Paleo, vegetarian, or teetotaling? What the presidential candidates' food habits say about them

Before you go, we thought you'd like these...
Before you go close icon
Here's Why Ben Carson Doesn't Have Any Meat On His Pizza

A corn dog can crown a king.

Well, at least that's the way our current candidates for president seem to be acting these days—never before have politicians' diets come under such scrutiny. Until recently, we heard more about their dalliances with drugs and mistresses than we did about what they like to have for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

SEE MORE ELECTION COVERAGE AT AOL.COM

Sure, candidates have always made the requisite "Yummy!" faces while wolfing down a bite—but only one bite—of the latest deep-fried fad at the usual state fairs. They've seemingly always flipped pancakes in New Hampshire, gnawed on pork chops in Iowa, and quaffed domestic beers at blue-collar bars from Sarasota to Seattle.

For many, the goal has been about avoiding legacy-defining pitfalls: Sargent Shriver never lived down the time he yelled out, "Make mine a Courvoisier!" at a working-class bar in Ohio. That gaffe featured prominently in his obituaries when he died 39 years later.

Nowadays, though, some presidential candidates have caught on that, in a world where food obsessions are mainstream, opening up about their personal gustatory journeys is another way to shape image: to present themselves as down-to-earth, health-conscious, bold, or open-minded. Others, not so much. Here are a few of the current crop of candidates who've told us perhaps more than they meant to through food.

Jeb Bush: Disciplined, Bland
"I'm always hungry," the former governor of Florida told The New York Times. "I'm starving to death," he told CNN. It wasn't a metaphor, either: This spring, Bush revealed that he had gone on the Paleo Diet, which helped him shed 40 pounds. This was back before he officially entered the race, in June: His diet was widely interpreted as a strong sign that he was really serious about running this time, a demonstration of discipline that also acknowledged that the American electorate tends to shy away from chubby leaders. At his campaign stops, Bush is known to shove aside starches, dairy, and refined sugars for almonds, salads, and grilled-chicken lunches. (He's fessed up to cheating with wine and to splurging on Mexican once a week.)

See Jeb and his brother George W. through the years:

7 PHOTOS
Jeb and George Bush through the years
See Gallery
Paleo, vegetarian, or teetotaling? What the presidential candidates' food habits say about them
President George Bush chats with brother Gov. Jeb Bush as they acknowledge cheering supporters at a fundraiser for the Republican Party of Florida at the Contemporary Resort at Disney World in Orlando, Florida, Friday, February 17, 2006. (Photo by Joe Burbank/Orlando Sentinel/MCT via Getty Images)
MACDILL AIR FORCE BASE, UNITED STATES: US President George W. Bush (R) reaches out to shake hands with his brother Florida Governor Jeb Bush (L) shortly after Air Force One arrived at MacDill Air Force Base, Florida, 09 May 2006. AFP Photo/Paul J. Richards (Photo credit should read PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP/Getty Images)
Washington, UNITED STATES: US President George W. Bush (L) looks on as his brother Florida Governor Jeb Bush speaks 19 April, 2006. Governor Bush was among several governors who met with the president after an Easter trip to Iraq, Afghanistan and Kuwait. AFP PHOTO/Jim WATSON (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
President George Bush (left) and brother Gov. Jeb Bush acknowledge cheering supporters at a fundraiser for the Republican Party of Florida at the Contemporary Resort at Disney World in Orlando, Florida, Friday, February 17, 2006. (Photo by Joe Burbank/Orlando Sentinel/MCT via Getty Images)
ST. PETERSBURG, FL - OCTOBER 19: U.S. President George W. Bush (L) and his brother Florida Governor Jeb Bush (R) smile while greeting supporters during a campaign rally at Progress Energy Park October 19, 2004 in St. Petersburg, Florida. Recent polls indicate Bush is maintaining a slight lead over his Democratic challenger U.S. Sen. John Kerry (D-MA). (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
PARK CITY, UT - JANUARY 22: Jeb Bush is seen at Salt Lake City Airport on January 22, 2015 in Park City, Utah. (Photo by JOCE/Bauer-Griffin/GC Images)
HIDE CAPTION
of
SEE ALL
BACK TO SLIDE
SHOW CAPTION


But the diet may have backfired. Donald Trump has repeatedly blasted Bush for being "low-energy," and a former Trump advisor blamed Bush's diet for his tepid campaign. "That Paleo Diet," Roger Stone told CNN. "Get this guy a cheeseburger."

