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Monday, February 16, 2009

Presidents & Food: Ronald Reagan

Posted By on Mon, Feb 16, 2009 at 4:35 PM

click to enlarge WIKIMEDIA COMMONS
  • Wikimedia Commons
In honor of Presidents' Day, Gut Check celebrates great moments in presidential food history.

President Ronald Reagan inspired -- and continues to inspire -- extreme reactions. But today Gut Check isn't concerned with our presidents' politics, only their appetites.

Our 40th president had an appetite for jelly beans. This is fairly common knowledge. What you might not know is how Reagan developed his jelly-bean habit. From the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library:
Soon after Ronald Reagan became Governor of California in 1967, he began eating "pectin" jelly beans made by Herman Goelitz Candy Company, in order to help him give up a pipe-smoking habit. When Herman Goelitz's Jelly Bellies first appeared on the market in 1976, Reagan quickly switched to them.

Three-and-a-half tons of Jelly Bellies were shipped to the White House for the 1981 Inaugural festivities. Blueberry, one of the most popular current flavors, was developed for President Reagan's inauguration so that there would be red, white and blue jelly beans at the festivities.
The library adds that the president's favorite flavor was licorice. Also of note: In 1983, Reagan had Jelly Belly jelly beans sent into space aboard the space shuttle Challenger.

All right, I lied. There's one political act of Ronald Reagan's presidency that I can't ignore. It's well known among the food-loving set. On his watch, the USDA attempted to classify ketchup as a vegetable in school-lunch programs. From the Straight Dope:
In mid-1981, only a few months after Reagan took office, Congress cut $1 billion from child-nutrition funding and gave the USDA 90 days--the blink of an eye, for the federal bureaucracy--to come up with new standards that would enable school districts to economize, in theory without compromising nutrition.

...USDA standards at the time required that a reimbursable lunch consist of five items: meat, milk, bread, and two servings of fruit or vegetables. Many kids refused to eat the veggies and the stuff wound up as "plate waste." Would-be realists on the panel reasoned that if they could count ketchup as a vegetable they could meet federal standards without having to throw away so many lima beans, thereby saving money while having no impact on the kids.

...Mid-level Reaganauts at the USDA saw all this as a matter of giving the states more latitude; wiser heads might have realized that the rest of the world would see it as taking food away from children. Unfortunately for Reagan, the 90-day deadline allowed no time for higher review. When the proposed new rules were released for comment in September 1981, food activists went ballistic.

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