It’s a phrase we hear often these days: eating is political.
In other words: we’re actors in food systems. Our decisions carry vast implications—the ethics of the brand we support, say, or the type of living beings we decide to ingest.
Yet now that elections are looming, it’s worth considering the literal sense of the phrase.
George Washington, after all, is forever associated with cherries: a symbol of humility and aversion to lies. François Mitterand had a not-so-secret addiction to caviar—anathema, said some, to his socialist past. Bill Clinton, of course, was the Prez of BBQ and fried chicken, indulging in the richest of Southern foods, it would seem, whenever opportunity arose. And we all know Obama’s love of quality burgers—especially In-n-Out Burger—frequent stops for him and his entourage that in some ways helped launch his social media persona.
We can even find some reaching significance on the plates of our past Canadian PMs. Budget king Paul Martin, for example, had a well-documented obsession with the ultra-frugal Kraft Dinner.
If food is the way to the political heart, what do the eating habits of our Prime Minister candidates reveal?
Spoiler alert: a mostly opaque snapshot of dullness, disjointedness, and general disingenuity.* (*though if the candidates return my dinner party invitation, more may soon be revealed).
Where to begin?
Consider our dear Papineau homeboy Justin Trudeau. Though the Liberal leader has revealed little of his culinary personality, he gains hipster points for slagging off Schwartz and holding his latest presser in a retro Québécois diner (the latest foodie cult object, if you didn’t know). Sadly, however, Mr. Trudeau’s hipster swag is severely undermined by the generic grilled salmon meal he cooked as part of the Win a Date with Justin Trudeau contest, promoted by such gems as the snapshot below:
Popular opinion, however, is firmly in Mr. Trudeau’s favour when it comes to the culinary. An Abacus poll ranked him Canadian’s top choice “to have over for dinner with your family (43%),” as well as to “cook the best meal (41%)”. (Incidentally, he also outranks cat-loving Harper in the animal category, voted “most trusted to look after your pet (40%)”).
What of Mr. Harper, our teetotalling incumbent, who once famously said, “I don’t drink, except when I do.” What be the gastronomical keys to his heart?
We’ve boiled long weeks of exhaustive research on this question down to a simple answer: they’re dictated by his PR team each day.
Mr. Harper’s ubiquity in culturally-capitalistic food photos is matched only by his ability to appear lifeless when caught by the lens. Harper’s habit of seeming photogenically disengaged is so widely known that regular citizens have dedicated blogs to the phenomenon.
One, called Things Harper Does to Seem Human, captures Harper’s utterly unnatural food moments —captioning them with faux-naturalistic brilliance: “Buying candy from a machine. Everyone needs something to munch on while doing a little shopping,” says one.
While a posed Yellowknife shot says, “Just chilling round the campfire. Eating dinner. Getting ready to sing Kumbaya.”
Keenly aware of his poor “normalcy” index, Mr. Harper’s PR team recently crafted a Twitter campaign dubbed #dayinthelife. Yet besides beefing up his already prolific set of cat photos, the campaign’s thick veneer only served to reinforce his lack of humanity further.
The PM eats some unspecified breakfast which is dominated by Stanley the cat. Near noon, the PM’s “working lunch” is mentioned, though glossed over using lingo from generic dietary trends du jour; the suggestion is that it’s something similar to broccoli and fish (how perfectly healthy).
There’s no mention of dinner.
Yet there is one thing thing of substance we do know about the PM’s eating patterns. It’s a big one, as antithetical to his stony public image as the perpetual selfies with kittens. Journalists and aides both corroborate that hot sauce is Mr. Harper’s serious vice. He is said to regularly request the spiciest version of any available food, to add jalapenos to his mother’s lasagna and possess a voluminous collection of deathly-hot sauces in his own kitchen.
If Harper is intent on ingesting all manner of PR-friendly goods (while secretly mainlining hot sauce late at night with Stanley), Thomas Mulcair is just as intent on abstaining altogether.
So-called “angry Tom” has been trying (to mixed reviews) to turn his frown upside down. Yet he remains mad as hell at his food.
All of it.
There is simply no evidence Mr. Mulcair eats. Or that he has ever eaten. Surely not on camera. Even the Maclean’s portrait of the candidate, perhaps the most intimate yet, offers only one fleeting reference to consumption. Mulcair downs some quick hot chocolate (no food)—only after a grizzly daylong trek through the snow.
Even food-themed photo ops suggest Mulcair’s disdain for ingestion.
Consider Obama, Trudeau or Layton. Each one can be seen wolfing down diner fare at their rural campaign stops. Though Mr. Mulcair uses similar resto backdrops, he hasn’t been seen so much as sipping a cup of joe.
Yet no one can accuse the industrious NDP head of slacking off in the kitchen. Even when he slaves away at the pizza oven, as at the Brampton pizzeria where he announced tax cuts to small businesses, Mr. Mulcair didn’t indulge in a single bite from his labours.
Then there’s those pre-Orange Wave photo ops alongside the eponymous Mr. Layton. Just take a look below. Genuine though his smile may be, Mr. Mulcair conspicuously refuses to share in the pleasure of the bite; meanwhile Mr. Layton is in obvious joy with the food in his hands.
The sum of our findings… if they’re findings at all?
At best they’re useless – and at worst they are grim. For either these candidates are ashamed of their true passions (a bad sign), or their eating habits are impossibly dull and unconscious (even worse).
Perhaps there’s one candidate who proves the exception to this culinary rule. In the fiery vegetarianism espoused by Elizabeth May we see her natural fit with party ideals, not to mention the genuine, seemingly enjoyable relationship to food.
She’s known to haunt several Ottawa restos, is loved by the waitstaff, speaks passionately about seafood in her home province of Nova Scotia (though it’s unclear if she ‘cheats’ on the veggie diet), discusses openly her recipes and food thoughts with journalists, and even shows off her unvarnished love for the kitchen on this cooking show.
Let’s be clear: this is far from an endorsement of May (or her diet). Though I can’t help be moved by a politician that actually eats, actually experiences food, rather than posing with it: after all, that’s what humans tend to do.