Field of Greens
The dreaded broccoli uprising and other freaky GOP nightmares.
What is it about conservatives and their fear of vegetables? And how did those selfsame politicians who purport to be from "agriculture states" reconcile that fact with their bottomless hatred of all things that grow in the ground? Al Franken famously mused that Republicans have never forgiven liberals for "Freedom Riding, bra burning, pot smoking, free-loving, tree-hugging, draft-dodging, Woodstock-attending, Woodstock-overdosing, God not-fearing, and carrot cake. They've never forgiven us for carrot cake." Some say this all started when President Ronald Reagan first embraced ketchup as a vegetable and culminated when George H.W. Bush famously banned suspicious greens from Air Force One by proclaiming, Sam-I-am-like, that: ''I do not like broccoli. And I haven't liked it since I was a little kid and my mother made me eat it. And I'm president of the United States and I'm not going to eat any more broccoli!''
By then, the lines in the national vegetable wars were clearly drawn. In 1988, Dan Quayle hoisted Michael Dukakis on the end of a Belgian endive, claiming that the former Massachusetts governor was an out-of-touch vegetable elitist. (Not only was Dukakis telling Iowa farmers to grow an obscure and leafy green, he was also subtly suggesting that foreign vegetables were better than domestic ones.) President Obama took yet more Republican heat in the summer of 2007 for suggesting that farmers in Iowa might have checked out the price of arugula. Arugula! They're still reeling from that one over at Fox and Friends, where the word arugula is code for "violent Nazi-style total world dominion."
There's a long, illustrious pedigree to the political food smear. Consider this classic 2004 attack ad, describing Howard Dean as a "tax-hiking, government-expanding, latte-drinking, sushi-eating, Volvo-driving, New York Times-reading, body-piercing, Hollywood-loving, left-wing freak show."
To be sure, a goodly amount of the conservative complaints about healthy food are thinly veiled slurs on women in general and Michelle Obama in particular. Last week, Sarah Palin lectured Laura Ingraham on the first lady's socialist plot to promote healthy eating: "Take her anti-obesity thing that she is on. She is on this kick, right. What she is telling us is she cannot trust parents to make decisions for their own children, for their own families in what we should eat." And when Rush Limbaugh goes after Michelle Obama for the same reasons, he doesn't even bother to hide the fact that he hates her for being a woman (note his classy references to her wardrobe and to "Michelle My Butt") as much as for her love of vegetables ("Gotta eat healthy stuff, gotta eat the garbage that she grows in the garden, nothing but fruits and vegetables").
Come to think of it, the very word "nanny state"—so frequently linked to GOP anti-vegetablist rhetoric—suggests that, much like George H.W. Bush, what most Republicans are really trying to work through with all this veggie fear-mongering, is their issues with their mothers.
Look, you're not going to get me to say a single nice word about green vegetables. I think maybe Gertrude Stein said it best when she reminded us that "a vegetable garden in the beginning looks so promising and then after all little by little it grows nothing but vegetables, nothing, nothing but vegetables." But if you really believe that the president plans to initiate a new world order by way of healthy field greens, it's also possible that you're a little bananas.
Dahlia Lithwick writes about the courts and the law for Slate.
Photograph of asparagus by Ryan McVay/Digital Vision.