Yesterday on the campaign trail, Mitt Romney stopped by a Denver Chipotle for a roundly-mocked photo opportunity, and a burrito bowl. (Pork, rice, black beans, pico de gallo, and guacamole, for the curious.) Romney’s foray into mass-market Mexican cuisine came on the heels of the Washington Post’s revelation that the candidate “has a taste for both fine French restaurants and neighborhood ethnic joints.” Though cursory Internet research for known instances of Romney eating at “ethnic joints” comes up mostly empty, Romney did serve bland guacamole at a fundraiser and is known to frequent a Lake Winnipesaukee restaurant called Mise en Place that serves “pan-roasted salmon, infused with red Thai curry and accompanied by pineapple and ginger salsa, so we’ll take the anonymous sources touting his authentic foodie cred at face value. (Picture a face that’s subtly skeptical, though.)
In fact, the Romney-totally-has-a-favorite-masoor-daal-place storyline is part of a recent spate of presidential types (whether current, former, or aspirant) seeking out authentic food experiences beyond the usual Iowa State fair corn-dog variety. Arugula-loving, Blue Hill-dining Barack Obama needn’t do much burnishing of his high-end-food resume, but he’s also taken pains to seek out places like Ray’s Hell Burger, which serves a very good patty of meat at a fairly random strip mall in Arlington. And, as Tyler Cowen would be happy to tell you, strip malls are a top-notch source of under-the-radar good dining. Talking about your favorite strip mall restaurant is like a secret handshake for a certain kind of gourmand.
That’s nothing compared to the Clintons’ recent foray to Bushwick, though. The vegan former president and his wife—who has lately ushered in the State Department’s era of foodie diplomacy—took a recent trip to Roberta’s, the beloved pizza joint filled with artistic young urban pioneers (also occasionally their parents, and food adventure-seekers from the Upper West Side) that has practically become a metonym for the neighborhood’s ongoing gentrification.
It’s possible that we, the food-obsessed types who catalog presidential comings and goings (a subset of the food-obsessed types who live in every major city these days) are just now more inclined to be excited when a statesman eats a samosa. But I think it’s also likely that there’s been a slight shift in what politicians want to be seen eating. Some of that is demographic: eat a pierogi, get the Polish vote has turned into eat a burrito, get the Mexican vote. (Or: eat Chipotle, get every college boy’s vote?) But just as we want our presidents to seek out good literature, and to have traveled widely, and to have otherwise generally turned themselves into well-rounded humans, maybe now we want them to know their red curry from their green. Crucially, this good food politicians are now seeking out so publicly is not necessarily the most opulent, impressive gourmet stuff; instead, it is the most “real.” This is something foodie-ism (in its current iteration) and politics share in common: an endless quest for authenticity.
It’s either that, or Lucky Peach is the new inflight magazine of Air Force One.