Friday, January 04, 2008

Caucus food

January 4

The ListServ of the Association for the Study of Food and Society discusses many things. This week one topic was food served at the Iowa Caucus.
Here are some reports:

From freelance writer, photographer and editor Cathy Wilkinson Barash:

Reporting from the 65th precinct in Des Moines. We had three times the number of caucus attendees as 4 years ago; 207. The meeting room was jammed with people. Hillary had a relative "spread" with mini ham sandwiches (good Iowa pork), fruit salad (no spoons), chocolate chip cookies, M&M cookies, and bottled water. Since the food was set out on the only large table in the room, others besides Hillary supporters helped themselves. Reportedly the Obama group had plenty of cookies, but they were such a large group, I saw no evidence of it. The Edwards coalition had homemade fudge and caramels, which weren't brought out until the head count was over.

From Warren Belasco:

NPR's Linda Wertheimer, reporting from the town of Nevada, Iowa,
observed that while cookies were allowed inside, sandwiches were not.
Obama's supporters brought cookies. Clinton's brought sandwiches. Draw your own conclusions.

From Robin Kline of Savvy Food Communications:

The town of Nevada (pronounced Nuh-VAY-duh) has some weird rules. I think they were caucusing at the county USDA Extension Building so maybe only 4H-sanctioned cookies (snickerdoodles, etc.) were "allowed".

In the 74th precinct we had 532 registered caucus attendees....Obama had really cute homemade sugar cookies decorated with the Obama "logo" red-white-blue "O" in colored frosting. Edwards had some fine looking cookies and salty snacks; Clinton offered the ham-and-cheese sandwiches, fruit salad (with forks), chips and water.

Here’s another one, sent second hand:

(A) Hillary supporter[s] brought bun sandwiches with some meat filling and some cookies, and bottles of drinking water. An Edwards supporter brought small pretzels with some kind of frosting (cream cheese?) topped off with an M&M. And some Obama supporter brought some Brachs, individually-wrapped Milk Maid fruit-flavored candies.
I did hear several say that they were surprised to get caucus literature suggesting bringing snack foods for attendees, a first in their memories.
That's the short story on a small Iowa (mostly rural) Caucus food offerings.

The ASFS being what it is, I’m not expecting any reports from the Republican front.

January 5

More rapportage:

From Rachelle H. Saltzman of the Iowa Arts Council

69th precinct reporting in--there was an organized effort on the part of Hillary and Obama folks to bring food (the same [catered] ham/cheese on little buns reported by others for Hillary; Obama's folks had boxes of large sugar cookies iced w/the Obama logo [and clearly catered from one of the local supermarkets]). Not sure who brought the water bottles, but the Edwards folks brought all sorts of homemade cookies (peanut butter, chocolate chip, etc.) plus excellent brownies, and quick breads (cranberry and I think banana).

results--we had over twice the numbers from 4 years ago w/a total of 480 (209/Obama, 100/Edwards, 87/Hillary, and 72/Richardson--these were the final results; we started w/fewer for the top three and 50 for Richardson, 30 for Biden, and 1 for Kucinich, and some undecideds).

To echo my Iowa colleagues, it was a great night for caucusing here--crowded and enthusiastic and very congenial.


ps--I strongly suspect the food bringing was driven by the Wash Post story as well as the catered efforts by the Hillary and Obama folks--not sure what the deal was w/the Edwards homemade contingent (and everyone shared w/everyone). I did ask a neighbor who grew up in NW (VERY rural) Iowa, where people really do/did caucus in private homes about food when she was a kid (she's a boomer), and she said that folks definitely brought food, much like a potluck (didn't have time to get into details as to the kinds of foods).

More from Cathy Wilkinson Barash:

In talking with friends today, Hillary's staple was what was at my caucus.
However, caucuses that met in school and some libraries did not allow any
food or drink. Wonder what they did with the trays of food—instant frozen

Also interesting to note that the sandwiches were not typical for Iowa, as
they were meat only—no cheese....


Cathy Wilkinson Barash

From Stasi McAteer:

Reporting from Davenport, my parents informed me that the Clinton camp there also provided the ham sandwiches, but they had chips instead of fruit salad ( folk = less healthy?), and water and dessert. They were impressed with her spread (but not enough to go to her camp).

"Somebody" had granola bars, which my folks thought was silly in comparison to the sandwiches. No report of cookies. A few other candidates had provided drinks.

Obama's people, realizing that it was expected, ran out last minute to buy water. Didn't matter though - 2/3 of the room was in his camp already anyway.

On a non-food note, it was really neat to hear from my mom (who called during the event) and her voice was so excited. She hadn't ever gone to a caucus and had voted Republican in the last several elections. She was definitely "fired up."

