From Washington to Obama: The 44 most presidential moments in food


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Presidents Day, the third Monday in February, is a celebration of George Washington’s birthday, but also of the men who led our democracy through civil and world wars, economic depressions and recessions, citizens’ rights matters and countless other historical milestones in our modern society. These men also loved delicious food.

To honor those men that led the United States and sometimes did it on a full stomach, we present the 44 most presidential moments in food.


1. George Washington (1789-1797) 

Our nation’s first president had quite a rich taste in food. His favorite meal included cream of peanut soup, mashed potatoes with coconut, and string beans with mushrooms. We’d probably want to eat mostly soft foods, too, if we had false teeth like him. Go get it, Georgie.


2. John Adams (1797-1801) 

Sustainable living is something even our founding fathers promoted. Adams and his wife, Abigail, planted the White House’s vegetable garden in 1800 and used the produce to feed the first family, as opposed to buying it from the local market.


3. Thomas Jefferson (1801-1809)

It’s widely known that Jefferson was a renaissance man — politician, philosopher and inventor, among other things — but the nation’s first foodie? We think so. Jefferson’s Virginian home of Monticello boasts a grand garden to supply the estate with fresh food. Jefferson’s vision in the kitchen, too, was a revolutionary blend of Parisian and Virginian cuisines.


4. James Madison (1809-1817)

After a long day of Constitution ratification, who doesn’t want to curl up with a big bowl of ice cream? Talk to James Madison about that, as ice cream was his favorite food.


5. James Monroe (1817-1825) 

Steamboats were a luxurious way to travel back in the day, and James Monroe was the first president to travel by, and dine on, one.


6. John Quincy Adams (1825-1829) 

It’s curious that with such an extensive education of international cuisines, John Quincy Adams preferred apricots and other fresh fruits from the White House’s garden to much fancier or richer dishes.


7. Andrew Jackson (1829-1837)

Talk about one hell of a party! Andrew Jackson’s punch-fueled inauguration party included a debauched crowd storming the White House to congratulate him.


8. Martin Van Buren (1837-1841) 

An economic depression before the 1840 inaugural caused inflation, and therefore the prices of cotton and food went up. People blamed the poor economy on the president, giving him the nickname Martin Van Ruin.


9. William Henry Harrison (1841)

The tall, thin and malnourished president was said to have a peculiar diet consisting mostly of dairy and cheese products. The understanding is that he had ulcer disease, which was soothed slightly by dairy.


10. John Tyler (1841-1845)

The president enjoyed puddings. Can’t say that we blame him.


11. James K. Polk (1845-1849) 

Folk punk music lovers will delight in the fact that the eleventh U.S. president lent his name for a short period of time during the latter 2000s to the Charlotte-based James K. Polk and the Family of Friends, which released an album “Food Permit.” Um, wut?


12. Zachary Taylor (1849-1850) 

The sudden death of Zachary Taylor, though disputed by historians, most likely was caused by cholera. Shortly before Taylor fell ill, he attended a ceremony on the grounds where the Washington Monument would be erected and consumed a large amount of water, iced milk and cherries, the former of which could contain bacteria that cause cholera.


13. Millard Fillmore (1850-1853) 

Fillmore is responsible for updating the White House’s kitchen by installing an iron cook stove, which the staff took some time adjusting to.


14. Franklin Pierce (1853-1857)

A big part of politics is connecting with the people on one’s turf, which the charming Franklin Pierce mastered through pub discussions. However, Pierce wasn’t just a social drinker — he was an all-out alcoholic, though it’s said that he stayed sober for his term as president.


15. James Buchanan (1857-1861)

The 15th president, like his predecessor, was a heavy drinker. He’d have tiny Champagne bottles delivered to the White House and would take Sunday rides to buy whiskey.


16. Abraham Lincoln (1861-1865) 

Yes, yes. We’ve all heard about the cherry tree, but did you know that Old Abe’s political rallies often included a slow-roasted pit barbecue of turkey, ox or mutton? He’d definitely have our vote!


17. Andrew Johnson (1865-1869)

We hope he didn’t choose to eat these two together, but Johnson’s favorite foods were fish and jam. We’ll take our raspberry preserves sans the smoked salmon, thanks.


18. Ulysses S. Grant (1869-1877)

To say that Grant’s inauguration banquet was an excessive affair would be quite the understatement. The New York Times listed the following amount of food was served at the event: 10,000 fried oysters, 8,000 scalloped oysters, 8,000 pickled oysters, 63 boned turkeys, 75 roast turkeys, 150 roast capons stuffed with truffles, 15 saddles of mutton, 40 pieces of spiced beef, 200 dozen quails, 100 game patis [sic], 300 tongues, 200 hams, 30 baked salmon, 100 chickens hot and cold, 400 partridges, 25 stuffed boars’ heads, 40 patis de foie gras (10 pounds each), 2,000 head-cheese sandwiches, 3,000 ham sandwiches, 3,000 beef-tongue sandwiches, 1,600 bunches celery, 30 barrels salad, 2 barrels of lettuce, 350 chickens boiled for salad, 6,000 eggs for salad, 2,000 pounds lobster, 1 barrel of beets, 2,500 loaves of bread, 8,000 rolls, 24 cases of Prince Albert crackers, 1,000 pounds of butter, 300 charlotte russes, 200 moulds wine jelly, 200 moulds blanc mange, 300 gallons ice cream, 200 gallons ices, assorted, 400 pounds mixed cakes, 150 large cakes, 60 large pyramids, assorted, 25 barrels Malaga grapes, 15 cases oranges, 5 barrels apples, 400 pounds mixed candies, 10 boxes raisins, 200 pounds shelled almonds, 300 gallons claret punch, 200 gallons coffee, 200 gallons tea and 100 gallons chocolate.


