Wednesday, 21 July 2010
The Bushies' Broccoli Beef
It's not often you'll catch me disagreeing with George Bush, but he got it wrong on broccoli.
In 1990, the president used a White House press conference to express his profound hatred for my favourite vegetable. Result? Big laughs. Six years years later, mad cow disease rocked America and Oprah Winfrey joked she would never eat another burger. In response, the Texan meat industry dragged her through the courts in a $12m defamation suit.
Those episodes reveal much about the US food industry. Nonetheless, the influence of America's food giants has expanded beyond their industries and into the realm of politics, like a chubby backside spilling into another passenger's seat.
The combined weight of corporate and political interest in an unhealthy food system partially explains why 34% of Americans are now obese. More on that in my new 'Rusty Butz' column.
The Nixon administration tightened those links between business and politics, and Bush Senior's fortunes were intertwined with those of Tricky Dicky. In 1970, Nixon persuaded the fresh-faced Bush to resign as a Congressman and target the Senate seat of a fierce Nixon critic. The plan backfired – Bush lost. Or did he?
Always the man of honour, Nixon made amends by appointing Bush as the US Ambassador to the United Nations. In a twist of fate, Bush worked his way up to Chairman of the Republican National Committee, and it was he who ultimately demanded Nixon's resignation as president in 1974.
Despite two years at the UN and a later stint as envoy to China, Bush never developed a taste for exotic food. Nothing changed during his presidency. In 1992, served the finest sushi in the world, Bush threw up on the Japanese Prime Minister. In Japan to this day, bushu-suru – 'to do the Bush thing' – is slang for throwing up in public.
What a calamitous episode that was. Scaling back after the detente with Russia, Bush's security team must have thought Japan would be a holiday. But with their president down, they sealed the area and talked fast:
“What was the President served?! 'Red snapper?' Red snapper?! God-dammit!”
Like the Ruskies would use raw fish to assassinate someone... oh.
If you watch carefully, you'll see the President actually spring up to face down his aquatic adversary. He even punches the air in defiance. This gesture is on page one of The Big Man's Political Manual, marked “You can't keep me down!” It's what Silvio Berlusconi did after his ambush in Milan. There however, the similarity ends. Berlusconi had taken a brutal blow to the face; Bush had just copped a tuna maki.
When George W took the White House, there was a feeling that he was settling old family business. But while Dubya tightened the noose on Saddam, he took a more diplomatic approach towards his father's true enemy – broccoli.
In 2000, the would-be president announced that whilst he would not eat the stalks, he would eat the florets. That meeting with Broccoli Man was Bush Jr's Malta Summit. Wariness toward an old enemy was still clear, but there was hope that a new era of mutual tolerance had dawned.
Perhaps this was because Bush had seen how processed foods were nudging his electorate – and his vice president – towards a slow death. Perhaps it was because one such food – a pretzel – darn near delivered him to a quick one.
Following years of feckless snack swallowing, Dubya became a born-again pretzel-chewer. “Listen to your mothers”, he preached. “Chew before you swallow”. The memory of Bush Senior, goading his mother at the gates of the White House, gloating at his constitutional power to refuse her servings of broccoli, seemed distant. Dubya even talked peace with the foe that had nearly killed his pa.
George Bush Jr was actually a keen crop-muncher. Sometimes there was simply no stopping him. Whilst campaigning in Iowa, he snatched up an ear of local corn and tore into it raw. The president mistook the photgraphers' silent awe for admiration:
“You don't even have to cook it!” he bellowed, beaming at farmers who served raw corn only to their lowliest mules.
Speechless, but ultimately Republican, they dutifully looked away as their retching president discarded his fibrous dildo. What a waste..
Still, with a $190 billion subsidy for corn-focused US farmers, there was always gonna be plenty more where that came from...