Hillary Clinton: Surprisingly Normal, Pro-Hummus
The ex-secretary of state's e-mail woes didn't only provide fodder for her GOP enemies, they also gave the public an insight into her position on everyday victuals. In one e-mail exchange, she opts for the acorn- and butternut-squash soup. In another, she reveals she likes skim milk in her tea. And, she has a social life that she looks forward to after all the politicking: In another exchange, she makes plans with Senator Barbara Mikulski of Maryland to "wrap this up in the Senate and go drink something unhealthy!" In other words, her e-mails cast her as a much more down-to-earth and relatable person than millions of dollars in painstakingly researched marketing.

The closest Clinton comes to food-based controversy is when a childhood friend forwarded her an article about DePaul University, which was planning a referendum on whether to ban Sabra hummus from the cafeteria. (The Israeli company that is joint owner of Sabra—also half-owned by PepsiCo—financially supported an Israeli Defense Force unit that critics have accused of human-rights violations.) But Clinton simply responds: "I love Sabra hummus—whatever that means!"

Chris Christie: Ambitious, Stubborn
Like we said, Americans generally don't like to elect overweight presidents, and pols are acutely aware of it. So when New Jersey's famously rotund governor had lap-band surgery in 2013 and went on a diet that contributed to his losing as much as 100 pounds, political observers took it as the clearest indication yet that he was gunning for the White House. (Blunt as ever, Christie reportedly told donors that he needed to lose weight to alleviate concerns about whether he'd be healthy enough to serve.) Yet Christie still boasts that he picks at his vegetables, only eating the cucumbers, lettuce, and green beans. "I'm not nearly as interested in food as I used to be. But that hasn't all of a sudden made me a huge vegetable fan," he told People.

See Christie's weight loss:
8 PHOTOS
Chris Christie weight loss
See Gallery
Paleo, vegetarian, or teetotaling? What the presidential candidates' food habits say about them
BELMAR, NJ - MARCH 25: New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie laughs during a Town Hall Meeting with families affected by Superstorm Sandy at Belmar Borough Municipal Building on March 25, 2014 in Belmar, New Jersey. Christie talked about some of the programs the state is running for homeowners, as well as efforts to build and restore dunes along the coast this spring,The governor was not asked about the George Washington Bridge lane-closure (Photo by Kena Betancur/Getty Images)
BELMAR, NJ - MARCH 25: New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie speaks during a Town Hall Meeting with families affected by Superstorm Sandy at Belmar Borough Municipal Building on March 25, 2014 in Belmar, New Jersey. Christie talked about some of the programs the state is running for homeowners, as well as efforts to build and restore dunes along the coast this spring,The governor was not asked about the George Washington Bridge lane-closure (Photo by Kena Betancur/Getty Images)
BELMAR, NJ - MARCH 25: New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie speaks during a Town Hall Meeting with families affected by Superstorm Sandy at Belmar Borough Municipal Building on March 25, 2014 in Belmar, New Jersey. Christie talked about some of the programs the state is running for homeowners, as well as efforts to build and restore dunes along the coast this spring,The governor was not asked about the George Washington Bridge lane-closure (Photo by Kena Betancur/Getty Images)
KEANSBURG, NJ - FEBRUARY 04: New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie speaks during a press conference with families affected by Superstorm Sandy at a lounge in the New Point Comfort Fire Company on February 4, 2014 in Keansburg, New Jersey. Christie, whose governorship is being threatened by a scandal is facing federal investigation over use of Sandy funds. (Photo by Kena Betancur/Getty Images)
EWING, NJ - OCTOBER 30: New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie updates members of the media on damage and recovery efforts related to Hurricane Sandy from the emergency operations center at State Police Headquarters on October 30, 2012 in Ewing, New Jersey. High winds and a massive storm surge caused major destruction to the Jersey Shore and throughout the Garden State. (Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images)
LAS VEGAS, NV - MARCH 29: New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie laughs while speaking during the Republican Jewish Coalition spring leadership meeting at The Venetian Las Vegas on March 29, 2014 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 28: New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and his wife Mary Pat Christie look on during the regional semifinal of the 2014 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament between the Connecticut Huskies and the Iowa State Cyclones at Madison Square Garden on March 28, 2014 in New York City. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
HIDE CAPTION
of
SEE ALL
BACK TO SLIDE
SHOW CAPTION


