Former Associate editor Margret Aldrich on the hunt for happiness, community, and how humans thrive
It’s at the root of the familiar phrase breaking bread: Sharing food is one of the most powerful rituals we perform as communities. Which is why the abundance of foods named for President Obama is worthy of a closer look, Mark Morton writes in Gastronomica.
Morton isn’t interested in glib corporate-level promotions—like a German frozen food company’s processed chicken “Obama Fingers”—rather the profusion of small diners, delis, and restaurants that have added Obama dishes to their fare: Obama burgers, sandwiches, fried chicken, cones, and fries. “In Cairo, Egyptian fruit sellers gave the name “President Obama” to their best fresh dates during the month of Ramadan,” he writes. “The honor is not trivial, considering that Muslims believe the Prophet Mohammed ended each day of fasting by eating dates.”
Eating an Obama sandwich—however suspect it might sound to a cycnic—is a form of social communion, Morton argues, not unlike consuming a piece of birthday cake decorated with a name or a slice of wedding cake topped with figurines of the happy couple. These restaurant owners “are trying to . . . reinvent a familiar custom,” he writes, “namely, the gathering of a community around an individual in order to bestow their collective support as he or she begins a new stage in life’s journey, and at the center of this custom is food.”
“If it were somehow possibly for Obama to share a meal for every one of his millions of supporters, there would be, I suspect, no profusion of homespun foods named after the President,” Morton writes. “But in the absence of that kind of personal opportunity to pledge support by breaking bread with their Commander in Chief, eating an Obama Burger might be the next best thing.”
Seeing as last month President Obama established a task force on childhood obesity and Michelle Obama launched her Let’s Move campaign—a conflux we commemorated on Utne.com with a week of Cafeteria Chronicles blogging—perhaps we’ll see a renewed wave of presidential foods. This time, perhaps, instead of meaty, fried, and sugary fare, an Obama salad?