(Published August 11, 2020)
Everyone’s rightly excited that Kamala Harris is the first Black woman and first Asian-American on a national ticket. But she’s also the first foodie. While we’ve had national office seekers who enjoy eating — President Taft and pre-vegan Bill Clinton come to mind — none of them had the kind of relationship to food that Harris does. Harris loves to cook. She loves eating well. She loves talking about food. And she does them all really well.
The evidence has been there for anyone paying attention.
Within minutes of announcing her candidacy, Kamala stopped for an egg-and-cheese sandwich in Penn Station. No wolfing down a Chobani or protein bar on the Acela for Kamala. Most politicians treat food as mere fuel or as an occupational hazard that can lead to embarrassing pictures. Not Kamala. She wanted something warm, toasty and delicious. And she was going to enjoy it. With this single picture, I felt seen.
A few weeks later, Harris stopped for lunch at Rodney Scott’s BBQ in Charleston SC. Her order was above reproach: a pulled-pork sandwich with corn bread, collard greens, banana pudding, and — the ultimate killer move — a bag of pork rinds for the road.
Then there was the time Harris ate her way through the Iowa State Fair, including this pork chop. Obviously she knew the cameras were there but you can’t fake that kind of pleasure — Meg Ryan notwithstanding.
Last November, with the Iowa caucuses just weeks away, Kamala found a kitchen in Des Moines to cook Thanksgiving dinner. This was no phony made-for-TV event. Harris staged her cooking over multiple days to get her cornbread dried just right for her stuffing, her turkey stock prepped for her gravy, and her cranberry sauce pre-made in the fridge. That’s how she talked about them — her dishes — and I respect the expression of ownership. Kamala put it this way: “I love food. When I was growing up may mother was basically like: ‘Honey, you love to eat. You’d better learn to cook.'”
Kamala wasn’t just cooking Thanksgiving dinner. She also had strong views on the subject. In a local Iowa radio interview, she opined that that gravy is the most important item on the Thanksgiving menu and then made what I consider one of the most profound statements of the campaign: “Not everyone understands gravy, I think.” How the people of Iowa could have failed to line up behind someone who spoke such hard truths is beyond me.
On the trail, Kamala made it a point to visit small, family-run restaurants and often asked for recipes of dishes she liked. Here’s a picture below of Kamala trying to get the cilantro-coconut rice recipe from Sabrina of Sabrina’s West Street Kitchen in Reno, Nevada. I don’t know what they were saying but it looks like fun. She eventually got the recipe and recreated the dish at home.
Harris even nails the guilty pleasures. Hers both involve fake cheese — Nacho Cheese Doritos and cheddar cheese popcorn. Harris gets bonus points for waxing eloquent about stopping at Garrett’s Popcorn Shop in Chicago to get her cheese corn fix, with perhaps a slight deduction for not liking her cheese corn and caramel corn mixed Chicago-style. I trust that’s just a taste issue and not a knock on Garrett’s caramel corn, which may be the best in the world.
So there you have it. Harris is the whole package when it comes to food. Authentic. Tasteful. Generous. Passionate. Especially when you consider the competition.
Google pictures of Joe Biden eating and you’ll find that ninety percent of them involve ice cream. He’s not one of those passive ice cream eaters who licks around the cone as it melts. He takes the fight to the cone like a young Mike Tyson looking to end things in Round One.
The other food Biden seems to enjoy are subs. Again, he’s not so much an eater as a mauler.
Finally, of course, who could forget when Biden accompanied President Obama to Ray’s Hell Burger (RIP) in 2009. While this could have gained Biden significant foodie points, it was clearly Obama’s choice and Biden was just tagging along on Obama’s eight-year cheeseburger crawl.
We all remember Trump’s Cinco de Mayo tweet in which he proclaimed that Trump Tower serves “the best taco bowls.” Of course that’s because everyone else stopped serving them in 1989.
Then there was Trump eating KFC on Air Force One. Most people who saw this picture focused on the fact that he was eating his fried chicken (like his pizza) with a knife and fork. I’m wondering what his plans are for that tub of gravy with no mashed potatoes in sight. I don’t see a Diet Coke, so I assume it was to wash everything down.
Of course there was the time that Trump invited the national champion Clemson football team to the White House and served them fast food. The players were like “Gee, thanks, Mr. President, we never get Big Macs in college, at least not cold ones.”
The clincher is that Trump likes his steaks well done. Really well done. His longtime butler Anthony Senecal revealed that Trump would order his steak so well done “it would rock on the plate.”
There’s very little historical record of Mike Pence eating. Maybe his operating system was designed to run for long periods of time without the ingestion of nutrients. One of the few pictures of Pence with food is this encounter with Cincinnati chili (looks like five-way with spaghetti, chili, beans, onion, and cheese). He looks extremely tentative, like he wants to make sure the chili isn’t still alive. If that’s because he knew that Cincinnati chili isn’t very good, I’d give him props. But I have a feeling it’s not that. My guess is he was just holding this pose until the press got its pictures and then put the fork down and walked away (and pulled out a protein bar when he got back to the Escalade).
I can’t end this post without addressing the elephant in the room. Food and cooking have been used over time to denigrate women and keep them in their place. Am I buying into old stereotypes by touting the foodie credentials of the only woman in the race? Luckily, I have two daughters in their 20’s to give me what I’ll call “perspective” on such matters. Yesterday, my daughter Emma tweeted this:
Thanks, sweetie, I’ll take that as a signal to proceed with caution. Those of us who care about food need to be sensitive to the issue but we can’t apologize for who we are. Food matters. Everyone eats three times a day and how we spend that time says a lot about who we are. It reveals character. And when it comes to electing national leaders in an unpredictable world, character is critical. Some people assess character by asking if they’d want to have a beer with a particular candidate, but having dinner with someone is far more revealing. Food can be fun but it’s also important. We shouldn’t leave it on the back burner.