During presidential campaign season all the habits and behaviors of candidates are understandably put under a microscope. And one of the ever-present elements of the campaign trail is food: What the candidates eat at events, how they like to eat, even their go-to comfort foods are all up for comment. (Who could forget the collective gasp of horror that came from the entire city of New York when state gubernatorial candidate Cynthia Nixon ordered a cinnamon raisin bagel with cream cheese, lox, tomato, red onions and capers?)
In the same vein, a true horror of this campaign season has been the photos of presidential candidate and South Bend mayor Pete Buttigieg eating. This may sound harsh, but please just examine the evidence yourself:
Not only is this a crime against breakfast rolls, an act that should lead to Buttigieg never again being permitted to watch the Great British Bakeoff (what would Paul Hollywood say????), his facial expression adds a whole new element of horror to the picture.
I joke, but it’s no secret that food is political. And this isn’t the first time that it’s been a topic of discussion during Buttigieg’s campaign. The candidate was criticized earlier this year for his photo opp at Sylvia’s, the famous soul food restaurant in Harlem, where he had lunch with the Reverend Al Sharpton. Although Buttigieg is far from the first Democratic primary candidate to dine with Sharpton at Sylvia’s, this gesture to Black voters rings particularly hollow considering the repeated critiques Buttigieg has received for his handling of issues surrounding race—both in his presidential run, and as Mayor of South Bend.
Earlier this year, Esquire took a look at the history of this particular gesture—the Sylvia’s meal—and the obvious flaws of this brand of racial awareness:
After he ate with Obama at Sylvia’s in 2007, Al Sharpton declared that “a man who likes fried chicken and cornbread can’t be all that bad.”
It’s a joking line, yet it hits at the flaws in the entire practice—the idea that a candidate who is comfortable riding the subway to Harlem to sit with a black political figure and eat black food must have the interests of black voters at heart. But a man who likes fried chicken and cornbread is just a man with taste buds.
So sure, it is truly horrifying to watch Pete Buttigieg eat, but the bigger horror is believing that you can win the support of a block of voters with some fried chicken and collard greens. Maybe we’d be doing ourselves a favor if we paid a little less attention to Buttigieg’s bizarre eating habits (god PLEASE) and kept our focus on his agenda.