Eating on the Road to the White House

D’you remember that thing Anthelme Brillat-Savarin said, “Tell me what you eat and I’ll tell you what you are?” I mention this because I’ve been thinking about the reasons the candidates running for high political office seem to feel it necessary to eat what the locals eat. I suppose it’s a way of establishing solidarity.

If the Republicans or Democrats travel to Buffalo, they feel it is necessary to make a big deal about eating a wing. They become “ein Buffalo-er” which is the next best thing to being ein Berliner or “We are all Georgians” (or Philadelphians) if we gather together to eat a cheese steak. It’s the same deal when we declare our brotherhood by eating a hot pastrami sandwich or a taco.

It’s odd that desserts don’t carry any weight in this public display of chewing.

Arugula it seems is fodder only for egg-headed extremists or the Queen of England. President W. served a salad of arugula, Savannah Mustard and mint romaine champagne dressing and trio of farmhouse cheeses to Her Royal Highness at a State Dinner. No mention of ranch dressing.

JFK and Jackie O. received high marks for their elegant state dinners. That was then, though. Eat French food now and the other side will make a mockery of you. You might as well throw in the towel (after wind-surfing of course).

But, toss down a couple of belts of hard liquor and the world applauds. There’s nothing like beer to solidify a politician’s credentials. Wine is another thing altogether. (Chardonnay has become a metaphor for the effete.)

We don’t hesitate to scoff at certain foods: grits, for example, unless votes are being courted below the Mason-Dixon line. Clams, fried or chowdered, are O.K. Down East, and planked salmon is super in Seattle, but generally speaking roast meat defines character more emphatically than fish.

Food is power. Even tiny infants know how to get their mom riled up by refusing food. And two can play this game because food can be withheld or bestowed as a reward. Amongst nations, who is fed and who go hungry depends far more on who is seated in the legislature than how many are seated around the table.

If I was a presidential adviser I’d suggest steering away from any cheese except Velveeta or when in Wisconsin. You are pretty safe if you can eat whatever is offered to eat with your hands, or if worst comes to worst, a plastic fork is sometimes allowed (or forgiven). French is O.K. only when it pertains to fries, and fried is probably the best bet for everything else, especially chicken. KFC, also known as Poulet Frit du Kentucky, is wildly popular throughout the world, or many parts of the world. Forget about quiche.

No matter what our physical surroundings or our religious and cultural beliefs we all have many things in common. We all experience the emotions of fear and, occasionally, courage; rage and repentance; love and hate; sorrow and joy. And everywhere, throughout every part of the world, we gather together to eat and drink at the end of the day. It is this sharing of food that defines us as a family and unites us as members of the family of man.

It is the willingness to share our food that unites us as a community and defines a philosophy of civilized people. Food is the common thread that unites us all. It is love made tangible. So – note to political operatives – bring on the arugula and the fries and the BBQ and the beating heart of a cobra (if Anthony Bourdain is coming for supper), and try to find ways to unite instead of divide us by mocking food preferences and sacred customs and beliefs.

In his book, My Own Story, Luciano Pavarotti noted, “One of the very nicest things about life is the way we must regularly stop whatever it is we are doing and devote our attention to eating.” I’ll drink to that…make mine iced tea please.