 when Mitt Romney stopped by.
Dana Wanken: Oh, I'll never forget that. Oh, it was hot that day.
Dan Pashman: This is Dana Wanken. But you can call him by his nickname, Spanky. He's a former hog farmer. These days he runs the grills at that Iowa pork tent.
Dana Wanken Mitt was flipping chops into the pan…
CLIP (MITT ROMNEY): I’m afraid to tell you, I love hot dogs and hamburgers…
Dana Wanken: ...and a nice, great big one fell right between him and his wife…
CLIP (CROWD): Ohhh! There goes one! Leave it down...
Dana Wanken: I said, don't do it.
CLIP (DANA WANKEN): Leave it, leave it, leave it.
Dana Wanken: Don't do it. Leave it. I'll get it.
CLIP (CROWD): It’s the five-second rule...
Dana Wanken: He picked that sucker up and threw it back on the grill.
CLIP (CROWD): Noooo!
Dana Wanken: I said, you can’t do that! And I stuck my arm right in between him and her, and I jerked it off the grill, man the baby was hot! And I threw it over...
CLIP (MITT ROMNEY): It’s part of the process, it’s part of the fun to be at the Iowa State Fair...
Dan Pashman: The headline the next day on CNN: “Candidates descend on Des Moines. Romney drops chop.”
Dan Pashman: But come on now, Spanky, if you were grilling at home and a pork chop fell on the ground for a couple of seconds, wouldn't you pick it up and serve it, if there weren’t cameras around?
Dana Wanken Unless I just mowed the lawn, I probably would! Wouldn’t want all that grass on there. [laughs]
Dan Pashman: I've got to say, I'm with Spanky. But the narrative coming into that event was: Mitt Romney is stiff and phony and so rich that he's out of touch, so he probably doesn't even do his own grilling. When he dropped the chop, everyone said, look at this guy trying to act like a regular person and failing. And I think that's unfair. Any regular person who does a lot of grilling sometimes drops things, right? And a lot of us regular people often pick them up and put them back on the grill.
Dan Pashman: We want candidates to act normal, but all that scrutiny, all the cameras... they’re in a totally abnormal situation.
Dan Pashman: So we’ve covered some of the gaffes. Now let’s turn to the positive. How do you actually use food on the campaign trail to win votes? And how do you find time for a decent meal for yourself? Here again is former Iowa governor and presidential candidate Tom Vilsack. He says different types of events require different strategies.
Tom Vilsack: There would be the place that you'd have to go in order to be seen by people that you were trying to persuade. The opinion leaders. So it might be Mario’s, for example, in Dubuque, Iowa, that serves Italian. And Mario would come out, pat you on the back. People would see you and then a big, huge plate of spaghetti would appear. Lasagna or something that was pretty rich. And you would, of course, be required in order to show your worthiness, to be able to consume all of that. There's that. And then there is the buffet. The people bring their very best dish. And the full expectation is that you take a bite of everything that's on that table.
Dan Pashman: Yeah, so walk me through the strategy. You’re at a community covered-dish supper, potluck dinner, basically. And if you don't eat Mrs. Jones's casserole, she's going to be upset.
Tom Vilsack: That's guaranteed. That is guaranteed. So you...
Dan Pashman: So what do you do?
Tom Vilsack: You take a spoonful of everything.
Dan Pashman: I see.
Tom Vilsack: And then, of course, you know, when you get to the dessert table, you might take two or three spoonfuls, to show you're a regular guy. I mean, there’s a science to it.
Dan Pashman: I'm curious what happens if Mrs. Jones has made something that you just... it's just a dish you flat-out can't stand. How do you navigate that situation?
Tom Vilsack: Well, in some cases, it depends on how politically connected Mrs. Jones is. If she's the committee chairwoman or the chair of the party, by golly, you're going to take that spoonful and you're gonna like it.
Dan Pashman: For former Colorado Congresswoman Pat Schroeder, there were other issues to contend with.
Pat Schroeder: I think because I was a woman, people expected me to try more things, and they wanted to share their recipes with me. And the embarrassing part would be that then they would ask me what some of the favorite things were that I like to make. And so they would write and say, “Would you please send your favorite recipes?” And I thought, well, now I can do one of two things. I can go find some fancy recipe and claim that this is something I fix for my family every night. Or I can be honest. So I would send out recipes about how to make ice cubes, or how to do a Schroeder breakfast, which would be: find the milk, check the spoil date. Find cereal. Hopefully it's sugar-coated because otherwise you're going to have to find the sugar bowl. Find a bowl and if it’s on the floor be sure and wash it, because a dog's probably been in it. And then assemble. And people would say, “Someone on your staff is trying to sabotage you.” And I’d say, “No they’re not. I'm just trying to be very honest”. I'm not sitting around making fancy dishes. Not that I wouldn't like to, but it's just when would I have time to shop for the ingredients and do it all?
