Food and Politics: A recipe for success?

15 Apr

Food has had a walk-on role in politics, around the world and throughout the decades, sometimes leaping, quite unexpectedly into the spotlight. We had the transformation of “French fries” to “Freedom fries” thanks to George Bush JR’s Gallophobic ways, it was over dinner that Nicolas Sarkozy and Carli Bruni first gazed at one another and JFK once famously declared: “Ich bin ein Berliner” (I am a jam donut).

During the exhausting and ever-so-slightly nutty Presidential campaign, it’s been reported that Sarah Palin basically “wasn’t eating (a few small bites of steak a day, no more). She wasn’t drinking (maybe half a can of Dr Pepper; no water, ever)” and that preparing for her tv debates, her hotel room was “fetid…full of half-eaten hotel food and stinking of mouldering french fries”. The Democrat’s victor, a Mr B. Obama, is said to prefer Chicago Pizza and his wife’s shrimp linguini. Sounds good.

Thanks to the Expenses scandal, us disgruntled taxpayers know the predilections of those who dwelled in Westminster: the malteasers, jaffa cakes, jumbo wedges, rice puddings and banoffee pies. The famous power-brokering meal between Tony Blair and Gordon Brown took place in a trendy Italian place Granita, and it would have been something other than the pasta that would have been hard to swallow for the current Prime Minister.

There has been spin (Tony Blair was reported to have said that “fish and chips” was his favourite meal to the Labour Party magazine and then, to the Islington Cookbook, declare an undying love for “fettuccine, olive oil, capers and sundried tomatoes), boasting (William Hague famously declared that he drank 14 pints a day when younger) and confusion (Lord Mandelson famously, perhaps mythically, pointed to the mushy peas and ordered “some of that guacamole” in a Hartlepool chippy). There’s also been derision, illustrated perfectly by John Gummer who during the BSE scare, as Agriculture Minister, fed his daughter beef burgers in front of the TV cameras.

I’ve worked in Parliament as a Parliamentary researcher (read: bag-carrier) myself and I know that the Palace of Westminster offers a veritable smorgasbord of bars, cafes and restaurants. I miss the cut-price jerk chicken and rounds-for-a-fiver in the Lords bar with a heavy heart.  From the exclusive Dining Rooms on the banks of the Thames to the highly valued Despatch Box, a coffee shop, which fuels many a frantic, whispered meeting between journo and politician in Portcullis House, Members of Parliament can eat every single meal and snack they desire without ever having to mix with riff-raff.

But is it important what our nation’s leaders eat? Gordon Brown reportedly “exists on microwave meals” and actually like Brussels Sprouts.  David Cameron, grilled by mumsnet on the tough cookie (gettid?!) issue of biscuits declared his favourite to be oatcakes with butter and cheese and Nick Clegg is said to love Spanish food as much as his Spanish lady.  Even repellent, sweaty-man Nick Griffin has admitted that a positive aspect of immigration to the UK has been “a wide range of curries”. 

With legislation on food labelling, animal welfare, farming and international trade all debated within the House recently, the success of Jamie Oliver’s school dinners campaign and the effect that nutrition has on behavior and health it is clearly important that our politicians understand and appreciate food.  If they want to make gaffes – maybe during tonight’s historical telly debates – along the way, then so be it!

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