clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

What 2020 Democratic Presidential Candidates’ Comfort Food Preferences Say About Them

A New York Times interview series uncovers what the candidates are craving

hamburger and fries
An American classic.
Photo: Andrey Bayda / Shutterstock

This morning, the New York Times debuted an impressive series of interviews with 21 of the Democrats running in the 2020 presidential election, with videos capturing candidates’ answers to the same set of questions. One of those questions is: “What is your comfort food on the campaign trail?

The campaign trail, which is long and often grueling, is not known for being a culinary highlight (in the run-up to the 2016 election, the Clinton and the Trump campaigns primarily fed their teams with grocery store items and fast food like Domino’s and McDonald’s, as Eater’s Vince Dixon discovered). So it’s not surprising to learn that the 2020 Democrats’ answers to the question range from good ol’ greasy classics to a common candy, with just a few more idiosyncratic picks.

Food can tell you a lot about a person: the cultures they may be mired in, their lifestyle — or, if you’re a BuzzFeed quiz, intimate details about their deepest desires and core essence as a human being. Knowing that, here are the candidates’ comfort foods of choice on the campaign trail, along with Eater’s interpretations of what that says about them, their campaign, their politics, and who they’re pandering to.

Cory Booker, senator from New Jersey

“When you’re a vegan, that means lots of veggies on the go.”

Booker, a vegetarian since the ‘90s and a vegan since 2014, is uninterested in red-meat, red-state politics. His choice of food reflects both his general approach of optimism (eat healthy, live to see and fight another day) and himself as a candidate: supposedly good for you, but somehow unappealing and herb-y.

Tulsi Gabbard, congresswoman from Hawaii

“I try to stay away from it, but vegan cupcakes is probably a real threat on the trail.”

This food, like Gabbard herself, is a unique combination of things you wouldn’t necessarily think would or should go together: vegan and cupcake, progressive appeal and conservative record. This says, “I’m into life’s small indulgences, but in a conscious consumer kind of way.” It also says, “Who needs the red states? I’m pursuing the Goop endorsement.”

Beto O’Rourke, former congressman from Texas

“Any kind of fast food.”

Beto, please be more specific. There are so many types of fast food — is he a burger guy, a pizza man, a taco fellow, a chicken chap? In typical Beto fashion, he goes shallow by going wide: at the end of the day, all this really says about him is that he wants everyone to like him.

Steve Bullock, governor of Montana

“I love a good hamburger.”

Beef cattle is a huge part of Montana’s economy, so Bullock is clearly most comfortable with his homebase.

Seth Moulton, congressman from Massachusetts

“I mean, you can’t beat a burger for a quick classic American meal.”

Massachusetts is NOT known for beef production, so Seth here is ready to dance outside his comfort zone. Note the “classic American” wording — patriotism! He has a strategy.

John Delaney, former congressman from Maryland

“Grilled chicken sandwich from McDonald’s, no sauce. Two of them.”

Plain grilled chicken breasts, hold the dressing? Bland and forgettable, just like Delaney’s campaign so far.

Amy Klobuchar, senator from Minnesota

“A baked potato.”

A baked potato is a funny choice because it’s so plain, yet can be transformed by what you put on it, whether that’s cheese or bacon or sour cream. Klobuchar, who has been struggling to ascend into the middle tier of candidates despite her “Midwestern senator next door” playbook, is operating from modest ground most of the time, but has moments where she almost breaks through the noise, whether that’s with her 137 policy proposals or hearsay that she’s eating salad with combs.

Michael Bennet, senator from Colorado

“An Italian sausage sandwich at Pass Key in Pueblo, Colorado.”

I appreciate the specificity of this nod to Bennet’s constituents back home, who may be the only voters to spring for a candidate who is otherwise pretty lacking in name recognition.

Bill de Blasio, mayor of New York City

“I think if I’ve got one go-to, it’s pulled pork.”

Bold of de Blasio to utter the word “pork,” made from pigs, given his famously contentious relationship with New York cops as well as critics of the NYPD. A more expected answer would have been something from his hometown, like (structurally sound) pizza. But then again, it’s been clear for a while now that de Blasio wants nothing more than to leave New York; in that sense, favoring a flavorful dish from another region may speak volumes.

Andrew Yang, former tech executive

“Kind bars are my comfort food.”

A Kind bar? LOL, fuck off.

John Hickenlooper, former governor of Colorado

“I do have a sweet tooth, and I will look for those little bowls of, you know, M&M’s or mints.”