Dan Pashman: As for eating on the trail, Schroeder said that was challenging too. You’ve gotta realize, in one day of campaigning, you might be scheduled to speak at three breakfast events, three luncheons, and three dinners. But each time it's a quick speech, shake a few hands, and onto the next one. If you happen to be there when the food is being served, you’re expected to eat. But if you’re not there at that moment, you miss the meal and keep moving. So one day you could eat nine times, the next day none at all.
Dan Pashman: And although she never implemented it, Schroeder had a creative solution she always wanted to try...
Pat Schroeder: My dream, when I was a candidate on the trail, was to have a designated eater.
Dan Pashman: And what exactly would that person's role be?
Pat Schroeder: They could eat everything for me while I talked, and if it was good, they could save some for the car.
Dan Pashman: Mike Huckabee, the former Arkansas governor and presidential candidate, he has a little different approach. He says it's actually okay to turn down food on your plate. And it's okay if you don't know much about someone else's food.
Mike Huckabee: Be natural, and if you don't understand a particular food the locals appreciate if you say, “Gee, I've never eaten this before. What's the best way to do it?” And they appreciate your honesty and candor. And have some fun, for heaven's sakes! Don't let your staff ruin this by making you all nervous that you’re gonna eat the food the wrong way, or that you’re gonna drop the ice cream cone. I think sometimes I watch politicians and they're so afraid that they will make a mistake, that their mistake is being afraid of making a mistake.
Dan Pashman: But there are still mistakes you want to avoid. Huckabee has actually broken this down Sporkful style. He says there's an art to eating in a way that wins over voters.
Mike Huckabee: Number one, you have to avoid looking like you're so particular and so dainty that you can't dive into a food that you need to dive into. If you're afraid of getting sauce on your sleeve, then that looks like you're too hoity-toity, and that'll hurt you. But the other thing is, if you dive into it so vigorously that it's all over your face and you look like a pig, then that too can hurt you. So you just have to be careful and remember everything you do can and will be used against you in a campaign. And I'll give an example. There is a very famous picture of Michele Bachmann in 2012 eating a corn dog at the Iowa State Fair that was, let's just say, less than flattering. And there are certain foods that you have to be careful not only how it tastes, but how it looks.
Dan Pashman: The political strategist you heard earlier, Jonathan Prince... he's a Democrat. Mike Huckabee, Republican. But this is one issue where they totally agree.
Jonathan Prince: There is no politician who ever looks good with a corndog in their mouth.
Dan Pashman: Coming up, we go through this year’s presidential candidates and talk about what their food choices say about them. Stick around.
Dan Pashman: I'm Dan Pashman, and I'm just a regular, authentic American like you. I eat my cheeseburgers with the cheese on the bottom, my pizza slices folded inside out, and my Oreos in a way that's so convoluted I can't explain it without pictures. I believe sparkling water isn't water. I believe a hot dog is a sandwich. And when I drop a pork chop on the ground, I pick it up and eat it. Or serve it to you so the gravel in every bite can show you just how authentic I am. This November, when you go to the polls, vote for me because I'm just like you. Paid for by the Pick A Peck Of Pickled Peppers PAC.
Dan Pashman: Welcome back to The Sporkful, I’m Dan Pashman. Hey, make sure you check out our last two episodes, featuring chef Kwame Onwuachi, taped live on stage. He’s the author of the memoir Notes From A Young Black Chef. In the past year, Kwame has become one of the fastest rising star chefs in America. And the story of how he got there is so incredible, it’s being made into a movie. He got in trouble as a kid, he was shipped off to live with his grandfather in Nigeria for two years, he came back, got in more serious trouble, then ended up cooking on a boat in the middle of the Gulf of Mexico.
Kwame Onwuachi: It was very, very scary for me, being in the middle of the ocean.
Dan Pashman: Who are the other people in the boat?
Kwame Onwuachi: They're like these really country-looking Caucasian people.
Dan Pashman: And when you see that, what are you thinking?
Kwame Onwuachi: I'm like this isn’t going to work out. This is not going to work out. Had the movie Get Out come out before, I may have had some sort of insight to what was going to happen.
Dan Pashman: But in the end, Kwame’s experience on that boat did work out, and it changed his life forever. His story is full of so many ups and downs, twists and turns, we couldn’t fit it all in to one episode. So both those episodes are up now. Get ‘em where you got this one.