Bernie Sanders: Black Meals Matter, Doesn't Really Want Your Deviled Eggs
The plainspoken U.S. senator from Vermont has periodically upstaged presumptive Democratic nominee Clinton, but has in turn been upstaged at his own rallies by supporters of the Black Lives Matter movement. To bridge the cultural gap, The Nightly Show's Larry Wilmore in September invited Sanders to a Soul Food Sit-Down that included fried chicken, green beans, deviled eggs, and biscuits. Sanders playfully tried to snatch an egg away from Wilmore, but didn't actually eat anything. Instead, he was a lot more interested in discussing the Finnish approach to healthcare and figuring out what "on fleek" means. None of any of that should surprise anyone.

Donald Trump: Does Whatever the Hell He Wants
The Donald has been ridiculed as an elitist for eating pizza with a fork (he weirdly scrapes off and eats the toppings and skips the crust), but his favorite sandwich is a good old-fashioned, blue-collar meatloaf. He drinks diet sodas but avoids coffee and tea. He has been a strict teetotaler his entire life despite having launched, and left behind, a line of Trump-branded pale ales and vodka-cranberry-champagne cocktails. He may be the last person in New York who's still really into red velvet cake. He's offended the sensibilities of steak snobs by always ordering his meat well-done, but also stuck his name on short-lived chains of Southwest-themed steakhouses and oyster bars where, presumably, the waiters suggested that the "World's Greatest Steaks" be ordered medium-rare or cooler.

In other words, those searching for consistency or logic in the larger-than-life personality's eating habits don't get that that sort of thing is beside the point. He's Donald Trump. He does whatever the hell he wants.

Ben Carson: Takes His Own Medicine, Doesn't Understand the Point of Popeye's
The current darling of the GOP right is a deeply religious social conservative, which is why most people are shocked to learn that he's also a longtime vegetarian. In fact, he's the only vegetarian running for president for a major party, a genuinely bold position: As of 2013, a whopping 30 percent of Republicans have a negative view of vegetarians (versus only 16 percent of Democrats), the kind of poll numbers that can seriously sway a primary. And his diet certainly won't endear him to agricultural states that rely on a robust meat industry. Carson doesn't seem to care about that; health concerns and his faith converted him to herbivore status decades ago. "It might take 20 years," Carson told The Vegetarian Times in 1990. "But eventually there will no longer be a reason for most people to eat meat. And animals will breathe a sigh of relief."

