There is nothing more tiresome in politics than New Yorkers telling people how to eat bagels. Or pizza. Or BBQ disputes involving North Carolina and Texas.
They’re predictable and totally beside the point.
Usually, in New York, it’s the sin of a politician eating pizza with a fork, but the crime today is Democratic primary candidate for governor Cynthia Nixon ordering a cinnamon raisin bagel with lox on the Upper West Side.
She has been trailing incumbent Andrew Cuomo in polls, so if she loses, we cannot verifiably say it is because of the bagel. But this atrocity against being a genuine New Yorker can’t help.
The reaction online and in the New York media to her order was predictable. Days before the primary, Nixon was defending herself to the press rather than pressing her comfort zone message about how New Yorkers need a better subway system and someone not named Cuomo in Albany.
“That’s my go-to brunch breakfast, whether I’m out or I’m home,” she told reporters. “I mean, it’s not uncooked oatmeal, but it’s pretty delicious and I say, don’t yuck my yum, don’t knock it ‘til you tried it. As the man behind the counter said, ‘sweet and salty: it’s an unbeatable combination.’”
She’s wrong there. It’s not an unbeatable combination. However. This reporter is not from New York, so I cannot with great authority speak to the bagel’s actual importance, but I can say from the outside looking in that this particular order should not be important at all. (Bagel and pizza purists can direct hate mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.)
It is possible to withstand a food foible. The city’s current mayor won re-election despite an unflattering photo of himself doing blasphemy to pizza by eating it with a fork.
President Donald Trump, whose politics are not loved by a whole lot of New Yorkers, has also been filmed with fork and pizza. Before Trump was in politics, the comedian John Stewart went ballistic on him for taking Sarah Palin, who was then mulling a presidential run, to a Times Square pizza chain. It was funny and is still worth watching.
Palin didn’t end up running for president that year, but Rick Perry did. A nearly 20-year-old comment comparing North Carolina pulled pork to “road kill” haunted the then-Texas governor. Oops. He had other problems with his campaign, to be sure.
Perry’s fellow Texan Sen. Ted Cruz wants to keep Texas as blood-red as a rare ribeye, so he raised the prospect of a tofu invasion over the weekend, complaining that money from outside the state was being sent by supporters of the surging Democrat Rep. Beto O’Rourke.
“They want us to be just like California, right down to tofu and silicon and dyed hair,” Cruz said.
Tofu, in Cruz’s telling, appears to be synonymous with fake. He also bragged about turning his wife away from the dark side of being “a California vegetarian.”
“She’s wonderful, but I brought her to the great state of Texas,” Cruz said at the rally.
Appearing authentic can be extremely difficult for politicians trying to relate to voters, particularly in places they wouldn’t otherwise go.
Barack Obama somehow survived complaining in Iowa about the price of arugula in Whole Foods in 2007, driving home the fact that nope, he wasn’t from Iowa and his grasp of farm policy would have to be learned rather than lived.
As Jeff Zeleny, then with The New York Times and now with CNN, wrote at the time, that was not a way to connect with the Iowa farming community.
“The state of Iowa, for all of its vast food production, does not have a Whole Foods, a leading natural and organic foods market. The closest? Omaha, Minneapolis or Kansas City,” Zeleny wrote.
A Whole Foods has since been built in West Des Moines.
Obama won the Iowa Democratic caucuses in 2008 despite arugula.
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Side note: Mark your calendars for the 2019 Iowa State Fair, which kicks off August 8 next year and at which there’s a good chance you’ll see, potentially, people like Kamala Harris, Cory Booker, Elizabeth Warren and others try to fit in by consuming the full complement of fried foods there. Just a hunch. The 2020 Iowa caucuses are six months later.
Politicians do often invite food ridicule by taking part in photo ops at food establishments. Even out of office, Obama and former Vice President Joe Biden have been known to grab sandwiches in front of conveniently placed cameras. Trump is more likely to hold a food photo op at a top-flight restaurant, like he did with Mitt Romney at Jean Georges in 2016, shortly before not selecting Romney as his secretary of state.
But then, Trump doesn’t really care if New Yorkers see him eating pizza with a fork. He’s not trying to relate to people in the middle of the country who don’t have access to Whole Foods; he often brags to them about his wealth and how he’s doing better than elites.
He also genuinely loves to eat McDonalds.
And when he’s going to be photographed with food, he might do it to troll; see the Trump Tower taco bowl photo of 2016.
Everyone, including politicians, have their weird food tendencies. George H.W. Bush hated broccoli. Ronald Reagan loved jelly beans. Obama had the zen power to eat a handful of almonds as a treat. Bill Clinton, who, like Trump, loved his McDonalds in the White House, has basically gone vegan since leaving the White House. Trump, meanwhile, has been trying to lose weight.
We’re getting a long way from Cynthia Nixon’s bagels. But that’s OK. They shouldn’t matter that much anyway.