And here’s a peach from pescatarian, high-fructose-corn-syrup-hating Doris Witt:

I can indeed offer an at least partial report from my local (Democratic)
caucus venue here in Iowa City, which was, appropriately enough, the
City High School cafeteria. The caucusing process usually begins at
7:00 p.m. and ends around 9:00 p.m., and therefore I think most
caucus-goers have probably already eaten before arriving. In the past I
have occasionally seen individuals carrying bagged dinners. Last night
was the first time I can recall seeing food provided by campaign
workers, but I am admittedly usually so busy checking out the political
loyalties of my more discreet neighbors that I might simply not have

Last night, though, food was definitely being used as bait by at least
some of the campaigns, which when I realized it had the effect of
reinforcing my decision to at least begin the evening as an "undecided."
Accordingly, I spent the first few minutes chatting with various friends
sporting Kucinich, Obama, and/or Richardson buttons who offered solely
food for thought. I complimented them on their idealism and dropped
hints that I might return later before following my eyes (there was,
alas, no "real food" smell associated with the things I am about to
describe) to more gastronomically interesting parts of the room--the
Clinton and Edwards tables, in particular. Visibly unmarked by my lack
of lapel paraphernalia, I was almost immediately cornered by a
Bundt-cake wielding woman sporting an Edwards sticker. Lemon or vanilla
pound cake with high-fructose corn syrup glaze, if I had to guess--very
possibly from the local employee-owned Hy-Vee. I'll probably be fueling
my car with the leftovers in a few days. As the evening progressed, I
continued to see Edwards workers distributing similarly
quasi-Southern/populist sweets--more Bundt-cakes sliced into (reasonably
thin) single serving wedges, pans of brownies, chocolate chip cookies in
plastic packaging of the sort one finds inside, say, a Chips Ahoy bag.
Before I had time to decide whether accepting the Bundt cake was
tantamount to promising to caucus for Edwards, a Clinton precinct chair
tried to tempt me over with an entire bagged dinner--roast beef or
turkey sandwich, chips, cookie, soda. I graciously explained, using my
strongest lingering rural Kentucky accent, that I eat fish but not meat
or chicken. The chair's facial expression started to plummet, and his
eyes flitted forlornly over my plaid flannel shirt. He quickly
recovered, however, having perhaps recognized the tell-tale fleece
lining of costly winter-weight LL Bean jeans, by abandoning the food
lure, gesturing toward the Clinton crowd, and shamelessly reminding me
of key elements of my demographic profile: middle-aged, middle class
white female. "But one who has spent much of the past 15 years teaching
African American literature and culture," I added, having not
coincidentally just noticed that pizza was now being dished out at the
Obama tables. Over I scurried, but with 700 plus people (a record
number) packed into a room designed for about 350, over half of whom
were supporting Obama, I failed in my quest and therefore am unable to
report with any accuracy the brand of pizza or types of toppings--though
it did appear to be regular rather than thin or thick crust, and I think
at least some of the toppings were intended to pass as vegetables.
Perhaps not surprisingly, no tempting smell emanated from the pizza
either. (One wonders whether in 2012 the Kucinich camp will seize the
opening by recruiting CSA affiliates to serve up freshly baked whole
grain bread filled with locally-grown organic sprouts and locally
produced goat cheese.) But by that point the Edwards and Clinton
supporters, who were sitting on the side of the unbearably stuffy room
nearest the windows, had decided to open them in a largely fruitless
effort to lure more supporters ("Come on over and join the cool
campaigns"), so it might just have been that my nasal passages were
rendered useless by the sudden blast of sub-zero air.

As for Dodd and Biden, by the way, it is possible that food was
circulating among their small numbers of supporters, but, alas, neither
campaign even managed to garner seats at any of the cafeteria tables,
and so if they did eat it had to have been while standing up. During
the realignment portion of the evening (in our precinct, candidates
needed a minimum of 108 supporters by the end of the two alignments to
win any delegates), the Richardson supporters mostly went over to Obama,
and the Dodd and Biden supporters redistributed themselves among the
Obama, Edwards, and Clinton camps. Not being ethnographically inclined,
I cannot report with any accuracy as to whether the culinary offerings
had anything to do with their choices. One suspects that exit poll data
on this very issue will be available next time out, though.

I myself left the caucus at the end of the evening without having
partaken of any of the (pseudo-)food offerings. As for what that means
with respect to my choice of presidential candidate, only my 700 plus
neighbors know for sure . . . .

Signing off until November 2011,

January 7: Word from the Republicans

From the ever-intrepid Cathy Wilkinson Barash:

I spoke to a Republican friend over the weekend. It seems a representative
from each candidate gave a 10 to 15 minute speech. Asked about food, she
replied that after half an hour they switched the meeting rooms (Democrats &
Republicans were both in same building) as the Dems needed a bigger space.
Apparently they left their food behind, so the Republicans happily chowed
down on Hillary's sandwiches, chips, cookies and water, Obama's logo-ed
cookies, and Edward's home-made brownies and fudge!

And a point of clarification from Joseph Mutz, RD

Perhaps we haven't heard much of Republican Iowa Caucus food because of the nature of their caucus. The Republican process is much simpler than that of the Democrats. The Republicans vote via private ballot and have "no second round/15% viability rule." There is no "standing" with a certain candidate or repeated head counts for the republicans. Thus, most republican caucus go-ers, vote via private ballot and then return home, while the Democrats' event can go on for several hours. 

I have an aunt in Iowa who caucused with the republicans and she said she was in and out in well under a half an hour, leaving little time or necessitation for sustenance in the form of rivaling Giuliani sandwiches, Huckabee cookies, or McCain muffins.

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