Presidents and their choice of food and drink

Forty-four men have served as President of the United States.  As you probably know, Donald Trump is the 45th president because Grover Cleveland served two non-consecutive terms and was officially dubbed by Congress the 22nd and 24th president.

Every one of the 44 presidents has had a favorite food.  According to Trump and those who have worked closely with him, fast food of almost any kind is his favorite, mainly because the level of cleanliness at chain establishments like McDonald’s and KFC is well-regulated by their parent companies.  From personal experience, though, I can tell you it’s not always regulated by their various shift managers.

Barack Obama likes nachos.  He once told Jerry Seinfeld that in order to stop eating nachos, he has to have someone take the plate away before guacamole comes out of his eyeballs.

George W. Bush’s White House chef told reporters that the president’s favorite food was cheeseburger pizza, which is basically regular cheese pizza with hamburger, onions, tomatoes and sometimes pickles on it.  Despite having a chef and staff, he enjoyed making his own. The older George Bush famously snacked on pork rinds (also known as chicharrones) covered in Tobasco sauce.

Ronald Reagan really did love jelly beans, so much so that 300,000 were ordered each month so they would always be available at the White House, the Capitol and other federal buildings.  Reagan did share.

Jimmy Carter, a Georgian, loved grits.  Fellow southerner Andrew Johnson, who was born in North Carolina but lived most of his life in Tennessee, enjoyed a dish called “Hoppin’ John”, made with black-eyed peas, rice, chopped onion, sliced bacon and salt.  Fellow Tennessean Andrew Jackson’s favorite food was “Leather Breeches (britches)”, which for some reason is what he called green beans cooked with bacon.  I had that a lot growing up, especially at my grandmother’s house.  She was from Missouri and called it “green beans cooked with bacon”.  Jackson, for the record, was born somewhere in the hills of either North or South Carolina and was governor of the Florida Territory before it was a state, but he represented Tennessee in Congress and lived in a house in Nashville he called “The Hermitage”, which indicates to me he didn’t care for neighbors.  Bill Clinton was also a southerner, and he loved cheeseburgers, enchiladas, barbecue, cinnamon rolls and pie until he had heart surgery.  Now he’s essentially a vegan.

Gerald Ford is among a group I’d call “regular guy” presidents.  Ford’s favorite meal was pot roast, followed by butter pecan ice cream.  Regular-guy Texan Lyndon Johnson adored chicken-fried steak with mashed potatoes and gravy, in addition to Tex-Mex, cornbread and grits.  Harry Truman, like Trump, took his steak well done, but unlike Trump he ate it plain, not covered with ketchup.  Franklin D. Roosevelt loved grilled cheese sandwiches, scrambled eggs, chowder, hot dogs and fruitcake.  Counting my wife and me, that brings the total number of people I know of who like or liked fruitcake to three.  Warren G. Harding liked chicken pot pie, Woodrow Wilson liked chicken salad, William Howard Taft filled out his 350-pound frame with steak and potatoes, and Theodore Roosevelt, who always stayed in shape, preferred steak covered with gravy.

Some presidents were dessert guys.  Dwight D. Eisenhower enjoyed cooking as a stress reliever, but his favorite food was “Mamie’s Million Dollar Fudge”, made by Mrs. Eisenhower with chocolate, marshmallows and nuts.  Calvin Coolidge’s wife was an early enthusiast of pseudo Chinese cooking, like chow mein and chop suey, but Silent Cal’s all-time favorite was apple pie.  Ulysses S. Grant was a rice pudding man.  Zachary Taylor, another general, loved a 19th century dessert called “calas”, which was fried dough covered in powdered sugar, or what we in the 21st century would call “beignets” or maybe “donut holes”.  John Tyler liked Indian pudding, which was basically bread pudding with raisins and currants, James Monroe liked spoon bread, which is basically Indian pudding without raisins and currants, and James Madison almost singlehandedly made ice cream popular in America.

A few presidents, whether they had humble beginnings or not, had simple tastes.  William McKinley said his favorite foods were “meat and fish” without elaborating further.  Benjamin Harrison liked corn on the cob.  Rutherford B. Hayes and George Washington both enjoyed pancakes.  James Buchanan liked cabbage.  Millard Fillmore liked any kind of soup.  James K. Polk’s preference was cornbread, and John Quincy Adams told friends he liked nothing better than a bowl of fresh fruit.

Three of the New England guys are fairly predictable.  John F. Kennedy liked New England clam chowder, Franklin Pierce liked fried clams, and Martin Van Buren liked raw oysters.  Other presidents are less predictable.  Herbert Hoover was the only one whose favorite meal was apparently Thanksgiving dinner, in particular candied yams.  Thomas Jefferson traveled extensively in Europe and brought back from Italy a macaroni-making machine and a recipe for macaroni and cheese.  William Henry Harrison and James Garfield both grew up hunting for food in the woods, and both loved squirrel stew.  Like Martin Van Buren, Chester Arthur had mutton chop sideburns,  Unlike Martin Van Buren, Chester Arthur’s favorite food was mutton chops.  Grover Cleveland, who was a bachelor when first elected, habitually skipped regular White House meals in favor of his own stash of pickled herring, and John Adams, a fan of hard cider, is the only president whose favorite food was actually an alcoholic beverage.

That leaves only two remaining presidents.  A poll I saw recently ranked Abraham Lincoln as our best president and Richard Nixon as our worst.  Nixon’s favorite food was cottage cheese with ketchup, and Lincoln’s was bacon.  Coincidence?  You decide.

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