America's Five Greatest Foodie Presidents

Categories: Featured, Sietsema

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President Obama doesn't make the list -- the word is still out -- though he seems to be showing promising enthusiasm for this peach. (credit: Democratic National Committee)

It's too early to predict whether Barack Obama is going to be one of our greatest foodie presidents, though the signs are good: Michelle planted a garden at the White House and seems concerned about school lunches, while the prez himself is inordinately fond of pizza, chili, toasted cheese sandwiches, and -- gasp! -- spinach and broccoli. (Compare him with George H.W. Bush, who famously hated broccoli, and Bill Clinton, who loved Big Macs.) When he and the first lady came to New York, they dined at Blue Hill, one of the city's foremost market-driven restaurants, telegraphing their dedication to sustainability -- at least for publicity purposes.

But -- you might be surprised to learn -- there were at least five presidents even more obsessed with food, including at least one locavore. Caution: In offering this list, we judge the presidents only on their interest in food -- independent of whatever political peccadilloes they displayed. A good eater doesn't always mean a good president.

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LBJ Library
LBJ goes down on a barbecued rib with his VP.
5. Lyndon Johnson (36th president, 1963-67) wasn't a gourmet -- in fact, he was something of the opposite. Yet he took so much pleasure in eating that he falls among our most food-preoccupied leaders. He was fond of entertaining the press and visiting dignitaries at his ranch in Stonewall, in the Texas Hill Country, where he would often serve giant Tex-Mex buffets. Playing a sort of trick on his guests, he would have the food made super-spicy, the way he liked it himself, and then stand back and guffaw as his tender-tongued dining companions sputtered and turned red.

Predictably, he loved nothing more than barbecue, with pork ribs his special favorite. The LBJ Library on the University of Texas campus keeps a list of the foods he liked best, and it includes chicken fried steak with mashed potatoes and gravy, spicy deer sausage served with scrambled eggs and grits, and anything made with peaches -- a major crop west of the ranch near Fredericksburg, Texas -- including peach cobbler and peach ice cream, washed down with root beer or Cutty Sark.

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