Seasons by the Sea: I Do Declare!

Tropical Vibes in Key West serves up shave ice, a specialty of Hawaii, the home state of Tulsi Gabbard, a recently declared presidential candidate. Laura Donnelly

There are so many people running for president in 2020 that since I began writing this, two more people declared their candidacy (Elizabeth Warren and Amy Klobuchar) and by the time this is printed, no doubt several more will have stepped into the race. Or out of it. I’m not so much interested in politics as I am in what the candidates’ (and our potential next president) like to eat. Because, after all, you are what you eat.

We are already well aware of what Mr. Trump’s chosen diet consists of: cherry vanilla ice cream, meatloaf, diet Coke, fast food, and well-done steaks.

According to Ballotpedia, as of Feb. 1, 2019, there were 521 candidates who filed with the Federal Elections Commission to run in 2020. Granted, some of these people filed as far back as 1998. There are 175 Democrats, 70 Republicans, 19 Libertarians, and 13 Green Party candidates. I think some of these people have forgotten they filed, like Kanye Deez Nutz West. And I think one fellow, Adrian J. Cox of Alabama, was entered by his mom the day he was born. Some favorite foods of Alabama, by the way, are peaches and peanuts, pecan pie, pulled pork barbecue, and banana pudding. The kind of banana pudding that you make with instant vanilla pudding and Nilla Vanilla Wafers.

Again, there are way too many candidates to name, so we will just touch on a few. These are the states represented by current Democratic candidates: Maryland, Montana, Massachusetts, Virginia, New York, New Jersey, Hawaii, Texas, Ohio, Indiana, Minnesota, Delaware, Vermont, California, Oregon, and Washington. Some candidates are officially running, some have formed “exploratory” committees, some have started raising money, some just pretend they like to visit Iowa and sip bottled beer like regular Joes and Janes, and some are not running yet but people want them to. 

 As far as interesting backgrounds we have Kamala Harris, whose parents are Jamaican and Tamil Indian, so that could make for some delicious and diverse cooking in the White House. Ms. Harris is adept at Indian cooking, loves Alice Waters and Marcella Hazan, and last summer cooked swordfish with cardamom, cumin, garlic, and lemon for her pescatarian daughter. Her day usually begins with a “Raisin Bran-type” cereal with almond milk and ends with chamomile tea. Her New Year’s resolution for 2019 is to cook more, especially Sunday family dinners.

There is plenty of New York representation with Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, the entrepreneur Andrew Yang, Eric Holder, and Michael Bloomberg, so that could bring New York City classics like bagels, pizza, cheesecake, and pastrami to the White House. Bring some Brioschi, too! Ms. Gillibrand would no doubt bring her food safety experience and concerns with her. She enjoys cooking carrot-ginger-squash soup, baking  pies, and chocolate banana bread sweetened with dried fruits. 

Julian Castro, former mayor of San Antonio and former Housing and Urban Development secretary, was raised in Texas by his Mexican grandmother, so that could mean some delicious south-of-the-border and Tex-Mex fare like camarones à la diabla, chiles rellenos, mole poblano, flautas, and flan. Beto O’Rourke, another Texan, likes Whataburger, Girl Scout Thin Mint cookies, cheese on his burgers even though he’s lactose intolerant, and enjoys playing doughnut roulette with his staff. The winner of the roulette gets to choose the doughnut flavor for all to enjoy. Marianne Williamson, the self-help guru and author, is also from Texas but it’s hard to comprehend her food preferences in spite of her book on weight loss and spiritual lessons. 

Pete Buttigieg is the youngest candidate, a millennial from Indiana. I asked some millennial acquaintances what the ultimate millennial food would be and one said “fusion cooking. Fusion anything, even when it doesn’t work.” The other millennial said “Flamin’ Hot Cheeto Asteroids.” If Indiana is known for any foods it may well be pork tenderloin sandwiches, Van Camp’s baked beans, Orville Redenbacher’s popcorn, and Wonder Bread. Oh, well.

Maryland and Virginia have a few potential candidates, so that could mean some Chesapeake Bay blue crabs would show up at state dinners along with peanut soup and country ham biscuits. If any Pacific Northwesterners like Jeff Merkley (Oregon) or Jay Inslee (Washington) win the election we could see lots of salmon, apples, marionberry pies, and Beecher’s and Tillamook cheeses at the White House. The California candidate (besides Kamala Harris) Eric Swalwell might bring a taste for sourdough bread, Dungeness crab, and avocados.

Amy Klobuchar, the senior senator from Minnesota, does not have a particularly sterling record when it comes to food issues, school lunch contents, and farming practices, nor is Minnesota known for particularly healthy food. The state is known for the Juicy Lucy, a hamburger seasoned with Worcestershire sauce, garlic salt, and American cheese inside the beef patty. The iconic dish of Minnesota is called “hotdish.” One word “hotdish.” The senator’s “recipe” can be found at the end of this column. I put quotes around “recipe” because it is the same recipe as most websites and cans of vegetables and soup that encourage the preparation of this thing. Hotdish is basically ground meat, a can of vegetables, a can of cream of mushroom soup, some cheese, and topped with Tater Tots. I kid you not!

From Hawaii we have Representative Tulsi Gabbard, who is a Samoan-American and the first practicing Hindu in the U.S. Congress. We learned from President Barack Obama that shave ice is a favorite treat from the islands, along with poke, poi, and lau lau. Shave ice is fluffy, fluffy ground ice topped with flavored syrups and perhaps a drizzle of sweetened condensed milk. Poke is cubed raw fish, sometimes marinated with soy sauce, sea salt, seaweed, Maui onions, and/or lime juice. Poi is an acquired taste. It’s basically a thick paste made from taro root. Lau lau is made with the taro leaves, which are wrapped around pork, chicken, or fish and then cooked in an underground hot rock oven for hours. 

Truly, the number of people running (or potentially running) is astonishing. What is refreshing is the diversity and variety of candidates and therefore also the food possibilities that could be served at the White House in 2021.



Shave ice is fluffy ground ice pulverized in a blender or food processor and then topped with flavored syrups — in this instance cherry — and perhaps a drizzle of sweetened condensed milk. Laura Donnelly
Spinach paratha with saag paneer and tomato bhaji is a vegetarian platter from India.