The Arugula Wars: Food as partisan politics

November 2, 2009

Photo by Guy Hand

Photo by Guy Hand

Food has the power to draw people together like no other human activity — think Thanksgiving.  But food can also divide.  In the past presidential campaign opponents frequently used food to divide voters down party lines — think “those arugula eating liberals.”

In this installment of Edible Idaho, correspondent Guy Hand looks at eating as partisan politics.

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“Food as symbol can represent differences between groups, with foods considered inedible or unsavory by one group used to show the other as less civilized or even less human.” From Food & Culture Encyclopedia


When I started work on this story, I wasn’t sure how much actual information I’d find on the subject of whether conservatives and liberals eat differently (or at least think about food differently).  It turns out, I found a lot more than would fit in a six minute radio piece.

• For starters, a study published in the Journal of Consumer Research in 2008 suggests that a person’s belief system influences how things taste.  In other words, if a particular food is congruent with your value system — for instance, if it reminds you of a good childhood or fits with your belief in local food — it will taste better than food that doesn’t mesh with that value system.

• Sociologist Marjorie DeVault documents two distinctive food cultures in her 1991 book Feeding the Family. She says the working classes tend to live closer to where they grew up and value familiar foods and foods associated with family.  Professional classes tend to move away from home and family and therefore learn to value foods that highlight variety and novelty.

• A Pew Research Study found that when people were asked whether they would rather live in a neighborhood with more McDonald’s or more Starbucks, liberals went for coffee, conservatives for burgers.

• From an article in Mother Jones magazine:

You may be a conservative if…you’re a woman who craves chocolate chip cookies. Liberal ladies prefer theirs fruit filled.

You may be a liberal if…you’re in the mood for Chocolate Peanut Butter Cookie-Dough Cheesecake. Liberals’ chain eateries of choice are the Cheesecake Factory, Panera Bread, and Starbucks, while conservatives dine at Hardee’s and Fuddruckers.

You may be a conservative if…you’re happy with tap water. Domino’s Pizza claims Republican customers are less likely to order beverages.

You may be a liberal if…you’re too lazy to walk to the pizza place. The Domino’s survey found that Democrats rely on delivery more than Republicans.

• From conservative commentator Ann Coulter:

On conservative cuisine:
 “We don’t do ‘cuisine’ in the red states. We have vittles. We call mason jars ‘fancy wine glasses.’ All of my favorite red state recipes begin with the same words: ‘Bring one gallon of cooking oil to 375 degrees.’ And you know you are in a red state when a TV commercial says, ‘Catfish: It’s not just for breakfast anymore!'”

On conservative and liberal food: 
”Conservatives eat things that taste good. Liberal eat things that are grown within fifty yards of where you’re eating.”

About Guy Hand:
Guy Hand is a writer, public radio producer and photographer specializing in food and agriculture.
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2 Responses to The Arugula Wars: Food as partisan politics

  1. Jill, The Veggie Queen on November 2, 2009 at 8:48 am

    This is a great piece. We all have food preferences, and it’s interesting to figure out why. What I love most about food, besides its glorious flavors, is that since everyone eats, you can talk to them about food. You may not agree on what to eat but we all do it.

  2. The Arugula Wars, Take 2 | Northwest Food News on November 15, 2009 at 11:20 am

    […] are some additional and very interesting statistics to expand on the recent NPR story I did called “The Arugula Wars” on the question of whether conservatives and liberals eat differently.   According to the report, […]

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