Published January 27, 2012
You may know where the Republican presidential candidates stand on certain political issues, but do you know what their strengths and weaknesses are when it comes to food?
Did you know that Newt Gingrich has a weakness for ice cream? Or that Ron Paul can’t live without his salads?
What candidates eat on the campaign trail has long symbolized how politicians connect with voters, but a grueling presidential race doesn't always leave time for culinary politicking.
Fox News political contributor Joe Trippi knows a thing or two about candidates’ eating habits, having traveled around with several of them.
“One of the problems of being on the trail,” he says, “is you never know when you are going to eat again. You are at the mercy of whatever the event is, like the Iowa State Fair. A lot of them have their own habits and even if they want to try and eat well and healthy, it's near impossible.” The state fair is notorious for deep-frying any and everything.
Georgia Pellegrini, author of the new book Girl Hunter: Revolutionizing the way we eat, one hunt at a time (Da Capo Press), says the often calorie-filled meals the candidates consume may also be the result of how tired they are.
“They’ve had little sleep and are craving energy,” she says. As they travel around the country, candidates also must try out the local delicacies. “These meals also reflect that the candidates are trying to connect with the communities they are campaigning in, by eating at the local diner and BBQ fare,” Pellegrini says.
These meals often remind us how impossible it is to separate politicking from eating and how it can become part of the debate.
Take for instance, Ron Paul’s slender build. Trippi says Paul, who also is a medical doctor, “may have a disadvantage because he doesn’t look presidential.” But on the flip side, Trippi says people are used to seeing Newt Gingrich’s hefty build, so it may not matter to them if he eats ice cream and isn’t seen working out.
Taking weight off on the campaign trail is almost impossible anyway, Trippi says, noting that it’s very hard to eat three square meals a day.
So what are the candidates eating? As it turns out, they are just like most of us. Sometimes they eat healthy, and sometimes they indulge.
FoxNews.com reached out to Gingrich’s campaign to find out his favorite foods and his food weaknesses. They haven’t replied, but it isn’t hard to see his “sweet” side on the campaign trail.
His guilty pleasure apparently is ice cream, and all things associated with it. A Fox News producer following his campaign before the Iowa caucuses witnessed this firsthand at a stop in front of Adam’s Espresso & Soda Shoppe in Creston. Gingrich’s wife, Callista, was given the opportunity to make a frosty beverage. When Gingrich saw the drink, he said, “I really like that root beer float.” Callista later said she would make him one and that’s when he admitted, “I have certain weaknesses, as you can tell. Food is number one, two and three.”
Gingrich was also seen buying Moose Tracks ice cream at Elly’s Tea and Coffee House in Muscatine. In case that flavor doesn’t ring a bell, it’s vanilla ice cream with chocolate peanut butter cups and swirls of chocolate fudge. While Gingrich admits he's got a sweet-tooth, he knows that eating in the open can turn into a media event.
In New Hampshire, a Fox News producer spotted him about to bite into a sweet treat, but before he dug in, he turned away from the media and said, “Callista says I can’t eat in front of you.” Pellegrini isn’t surprised by all of this. “Gingrich seems to embrace and indulge in his weaknesses,” she says. “He's unapologetic and a man of enormous appetites.”
Ricky Webb, manager at Mutt’s BBQ in Easley, S.C., says Gingrich didn’t turn away when he catered an event for him in November. “It was an honor,” he says, to serve Gingrich chopped chicken (all white-meat) and sweet potato crunch with brown sugar and pecans. "He said everything was good," Webb said proudly.
But Gingrich’s pre-debate ritual is one moment when he may not be packing on calories. During an interview in New Hampshire on Jan. 6, he reportedly said he usually fuels up on Diet Coke to give him an oratory edge.
Ron Paul’s camp says he enjoys soups and salads and that his favorite meal is shrimp and rice. But his reps say he does have a weakness: chocolate chip cookies.
Breakfast foods seem to be some of Paul’s favorites. Moe Joe’s restaurant in Manchester, N.H., reports that he loves their apple pancakes and is often seen hosting meet-and-greet breakfasts with a cup of coffee and a plate of toast in front of him.