19. Rutherford B. Hayes (1877-1881)

Whether it was desserts or caffeine, the president’s diet motto was everything in moderation.


20. James Garfield (1881)

Well, this is horrifying. Garfield apparently enjoyed eating squirrel soup. We’ll take your word for it, Jimmy G.


21. Chester A. Arthur (1881-1885)

The “Gentleman Boss,” as he was called, helped modernize the White House with an extensive renovation. He brought to the residency his exquisite taste for fine food and culture.


22. Grover Cleveland (1885-1889)

What fine palate Arthur possessed, Grover Cleveland lacked. He often commented on how he’d rather eat basic foods: “I must go to dinner, but I wish it was to eat pickled herring, Swiss cheese and a chop at Louis’ instead of the French stuff I shall find.”


23. Benjamin Harrison (1889-1893) 

An 1888 political cartoon that appeared in Puck magazine shows Harrison attempting to control a crowd of politicians rushing to be appointed to various international affairs positions, which were shown as foods on a banquet table. The cartoon is a great depiction of foreign affairs.


24. Grover Cleveland (1893-1897)

Just give the man a hamburger and some fries and he’s good to go.


25. William McKinley (1897-1901)

Another guy who likes his meals basic, McKinley’s favorite foods included meat, potatoes, eggs and bread.


26. Theodore Roosevelt (1901-1909)

All of those federal food regulations that keep U.S. residents healthy can be traced back to Teddy. He negotiated with Congress to pass the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906. Thanks for looking out for the consumer, Teddy!


27. William Howard Taft (1909-1913) 

Standing at almost 6 feet tall and weighing 320 pounds at his heaviest and 240 at his lightest, Taft was a yo-yo dieter, gaining and losing excess of more than 50 pounds at a time. We can sympathize, Willie. Weight control can be tough.


28. Woodrow Wilson (1913-1921)

Food rationing during wartime wasn’t a new concept in 1917, but this time around Twentieth Century advertising helped make Wilson-endorsed campaigns like “Meatless Mondays” and “Wheatless Wednesdays” household rules.


29. Warren G. Harding (1921-1923)

The president hosted men-only dinners that featured German specialties, such as sauerkraut and wurst. The evenings continued with cigars and card games.


30. Calvin Coolidge (1923-1929)

The president was known for his humor. Once, his wife, Grace, baked a pie and Coolidge suggested the crust would make a good road-paving substitute. Hilarious, Cal. Go bake your own pie!


31. Herbert Hoover (1929-1933)

“Food will help win the war” was the slogan that Hoover adopted during World War I, when he served as the head of the U.S. Food Administration.


32. Franklin D. Roosevelt (1933-1945) 

The Great Depression and World War II were trying times for citizens and soldiers alike. Roosevelt helped put in place the U.S. Food Program to try to provide quality and sustainable food for everyone.


33. Harry S. Truman (1945-1953)

"I like well-done steaks; Mrs. Truman's chocolate cake and chicken and dumplings; [my] mother's custard pie and fried chicken," Truman wrote on a favorite food questionnaire that is on display in the in the archives of the Harry S. Truman Library.


34. Dwight D. Eisenhower (1953-1961)

Eisenhower’s personal collection of recipes was turned into a cookbook. His vegetable soup and beef stew, in particular, were so popular with the public that the recipes were widely reprinted in many newspapers.


35. John F. Kennedy (1961-1963) 

Low-income families throughout the United States were finally able to connect with nutritious diets during Kennedy’s presidency because of the Department of Agriculture’s food stamp program.


36. Lyndon B. Johnson (1963-1969)

Johnson picked up where Kennedy left off by signing the Poverty Bill, which also was known as the Economic Opportunity Act.


37. Richard Nixon (1969-1974) 

In 1973, Nixon provided subsidies to financially strapped farmers to drive down the prices of such products as corn and soybeans.


38. Gerald R. Ford (1974-1977)

After Watergate shook the nation, the people needed someone dependable, like Ford. Also dependable were his favorite foods: pot roast and red cabbage.


39. James Carter (1977-1981)

Carter grew up on a farm in Plains, Ga., and later, after leaving the military, ran the same farm until he was elected governor.


40. Ronald Reagan (1981-1989) 

The practice of having a presidential food taster, which our current president received some criticism over a few years ago, can be linked back to Ronald Reagan’s presidency.


41. George H.W. Bush (1989-1993)

Don’t ask the former president George Bush Sr. about his fiber intake: “I do not like broccoli, and I haven't liked it since I was a little kid and my mother made me eat it,” he said.


42. William J. Clinton (1993-2001)

More than a few times during his presidency, published photos showed Clinton noshing on a hamburger in a McDonald’s or enjoying an ice cream cone. But the president has since cleaned up his diet and given up meat after several heart-related procedures in the 2000s.


43. George W. Bush (2001-2009) 

Oh G.W.! The United States' 43rd president had a number of headline-making events involving food during his eight years in office — for example, the 2003 Thanksgiving turkey for U.S. soldiers in Iraq that everyone remembers as fake but, in truth, was real; when he was celebrating Sen. John McCain’s birthday as New Orleans was underwater from Hurricane Katrina in 2005; and then that one time he passed out from choking on a pretzel.


44. Barack Obama (2009-present)

We live in a 24-hour world of news, so there is no shortage of information about President Obama and food. Among them: Tumblrs dedicated to photos of the president eating various foods; his declaration that broccoli is his favorite food; First Lady Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move!” campaign to reduce childhood obesity; and a week ago, he signed a food bill to trim the food stamps program. So what we’re saying is, check back in another three years to find out Barry’s best moment in food.