The Edible Is Political: Cookbooks from Both Sides of the Aisle

The cookbook has been a campaign tool for the women’s suffrage movement, John F. Kennedy and now Ron Paul

Political cookbooks come from all sides of the spectrum.
Political cookbooks come from all sides of the spectrum. Feedloader (Clickability)

Feminists popularized the phrase “the personal is political” in the late 1960s, and that principle could be interpreted to include how or what people choose to eat. So it’s not surprising that Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul is selling a cookbook on his campaign website.

The Ron Paul Family Cookbook isn’t the first collection of recipes from the Texas congressman. He has sold earlier editions in previous campaigns and given out copies to constituents for the holidays. In a play on the candidate’s libertarian ideals, New York magazine’s Daily Intel blog posted a satirical version of the cookbook that omits actual instructions or ingredients for recipes, reasoning that “any intrusion into your private decisions, whether by the federal government or by seemingly harmless recipe books, is odious and un-American!”

Of course, the real cookbook does include recipes, instructions and all, for dishes like cheese soup, Reuben dip and easy Oreo truffles, according to Slate’s XX Factor blog. Aside from a patriotic family biography, there’s no apparent political agenda within—other than, perhaps, that you should be free to clog your arteries unfettered by government regulation.

The cookbook as campaign tool is not as novel as it might seem, nor is it exclusive to any one political party. In fact, in 2008, The Obama Campaign Family Cookbook was available to contributors on his website. Though it’s not directly connected to her husband’s reelection campaign, Michelle Obama’s American Grown: How the White House Kitchen Garden Inspires Families, Schools and Communities will be released in April, just months before voters will decide if the First Lady gets to keep her White House garden for another four years.

As the Los Angeles Times reported in 2008, there is a long tradition of political cookbooks, including the drolly titled Many Happy Returns: The Democrats’ Cookbook, or How to Cook a G.O.P Goose, from the campaign season that resulted in John F. Kennedy’s narrow victory. It contained an introduction from Frank Sinatra and recipes from Jacqueline Kennedy—the article shares her secret to good waffles.

Former Louisiana Congressman Billy Tauzin served for 25 years, switching from the Democratic Party to the Republican Party midway through his political career, and also found time to co-author Cook and Tell: Unique Cajun Recipes and Stories in 1999. Martha Stewart had him on her show to prepare barbequed shrimp; he returned the favor a few years later by leading the ImClone investigation that led to her being sent to prison.

The Suffrage Cook Book, compiled by L.O. Kleber in 1915 (and re-released in 2008), contained recipes from big names in the movement, including Shrimp Wriggle from Helen Ring Robinson, one of the first female state senators, and short political passages from the likes of Jane Addams. Kleber wrote in her note from the “editress” that the recipes should be served “alike to best friend as well as worst enemy—for I believe in the one case it will strengthen friendship, and in the other case it will weaken enmity.”

In other words, as her sisters a few generations later would say, the personal is political—even when it comes to food.

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