See images of Ben Carson on the trail:
11 PHOTOS
Ben Carson on the campaign trail
See Gallery
Paleo, vegetarian, or teetotaling? What the presidential candidates' food habits say about them
MT. AYR, IA - JANUARY 22 : Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson is introduced during his 'Trust in God Townhall' campaign stop January 22, 2016 in Mt. Ayr, Iowa. Carson, who is seeking the nomination from the Republican Party is on the presidential campaign trail across Iowa ahead of the Iowa Caucus taking place February 1. (Photo by Joshua Lott/Getty Images)
Ben Carson, 2016 Republican presidential candidate, speaks during a Liberty University Convocation in Lynchburg, Virginia, U.S., on Wednesday, Nov. 11, 2015. As retired neurosurgeon Carson has risen in the polls, media reports have revisited his accounts of acts of violence as a child, a key part of the redemption story he discusses on the campaign trail. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images
PALM BEACH GARDENS, FL - NOVEMBER 06: Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson speaks to the media before speaking at a gala for the Black Republican Caucus of South Florida at PGA National Resort on November 6, 2015 in Palm Beach, Florida. Carson has come under media scrutiny for possibly exaggerating his background and other statements he has made recently. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
DES MOINES, IA - AUGUST 16: Republican presidential hopeful Ben Carson (L) eats a piece of pizza while touring the Iowa State Fair on August 16, 2015 in Des Moines, Iowa. Presidential candidates are addressing attendees at the Iowa State Fair on the Des Moines Register Presidential Soapbox stage and touring the fairgrounds. The State Fair runs through August 23. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
LAKEWOOD, CO - OCTOBER 29: Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson speaks during a news conference before a campaign event at Colorado Christian University on October 29, 2015 in Lakewood, Colorado. Ben Carson was back on the campaign trail a day after the third republican debate held at the University of Colorado Boulder. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - SEPTEMBER 25: Scenes around the the Value Voters Summit on September 25, 2015 in Washington DC. Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson takes the stage at the event. Dr Carson speaks to the media after the speach. (Photos by Charles Ommanney/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
Attendees wait for Ben Carson, 2016 Republican presidential candidate, not pictured, to arrive during a campaign stop at the birthplace of the Michigan Republican Party in Jackson, Michigan, U.S., on Wednesday, Sept. 23, 2015. Carson, the third candidate in the Republican race to have never held elected office, saw his numbers drop following the debate last week. Photographer: Luke Sharrett/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Ben Carson, 2016 Republican presidential candidate, listens as he attends a service at Maple Street Missionary Baptist Church in Des Moines, Iowa, U.S., on Sunday, Aug. 16, 2015. Carson will be speaking at the Iowa State Fair, which is expected to host 18 presidential candidates and runs until Aug. 23. Photographer: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg via Getty Images
CLEVELAND, OH - AUGUST 06: Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson participates in the first prime-time presidential debate hosted by FOX News and Facebook at the Quicken Loans Arena August 6, 2015 in Cleveland, Ohio. The top-ten GOP candidates were selected to participate in the debate based on their rank in an average of the five most recent national political polls. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
Ben Carson, 2016 Republican presidential candidate, eats a slice of pizza as he tours the Iowa State Fair in Des Moines, Iowa, U.S., on Sunday, Aug. 16, 2015. In a Sunday interview with Fox News, Carson doubled down on his assertion that a speech given by President Barack Obama intended to sell the American public on his nuclear deal with Iran contained 'coded innuendos employing standard anti-Semitic themes.' Photographer: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg via Getty Images
HIDE CAPTION
of
SEE ALL
BACK TO SLIDE
SHOW CAPTION


But Carson's vegetarianism got him hot water when he tried to walk back controversial comments about the Umpqua Community College shootings by relating an anecdote about being held up at at gunpoint at a Popeye's Louisiana Kitchen. That prompted questions about whether he made up the robbery, cheated on his vegetarian diet, or is the sort of freak of nature who can walk into a Popeye's and not be seduced by that delicious, crispy fried chicken.

More from Bon Appetit:
A Little Spice Makes Everything Nice: 8 Cozy Cinnamon Recipes
21 Great Date Night Menu Ideas
To Swap or Not to Swap? A Guide to Not-So-All-Purpose Gluten-Free Flours
7 Ways to Turn Yesterday's Stale Bread Into Tonight's Dinner