Many restaurants we spoke with said that Paul often ate nothing when he held an event at their establishment.
Pellegrini says, “Dr. Paul seems to be applying his isolationist policies to the fatty foods that pepper the campaign trail. His food regimen seems to reflect his independence -- in other words, he ducks the diner favorites in favor of more personal culinary proclivities -- and cookies are indicative of his ever present quirkiness.”
We can also gather a lot about Paul’s eating habits -- it isn’t all about salads and soups -- from all the cookbooks his family has released over the years. The most recent one, released late last year, includes 28 pages of recipes, including King Ranch Chicken, made with Doritos, and an Oreo cake and Texas Sweeties (cookies) recipe. Considering Paul’s slender physique, you have to wonder where all those “sweeties” go.
While Mitt Romney’s campaign didn’t respond to questions about what he enjoys eating, you may have to look no further than his official Twitter account.
Back in July Team Romney posted this tweet: “the new @CarlsJr jalapeño chicken sandwich is delicious.” Then in September, there was a twitpic of Romney eating a breakfast flatbread sandwich with the caption, “Better than the usual campaign diet of morning donuts.”
Speaking of breakfast, Carol Montminy, owner of Jackie’s Diner in Nashua, N.H., says Romney held an event there in November and tried the $2.50 breakfast sandwich on a toasted English muffin.
In December, the Romney team stopped in for burritos at Dos Amigos restaurant in Concord, N.H. Manager Tyler Valentine told FoxNews.com that after eating the pulled pork burrito, Romney, whose net worth is estimated to be between $190 and $250 million worth, declared, “it was better than filet mignon.”
Romney’s love for pulled pork was again obvious on Jan.18, when he made a surprise pit stop to Hudson's Smoke House in Lexington, S.C. Co-owner Clint Hudson says he toured the smokehouse pit area before leaving with bags full of pulled pork, ribs, BBQ brisket, baked beans and salad. Hudson says Romney’s staff called afterward to tell him how good the ribs were.
In his Iowa victory speech Rick Santorum remarked, "This has been an incredible journey. Ninety-nine counties, 381 town-hall meetings, 36 Pizza Ranches. You'll notice that I'm not buttoning my coat for a reason. Okay, I love Iowa, but the [food] fare can be a little bit thickening."
Santorum, like the other candidates, samples the regional cuisine and local hotspots, but he seems to go at it with gusto.
His whistle-stop culinary tour looks something like this:
-- Natalie Brown from Scratch Bakery in Cedar Falls, Iowa, said Santorum dropped in on Dec. 27 for two cupcakes -- a red velvet and a peanut butter cup.
-- Two days later, at the Button Factory restaurant in Muscatine, Iowa, hostess Crystal Hedder says Santorum enjoyed a grilled chicken and cheese sandwich and a house salad.
-- The next day he chowed down on wings at Buffalo Wild Wings in Ames, Iowa.
-- In January, in Greenville, S.C., Nick Stathakis, owner of Stax’s Original Diner, says Santorum dined on all the restaurant’s specialties: baked Greek chicken, mac & cheese and green beans and broccoli casserole, before topping the night off with bread pudding.
Santorum’s daughter Elizabeth and wife Karen keep track of what he eats on the campaign trail, and they admit that he doesn’t always pick the most nutritious meals.
But Santorum told reporters that he starts his day by doing 50 push-ups, and -- unlike Gingrich -- he doesn't go for that caffeine jolt. “I never touch caffeine, no coffee, no coke,” he told Fox News.
He said water is all he drinks all day. “My wife and daughter have been giving me a little hard time about my dietary habits beyond the water, and I’m trying to work on that.” He didn't get back to us with questions about his favorite foods, but early on in the campaign he admitted that he too has a weakness for ice cream.
On a recent stop at a Hardee’s in South Carolina, it seemed Santorum was cutting back on calories a little. He told Fox News he only “had a little salad, the only one they had on the menu.”