Dan Pashman: All right, so we're getting our friend Sean Rameswaram from Today, Explained, the daily news podcast, on the line. While we wait for him to pick up, Emma, producer Emma, how do you pronounce it? The senator from Minnesota. She's Klobuchar or Klobyuchar?
Sean Rameswaram: Klobuchar motherf*****s!!!!
Dan Pashman: This is why we have you here, Sean! We need a verified newsperson.
Dan Pashman: This is my friend Sean Rameswaram, host of Today, Explained. I invited him on the show so we could talk about what the current presidential candidates eat, and how they use food to try to win over voters. We decided to cover President Trump, and the six candidates who qualified for the most recent Democratic debate. Minus Tom Steyer, because I mean, come on.
Dan Pashman: So Sean, let's start with the president. Way back before the last election, I think his food greatest hit was probably the taco bowl on Cinco de Mayo. Since becoming president, he certainly is well-known for eating fast food. He likes his steaks well-done with ketchup. And I think the single biggest food moment in his presidency was when he served fast food to the Clemson Tigers football team. They won the college national championship and he served them this big buffet of McDonald's and Burger King and Wendy's. And he was pictured with his hands held aloft, displaying this big buffet. What did you make of that?
Sean Rameswaram: Apart from you should have served them something fancier than fast food, the thing that I couldn't get over the whole time I was watching this unfold was: there's no way this food is still warm, or especially hot. Right? It must have been lukewarm, room-temperature Big Macs.
Dan Pashman: Especially the fries. Can you imagine how soggy they were?
Sean Rameswaram: Oh, but I've got to say to the president's credit, you know, Dan, you and I used to be colleagues at WNYC, New York Public Radio, and there were many a potluck. And I got to say, one time, James Ramsey, a former colleague of ours, brought McDonald's fries to one of these potlucks. And it was the hit of the potluck.
Dan Pashman:I remember that potluck. And I remember those fries. And I remember eating them and thinking to myself, I need to eat more McDonald's French fries. So let's keep it rolling here, Sean. Let's move on to the Democratic candidates. And let's start with former vice president and senator Joe Biden.
Sean Rameswaram: Joseph Robinette Biden, Junior.
Dan Pashman: That's right. Now we know that he likes sandwiches from Capriotti’s, which is a Delaware based chain, has a location near the White House that he would go to often when he was V.P. He would order an Italian sub with hot peppers. And he called it the best sandwich in America.
Sean Rameswaram: I hadn't even heard that Delaware had a sandwich scene before doing a little bit of research. Did you know this?
Dan Pashman: I did not know that. I will admit that I'm pretty Delaware ignorant.
Sean Rameswaram: I will say that Biden did shout out hot peppers on a hoagie. And I got to agree with the vice president on that one, that I mean, hot peppers on a hoagie, but really hot peppers on anything in my personal taste.
Dan Pashman: I agree with you. The fact that he adds hot peppers to his Italian sub — or at least keeps them there — makes me gain respect for him as a sandwich-eater. Also, according to The Washington Post, when Biden was in his transition between being V.P. and running for president, he was giving a bunch of speeches, and he had a contract rider that would dictate what the organizers of the event must provide him. It was a very specific menu. And it was a caprese salad, which is like little tomatoes and mozzarella balls. Angel hair pasta pomodoro, raspberry sorbet, and biscotti. What do you make of that?
Sean Rameswaram: That was in his rider?
Dan Pashman: That was in his contract rider. yes.
Sean Rameswaram: That is like the least punk rock rider I've ever heard. I miss the hot pepper hoagie Biden of yesteryear.
Dan Pashman: Yeah. I mean, also, angel hair is the literal worst pasta he could possibly be eating. I mean that stuff goes from zero to mush. So let's move on, Sean. Bernie Sanders.
Sean Rameswaram: Oh, Bernie. I mean, with Bernie, whatever it is, I hope it's healthy at this point. I saw during the Iowa State Fair, I saw some images of Bernie throwing back corn dogs. And it wasn't too long after that where, you know, we almost lost him. So whatever it is now, I hope it's healthier than corn dogs. But I can understand a man who's got a soft spot for a corn dog at the same time. I got to say.
Dan Pashman: It's true. And if there's one thing I've learned working on this episode, it's that you really, if you're a politician, don't ever want to eat corn dogs with cameras in front of you. And the only person who's doing it as if he really just doesn't care is Bernie. Bernie is just like, yes, this is how you eat a corn dog.
Sean Rameswaram: The point of eating a corn dog is eating a corn dog, here I go.
