A new wave of politicians is shaking off the misconception that cooking and politics don’t mix

It is very rare for an elected official to achieve the distinct level of composure of Barack Obama when seated across from Anthony Bourdain in Vietnam. After sharing a meal with the former president, the celebrity chef tweeted a photo of the viral moment. The caption simply read, “Low plastic stool, cheap but delicious noodles, cold Hanoi beer.”

However, that hasn’t stopped politicians from trying to capture similar magic while trying to connect with voters around food, often with inconsistent results. In any given election cycle, it is almost certain that someone will interfere somewhere during the election campaign by eating or drinking.

Sometimes the embarrassment is the kind of low-level pushback some felt when the former Democratic presidential candidate Kirsten Gillibrand danced with a glass of whiskey after working in a gay bar in Iowa (whiskey is his favorite “comfort food”) or when Andrew Yang tried to show some New York know-how during his run for mayor. Yang got poetic about Shake Shack’s “original Madison Square Park location” and posted videos of himself in a very stylish Midtown “bodega”, which caused disagreements among observers on this that differentiates a bodega from a convenience store or a delicatessen.

Other times the embarrassment might prove more substantial, like when former President Gerald Ford bit off a still-shelled tamale and choked on live TV. Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee is convinced that this latest gaffe cost Ford the state of Texas, and therefore his re-election.

That said, politicians’ relationship with the kitchen has traditionally been less variable. Unlike eating on the campaign trail, cooking has never been widely used as a tool to connect with one’s constituents. But as America’s relationship with the kitchen has changed dramatically in recent decades, could spending time in the kitchen increasingly become a strategy used by politicians to cultivate relationships with voters?

As America’s relationship with cooking has changed dramatically in recent decades, could spending time in the kitchen increasingly become a strategy used by politicians to cultivate relationships with voters?

Looking back, former President Lyndon B. Johnson is credited with ushering in an era of “barbecue diplomacy.” Johnson frequently invited world political leaders to barbecues at the LBJ Ranch and the White House. Politics wrotethese events were intended “to evoke the American West and make its guests feel welcome”.

Grilling is the only type of cooking that politicians – politicians, in particular – have reliably “performed” in public. In fact, there is several online collections of images of every president since Johnson shown behind the grill.

It makes sense: Grilling has traditionally been coded as both accessible and uniquely masculine. It is an activity of everyone; whether that means a suburban dad in the backyard or a cowboy in the American West is up to the audience.

Unlike some other types of cooking, grilling also has the advantage of being a fairly quick activity. Politicians can go behind the barbecue, cook a quick steak or a few hot dogs, smile for the camera, and then hand the tongs to someone else. For this reason, it is also harder to mess up than, say, baking and decorating a cake.

This is not true in all areas, of course. Recently, a photograph posted online from Rep. Madison Cawthorn, RN.C., “grilling a burger.”

Related: A number of Democratic presidential candidates are a little weird about food

“Why the scary quotes?” you can ask. Despite the fact that Cawthorn was supposed to be a grillmaster at a Donald Trump rally in April, it doesn’t look like he actually knows how to grill a burger.

In the picture, Cawthorn – who made headlines for party in lingerie and visiting a Nazi retreat despite pressure from government officials to “respect Christian values” – is seen parked in front of an unlit grill, balancing a fully grilled beef patty on a spatula. On the grill, five untoasted buns scattered at random. On top of the burger is a single slice of cold, unmelted cheese one quick motion from falling and sliding between the grates.

It looked wrong, and he received push back for it, which may be one of the main reasons why politicians have shunned the kitchen as a campaign tool. It’s hard to pretend, which makes a new generation of female politicians — including Vice President Kamala Harris and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, DN.Y. — announce their particularly interesting cooking know-how.

While early women’s rights activists attempted to demonstrate that domestic life and politics could coexist by publishing suffrage-themed cookbooks, more contemporary women politicians have carefully moved away from traditionally “feminine” household activities. including cooking and baking. In a culture steeped in sexism, it was imperative that they be recognized as politicians first and women second.

While early women’s rights activists attempted to demonstrate that domestic life and politics could coexist by publishing suffrage-themed cookbooks, more contemporary women politicians have carefully moved away from traditionally “feminine” household activities. including cooking and baking. In a culture steeped in sexism, it was imperative that they be recognized as politicians first and women second.

Hilary Clinton serves as an example. Although she had to do her fair share of cookie baking and tea making during her time as first lady, when Clinton finally ran for president in 2016, her campaign loot included a cross-stitch pillow with the phrase “a woman’s place is in the White House”.

However, as the The Washington Post reportedHarris has actively made the kitchen part of her public persona, “speaking in interviews about her favorite cookbooks by California farm-to-table pioneer Alice Waters, forming fellow Sen. Mark R. Warner, D- Va., via an Instagram video on the intricacies of making a melted tuna sandwich (his secrets include a little fresh parsley and a squeeze of lemon juice) and cooking masala dosas in a video that she filmed with actress and writer Mindy Kaling.”

As the first woman and woman of color to serve as vice president, Harris undoubtedly demonstrates that the age of having to adhere to a strict separation between domestic life and politics is fading. Part of this can be attributed to the fact that Americans’ perception of who a politician can be is changing. However, I also wonder if politicians are beginning to recognize that their constituents’ relationship with the kitchen has also likely changed, providing an additional opportunity for connection.

Over the past few decades, the boundaries of what cooking represents have shifted. Instead of being just a daily obligation or a hobby for a few dedicated cooks, cooking has become a form of entertainment and competition. The Food Network, which launched in 1993, helped launch 24/7 food programming, ranging from traditional stand-and-stir instructional programs to wild reality series like “Worst Cooks in America”.

Since then, the prevalence of food media has skyrocketed, especially amid the pandemic when many Americans have taken up cooking as a hobby at home. Thanks also to pandemic-era supply chain issues, food functions as a lens through which more and more Americans are viewing topics such as workers’ rights and the minimum wage. Increasingly, it serves as a pathway for genuine political engagement, with organizations like Bakers Against Racism and Protest Cakes continuing to grow in prominence nationally.

It’s something that Ocasio-Cortez seems to recognize innately. For several years, the congresswoman has hosted social media live streams in which she answers viewers’ questions while cooking. She talked about Medicare while making chicken tikka masala; in 2020, she discussed the pandemic while cutting lemons.

“I haven’t seen my family in a year, like many of you,” she said, leaning on her cutting board. “I want to be able to visit my friends without being scared, and I want to be able to hang out with my friends when it’s cold outside and not have to be outside.”


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Ocasio-Cortez signed off on this video before showing off the final dish, prompting fellow Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., AT Tweeter: “@AOC you forgot to tell us what you were doing tonight sis.”

“I’ve tried making salmon and spinach pasta but got carried away with how ramping up our Covid response is and how badly we need stimulus checks and health care than all that I did was zest a lemon,” Ocasio-Cortez responded. “I’ll post my meal when it’s done.”

Then, like so many Americans do, she posted a photo from dinner that night. It was a small moment, but one that seemed to resonate with those who watch politics. At the time, The Guardian reported: “AOC’s cooking live streams perfect the recipe to make politics palatable.”

As speculation about the next presidential election begins to heat up and the country seems more divided than ever, it seems likely that more candidates for higher office will join Harris and Ocasio-Cortez in using cooking as a form political awareness. Perhaps 2024 will be the election where we see a growing number of male politicians stepping away from the grill and into the kitchen alongside their female counterparts who shed the misconception that politics and cooking are not don’t mix well.

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