Upon the revelation that Ann Romney had joined Pinterest in late February, the Internet exploded with important questions: Why did the Republican front-runner’s wife pin Anna Karenina on her “Books Worth Reading” board? Why wasn’t she following anyone? Was this an intentional counter to Think Progress’ damning Pinterest board called “Luxury Hotels of the Romney Campaign”?
And yet no one (except for prescient DoubleX editor Jess Grose) was asking the most glaring question of all: Why on earth did Ann Romney pin not one but two granola recipes to her “Recipes” board? This is a whopping 29 percent of her recipes!
Before attempting to answer this question, it’s worth noting that in addition to a “Recipes” board, Romney also has a “Patriotic” board—and, confusingly, the “Patriotic” board also contains many links to recipes. (Pinterest allows users to collect images from around the Web in a single place and group them by category; the benefits of such a system are debatable.) Romney’s patriotic foods include red, white, and blue cupcakes; jingoistic strawberries that have been dipped in white chocolate and coated in blue sprinkles; and Chex Mix containing white chocolate and red and blue M&Ms. (Though comparable in some ways, Chex Mix is not granola and will not be included in this granola evaluation.)
Having recently spent some time on Slate’s granola beat, I was interested in the kinds of granola that appeal to a Republican politician’s wife. Romney’s first granola image links to a recipe at The Prepared Pantry called “Mix and Match Homemade Granola Recipe.” The author of the recipe recommends using oat flour to help the granola form clusters (which is a legitimately great idea), and the recipe also contains seeds, walnuts, raisins, and, most notably, a mix of different rolled grains that costs $5.99 per ten cups—quite a bit more by volume than regular rolled oats. If Romney is trying to appeal to the masses with her Pinterest choices, a recipe calling for fancy mail-order grains doesn’t do much for her cause. (Of course, frugal bakers could certainly substitute Quaker’s for the blend.)
Romney captioned her second granola photo thusly: “Granola cups! Creative spin.” These granola cups are actually more like granola bars than actual granola—the recipe calls for pressing a wetter-than-usual mixture of oats, seeds, dried fruit, sugar, and butter into muffin tins, making an indentation in the middle of each, and baking until crunchy. They look pretty delicious, but the benefits of granola cups over granola bars are dubious—is it really worthwhile to press granola batter into individual muffin tins for the sake of having a tiny cavity for yogurt? This is more of a vanity craft project than a practical granola recipe. (Conspicuously, from a color-scheme point of view, the granola cup Romney pinned contains not only yogurt, but also blackberries and strawberries.)
What is the meaning of Ann Romney’s two granola recipes? I suspect that in an era when the so-called obesity crisis is a national obsession, granola is a safer option than that traditional first-lady baked good, the cookie. Never mind that, as I wrote with my granola recipe of a few weeks ago, granola is more or less the same thing as cookies—it has a patina of wholesomeness. And Romney’s “Recipes” board evinces a concern for health: beyond the gluten-free dessert pizza, the board also contains “low-fat turkey burgers” and “a healthier version” of banana bread.
What’s more, granola seems to be more or less universally appealing. It obviously carries a certain hippie cachet, and it appeals to the kind of sustainable-food-obsessed hipsters who make their own pickles and brew their own beer. But making homemade cereal is also right out of the playbook of the platonic ideal of the stay-at-home mom—which makes granola equally attractive to the contingent of über-conservative voters who agree with Rick Santorum about the proper role of women.
In other words, by virtue of its across-the-spectrum appeal, granola is the ultimate politically advantageous tool. Romney’s profession of her love for granola via Pinterest was a savvy attempt at bolstering her husband’s cred among former hippies, young urban lefties, and Christian homemakers. And yet her choices—one expensive, the other fussy—reveal the same tone-deafness that plagues her husband when he tries to relate to the middle class.
Of course, it’s also possible that Romney (or a staffer) hastily assembled her Pinterest boards as a campaign stunt without giving any deep thought whatsoever to her choices. But where’s the fun in that?