Dan Pashman: Right. Right. Next up, Elizabeth Warren, the senator from Massachusetts. The Boston Globe asked her about what she eats on the campaign trail.
CLIP (BOSTON GLOBE): On the campaign trail you were said to have been an aficionado of fast food across the commonwealth.
CLIP (ELIZABETH WARREN): Yep, yep.
CLIP (BOSTON GLOBE): And I’m wondering whether as U.S. senator you still occasionally indulge in the Mickey D’s or Taco Bell or…
CLIP (ELIZABETH WARREN): Yep, yep, keep going. Keep going.
CLIP (BOSTON GLOBE): Do you have a…
CLIP (ELIZABETH WARREN): Sometimes we do Chipotle. Really, really good. Yeah in fact, I could probably close my eyes and recite most of the McDonald’s menu…
Sean Rameswaram: Hearing her endorse Chipotle makes me a little sad because I gotta say it doesn't really pass muster for me. I’d go almost anything before Chipotle, especially Del Taco. Shout outs to Del Taco.
Dan Pashman: My key move if I was running for president would be that I would have an arsenal of hot sauces, condiments, and other accoutrements in the bus. And then I could doctor anything. If I had Cholula and Sriracha and maybe some gochujang and some Maggi sauce and some soy sauce, and then I would always have limes and some achar, like a spicy Indian relish, and...
Sean Rameswaram: Oh, I'm a simple man with simple pleasures. If I had a bottle of red and green Tabasco, I could probably make it work Dan.
Dan Pashman: That's the better approach is to have an emergency preparedness kit. There's another Elizabeth Warren moment I want to cover.
Sean Rameswaram: Is it the beer?
Dan Pashman: Yes, Sean. It's about the beer. So this is New Year's Day a year ago. Early in her campaign for president, she did an Instagram Live thing. And she's hanging out in her house, decides she's thirsty, and she says this.
CLIP (ELIZABETH WARREN): Hold on a sec. I'm going to get me a beer.
Dan Pashman: “I'm going to get me a beer.” Now that exact wording was lampooned, Sean. What do you make of that?
Sean Rameswaram: Oh, man. I can't count how many times I've said, “I'm going to get me a beer,” in life. I don't think it's a wildly unnatural thing to say. What's wildly unnatural is that she was filming the thing for basically a pre-announcement that she's running for president. Those kinds of announcements that are trying to be casual are just I guess they have the opposite effect and that's what people were reacting to, that it seemed kind of rehearsed the whole thing.
Dan Pashman: I will say that that beer moment. The reaction against Elizabeth Warren. It made me think of Hillary.
Sean Rameswaram: Oh!
Dan Pashman: Because it felt like the same kind of reaction, this sort of suspicion of her authenticity. And I wonder if, does that exact same line from Bernie Sanders or Joe Biden provoke the same reaction? How much of it do you think is because she's a woman?
Sean Rameswaram: Yeah, I mean, I wonder how much she feels like she has to appeal to men. I mean, it's a bummer that she felt like she had to do that. It's a bummer that she probably on some level does have to do that, because as we as we've discovered time and again, America's seems to struggle with female presidential candidates.
Dan Pashman: We are moving on to Senator Amy Klobuchar. She has entered and won the Minnesota congressional delegation hot dish competition, although she did not win this past year. But I think the most notable food moment for her... There was a big article that came out in The Times a little while ago saying that she has a reputation for being very tough on her staff. The quote was: “not just demanding, but sometimes dehumanizing.” And the story that everyone remembers from that is she's running to catch a plane with her staff. An aide grabs a salad for her in the airport. They get on a plane. The aide dropped the fork in the airport. There's no fork. There's no fork on the plane. Klobuchar berates him, and then proceeds to take a comb out of her purse and eat the salad with a comb. Then hand him the comb and demand that he clean it. And she's acknowledged this is true. I mean, maybe she doesn't like the tone of the portrayal, but she acknowledges that she ate a salad with a comb.
Sean Rameswaram: This story to me is so funny, mostly because my people are Sri Lankan, Dan, which means that I grew up eating curry with my hand. I would eat a fat plate of rice and curry — some chicken curry, some lentils, like a dal situation, maybe like a little salad, too. And you just mix the whole thing up with your hands, and you’d get it from your plate to your mouth with your hand. So I just feel bad for all the people who live in a world where they think they've got to eat their salads with a comb, because you know what you can use? God gave you a fork. Yahweh. He hooked you up with a spoon. It's your right hand and your left hand. And you should use it more often.
Dan Pashman: I'm with you 100 percent. In particular on salads. And I sometimes eat salad with my hand because I think it's easier to compose good bites.