The fact that Hickenlooper, a craft brewer, did not use this as an opportunity to shill his own line of beer, speaks to some level of integrity, I guess. Although you have to wonder who he’s trying to speak to with these sweets that he can hardly specify: people who hand out bargain bin candy on Halloween, grandparents, or diners grabbing handfuls of free mints from the bowl on the hostess’s stand after a meal out?

Jay Inslee, governor of Washington

“It was M&Ms, but I’ve taken an oath now to lay off of the M&M’s to maintain belt security.”

“Maintain belt security” is a funny joke. I love humor.

To better reflect Inslee’s platform, which focuses on climate change as our most pressing issue, here are some alternatives: “to protect the planet (of my stomach) from expanding at an unsustainable rate”, “to prevent rising blood sugar levels”, “to stop irreversible and destructive damage to my tooth enamel.” These can be workshopped with his team.

Bernie Sanders, senator from Vermont

“Last time out, we did a trip to the West Coast, and I gained three pounds in four days. So it’s too much comfort food.”

Like Beto, Bernie’s answer suffers from a lack of specificity, but maybe this speaks to his social values. There are multiple states on the West Coast, each with their own regional specialties, and isn’t it a tad capitalist to rank them? Did Sanders devour marionberry pie in the Pacific Northwest? Mexican food in California’s Central Valley? Just a lot of In-N-Out?

Marianne Williamson, self-help author

“I have no comfort food.”

This is the saddest thing I’ve ever heard, especially from a self-help author???

Pete Buttigieg, mayor of South Bend, Indiana

“The word got out that I like beef jerky, and so people have been kind enough to give that to me on the road sometimes.”

Buttigieg’s fondness for beef jerky is a real thing, as evidenced by several articles highlighting that tidbit, as well as confirmation from Buttigieg’s husband, Chasten (“Beef jerky, string cheese, and Gatorade”). It’s an interesting, real salt-of-the-earth sort of food that may appeal to the centrists Buttigieg keeps courting. He might be an urbane, multilingual wit, but he’ll still maw down on some dried-up cow meat.

Bonus: Buttigieg’s note that other people gift jerky to him says that he has dedicated fans and supporters who know what he likes — an expert-level humblebrag, if you will.

Tim Ryan, congressman from Ohio

“I’m an ice cream guy.”

Another unsurprising everyman answer from another guy who almost nobody in the U.S. knows. But what flavor, Tim?! That could change everything.

Julián Castro, former housing secretary

“I don’t have a food. I have a comfort drink, which is iced tea.”

This choice is Castro through and through; he’s been sipping on iced tea for years. The bad news is, it seems young people don’t care for iced tea so much anymore. To gain a foothold in that demographic, Castro may want to consider cold brew or perhaps Juuling.

Eric Swalwell, congressman from California

“It’s really comfort coffee. My favorite coffee is a mocha.”

To be fair, most of these candidates are likely fueled by little more than coffee and ambition at any given time. Swalwell’s choice of mocha — a chocolate-flavored drink — is a hair more surprising, echoing the California representative’s history of just really going for it.

Kirsten Gillibrand, senator from New York

“A glass of whiskey at the end of the night.”

Gillibrand evidently knows how to have a good time! You can imagine how this could appeal to both professional women — whose issues are a core part of Gillibrand’s policy proposals and primary strategy — and perhaps even the liquor-chugging men who have traditionally been the targets of whiskey advertising.

Elizabeth Warren, senator from Massachusetts

“Probably chips and guacamole.”

Warren, who famously announced her candidacy with a livestream in which she drank beer (and was subsequently accused of being “inauthentic” for it), seems to be making a pointed statement with her choice of guacamole, a food with origins in Mexico, a country that our president has insulted and threatened more times that I can count. Highlighting this food in a time when immigrants are being detained in horrific numbers and under horrific conditions at the U.S.-Mexico border could be yet another way for Warren to signal her support for immigrants — and what I’m sure is an authentic love of chips and guac.

Kamala Harris, senator from California

“French fries. I love a good French fry, or a few, or many, or just the whole thing.”

As anyone who has absentmindedly eaten a couple fries only to look down a few minutes later and see the bottom of empty, oil-stained container knows, this may be one of the most relatable answers. Harris’s communications director backed up her boss on Twitter this morning, writing: “Yesterday she showed me photos of fries she made at home in duck fat. The woman is not messing around about her favorite food.” Harris, who 538 noted could have “broad appeal” across the Democratic primary electorate, is sticking to the universal.

Joe Biden, former vice president

The former vice president, as the New York Times noted, declined to participate in the interviews, “despite repeated requests since late April,” so I’ll take the liberty of assigning a comfort food to him, myself: A full ham. That’s it.


Sign up for the Sign up for the Eater newsletter

The freshest news from the food world every day