RELATED: 2016 candidates chow down on the competition
13 PHOTOS
2016 candidates chow down on the competition
See Gallery
Paleo, vegetarian, or teetotaling? What the presidential candidates' food habits say about them
DES MOINES, IOWA - AUGUST 15: Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton attends the Iowa State Fair escorted by former Iowa Senator Tom Harkin in Des Moines, Iowa, on Saturday, August 15, 2015. (Photo by Melina Mara/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
DES MOINES, IA - AUGUST 21: Republican presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) eats a pork chop at the Iowa State Fair on August 21, 2015 in Des Moines, Iowa. Presidential candidates have a tradition of speaking to and greeting guests at the fair which runs until August 23. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
Chris Christie, governor of New Jersey and 2016 Republican presidential candidate, works the grill at the Iowa Pork Producers tent during the Iowa State Fair in Des Moines, Iowa, U.S., on Saturday, Aug. 22, 2015. The Iowa State Fair is expected to host 18 presidential candidates and runs until Aug. 23. Photographer: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg via Getty Images
DES MOINES, IA - AUGUST 14: Republican presidential hopeful and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (R) and Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad eat a pork chop on a stick at the Iowa Pork Tent during the Iowa State Fair on August 14, 2015 in Des Moines, Iowa. Presidential candidates are addressing attendees at the Iowa State Fair on the Des Moines Register Presidential Soapbox stage. The State Fair runs through August 23. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
DES MOINES, IA - AUGUST 17: Republican presidential candidate and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker eats a pork chop while touring the Iowa State Fair on August 17, 2015 in Des Moines, Iowa. Presidential candidates are addressing attendees at the Iowa State Fair on the Des Moines Register Presidential Soapbox stage and touring the fairgrounds. The State Fair runs through August 23. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
Carly Fiorina, former chairman and chief executive officer of Hewlett-Packard Co. and 2016 Republican presidential candidate, checks the temperature of pork loin at the Iowa Pork Producers Association stand while touring the Iowa State Fair in Des Moines, Iowa, U.S., on Monday, Aug. 17, 2015. Fiorina said yesterday she is 'not clear' if Donald Trump is a Republican and isn't convinced of his loyalty to the GOP. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images
UNITED STATES - August 17: Republican presidential candidate and Ohio Governor John Kasich samples an ice cream cone given to him by a fairgoer at the Iowa State Fair on Tuesday, August 18, 2015 in Des Moines, Iowa. (Photo By Al Drago/CQ Roll Call)
DES MOINES, IA - AUGUST 17: Republican presidential candidate and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (L) bites into a pork chop at the Iowa Pork Producers Pork Tent during the Iowa State Fair on August 17, 2015 in Des Moines, Iowa. Presidential candidates are addressing attendees at the Iowa State Fair on the Des Moines Register Presidential Soapbox stage and touring the fairgrounds. The State Fair runs through August 23. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - August 17: Republican presidential candidate Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., takes a bite out of a pork chop at the Iowa Pork Producers Association site at the Iowa State Fair in Des Moines, Iowa, Monday, August 17, 2015. (Photo By Al Drago/CQ Roll Call)
DES MOINES, IA - AUGUST 15: Democratic presidential hopeful and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton holds a Pork Chop on a Stick and a lemonade as she tours the Iowa State Fair on August 15, 2015 in Des Moines, Iowa. Presidential candidates are addressing attendees at the Iowa State Fair on the Des Moines Register Presidential Soapbox stage and touring the fairgrounds. The State Fair runs through August 23. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
DES MOINES, IA - AUGUST 22: Republican presidential candidate New Jersey Governor Chris Christie samples fried peanut butter and jelly during a visit to the Iowa State Fair on August 22, 2015 in Des Moines, Iowa. Presidential candidates have a long tradition of making campaign stops at the fair. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
DES MOINES, IA - AUGUST 18: Republican presidential candidate and Ohio Gov. John Kasich eats a pork chop while visiting the Iowa Pork Producers Pork Tent during the Iowa State Fair on August 18, 2015 in Des Moines, Iowa. Presidential candidates are addressing attendees at the Iowa State Fair on the Des Moines Register Presidential Soapbox stage and touring the fairgrounds. The State Fair runs through August 23. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
HIDE CAPTION
of
SEE ALL
BACK TO SLIDE
SHOW CAPTION

Read Full Story

Sign up for Breaking News by AOL to get the latest breaking news alerts and updates delivered straight to your inbox.

Subscribe to our other newsletters

Emails may offer personalized content or ads. Learn more. You may unsubscribe any time.

From Our Partners