Sean Rameswaram: My man, my man.
Dan Pashman: I will just add that at one point in my life, I was in Senator Klobuchar's situation or a similar one. And I eat a bowl of applesauce using a ruler. [laughs]
Sean Rameswaram: Wait, couldn’t you just drink it like a smoothie? Couldn’t you just tip the can up or something? Did you need to break out a ruler?
Dan Pashman: I mean, it was pretty thick, viscous apple sauce, which is why it was thick enough to stay on a ruler, and probably too thick to slide down the side of a bowl.
Sean Rameswaram: Fair. OK.
Dan Pashman: Next candidate we’ve got to cover, Sean: Pete Buttigieg. So this reporter that was following him said that he was on the tour bus. He spotted a tray of cinnamon rolls and maple pecan sticky buns. And he grabbed one of the buns to eat it, but before he ate it, he microwaved it.
Sean Rameswaram: Respect.
Dan Pashman: Right. Now, look, it's going to turn out a little bit soft and mushy. It's not your best outcome, but that's better than it being cold. And especially I'm going to give him the benefit of the doubt and assume he microwaved it for only a short span of time, which would've been correct. Just to make it a little bit warm and soft. And putting in that extra effort to make that sticky bun better really makes me gain respect for him.
Sean Rameswaram: Yeah. I mean, throwing a sticky bun in the microwave is to me kind of like throwing some Junior Mints in the refrigerator. I think it's just the superior eating experience.
Dan Pashman: It's a pro move.
Sean Rameswaram: Yeah. He's just next-level on that sticky bun.
Dan Pashman: There have been so many Democratic candidates in this race, Sean and I couldn’t possibly cover all of them. But there are a few who have notable food habits. Senator Cory Booker, who recently dropped out, and Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard — they’re both vegans. Given Gabbard’s very slim chances of winning the nomination, we’re not going to get to see how veganism plays in a general election. But I have to say, I suspect it would hurt a candidate. I think there’s a part of the country that views veganism and vegetarianism as effeminate and therefore weak. At least they view it that way unconsciously.
Dan Pashman: Then there are the other businessman candidates. Andrew Yang loves BelVita crackers and green tea. Mike Bloomberg, despite leading the healthier eating, soda tax initiative stuff when he was mayor of New York, quoted in The New York Times, he loves salty snacks so much that he adds extra salt to movie theater popcorn. So that’s those guys. As Sean and I wrapped up, I wanted to talk about the bigger picture.
Dan Pashman: There was a piece in The Guardian about food in U.S. elections, and I'll read you this quote. “The food that candidates eat must be unhealthy to be American. Even while Michelle Obama was encouraging Americans to eat more fruit and vegetables, Barack Obama continued to be photographed tucking into burgers, fries and big sodas at campaign stops.” What's your take on that?
Sean Rameswaram: I mean, do we think Barack Obama was eating any of that food for purposes of his image? Or do we think Barack Obama just loved eating that food? I'm more inclined to believe the latter.
Dan Pashman: I've read enough about his eating habits to know that, yes, he's a steak guy who likes red meat, but he doesn't eat it very often. And we know that Michelle is very concerned with health and healthy eating. I don't think that he would eat nearly as many burgers and fries if it wasn't for knowing that it looks good on the cameras for him to be eating those things. Don't you remember what happened when he said he likes arugula? That was worse than the tan suit.
Sean Rameswaram: Was it really?
Dan Pashman: Yes. And I'm sure he's smart enough to have learned from that.
Sean Rameswaram: But I bet all the people who were like, “Yeah, I love arugula, too,” were just quiet and chill about it. And it's all the whack jobs who were like, “What?! Arugula?! Eat a burger! Eat a steak!” Like those are the people who are loud and obnoxious, and all the arugula people were too busy reading Proust or something to even chime in.
Dan Pashman: Well, Sean, I have a nice light and crispy apple here that I'm gonna snack on after we say goodbye.
Sean Rameswaram: Dan, I have a bottle of filtered cold water here that I can't wait to sip on once we're done.
Dan Pashman: Look, next time you're in a pinch eating some dal, try a ruler.
Sean Rameswaram: Guys, I'll be right back. I got to go put my comb in the dishwasher.
Dan Pashman: That’s Sean Rameswaram. He hosts the daily news podcast Today, Explained. It’s really good. You should listen to it.
Dan Pashman: And while you’re in your app checking that out, make sure you subscribe to The Sporkful. That way you’ll never miss an episode. Or maybe in your app it’s “favorite” or “like.” Whatever it is, you can do it right now. Thanks.
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