Donate three dollars for a chance to dine with Mitt Romney and Donald Trump, Romney's fundraisers announced. It was Romney's answer to President Obama's dinners at George Clooney's and Sarah Jessica Parker's homes with a few lucky donors.
Breaking bread with a current or potential president is the one fleeting moment when an obscure voter might feel like an equal, as they make small talk over a strip steak. The kitchen table, after all, is traditionally where families gather to discuss politics and other topics of the day.
Voters don't choose presidents as casually as ordering from a menu. But you can't underestimate how voters form gut reactions based upon what a candidate eats.
First, the fork can be as mighty as the speech when identifying with voters. Romney had "a biscuit and some cheesy grits" for breakfast in Mississippi before its primary. At the time, Romney had yet to prove his strength in the South, and he broke the ice by poking fun at himself.
Regular guy food can do the trick. Many related to Bill Clinton's love of McDonalds. Obama showed up at the Five Guys burger chain as both candidate and president.
The past few Iowa caucuses reportedly featured deep fried butter sticks and corn dogs. (Perennial presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich learned to avoid olive pits in the Congressional cafeteria, however.)
Hifalutin food, by contrast, can reinforce elitism. George H.W. Bush undoubtedly knew this when he told reporters in 1990 "I'm President of the United States and I'm not going to eat any more broccoli." John Kerry in 2004 ordered Swiss on his Philly cheese steak - bad enough he didn't know it came "wit" Cheez Whiz, worse he didn't err on the side of American cheese.
Second, food can help wrap the American flag around our leaders. We witnessed the national symbolism of food in the post-9/11 years when people considered renaming French fries "freedom fries."
Jimmy Carter had once farmed peanuts. Ronald Reagan had a penchant for sweeter jelly beans -- he even sent some on the space shuttle Challenger as a treat for its crew.
Astronaut John Glenn's "apple-pie image wasn't a lie," noted the dust cover of Tom Wolfe's The Right Stuff. Glenn, who would later run for president, received the Medal of Freedom from Obama the other day: making Obama as American as apple pie by association.
Obama and Joe Biden also convened a "beer summit" on the White House grounds to defuse the Gates-Crowley incident. Third, food habits can humanize a president without seeming contrived. Gerald Ford buttered his own English muffins, wrote historian Theodore White, instead of relying on his executive staff.
Lyndon Johnson, after leaving the White House, "would cut an individual bite of steak, pour salt on it," recounted strategist Bob Shrum in No Excuses, "and after...swallowing it, puff on an ever-present cigarette." Johnson died shortly after, Shrum added.
And on the night of Richard Nixon's inauguration, the White House staff prepared the first family a special steak dinner. But "no one had alerted...[them] about the Nixons' penchant for cottage cheese," White House chef Henry Haller wrote in 1987 in "The White House Family Cookbook." So a staff member drove around Washington D.C. in a limo "in search of cottage cheese."
Republican presidents have enjoyed a rich history with food, from "a chicken in every pot" if you voted for Herbert Hoover, to the 330-pound William Taft. Taft as an ex-President liked nothing more after a long drive, wrote Michael Capuzzo in the 1916 shark attack chronicle "Close to Shore," than "a good meal, or a nap, which he often took in public."
So while Romney will talk about austerity in his convention acceptance speech, he won't dare suggest food rationing.
Adam Silbert, an attorney, served as a deputy field organizer for the 2008 Obama campaign.