The Munching President

Some seek to preserve their dignity. Others to ensure that they seem like one of the people. However gregarious and easy they seem in public, Presidents are always highly self-consciously aware of how they appear in public and who is watching them. Those displaying this trait the least, however, have been Presidents thrust into office by fate, like Harry Truman who, as Vice President, inherited the job when Franklin D. Roosevelt died, or Gerald Ford, who did likewise when Richard Nixon resigned from office.  Despite being Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces during World War II before being elected President in 1952, however, Dwight D. Eisenhower was perhaps the least self-consciousness when the cameras were around. Nowhere  is this more evident than in Ike’s unabashed, unfiltered willingness to indulge his health appetite anywhere and anytime good food was around.

Ike likes Ice Cream. Good Humor to be precise.

Best known for his famous martinis, this image of Franklin D. Roosevelt drinking his wholesome glass of milk was definitely downed for the public cameras. 1936.

Among the hundreds of thousands of images of each President since the news cameras became ubiquitous by Franklin Roosevelt’s presidency, relatively few show the men munching heartily away, be it at a picnic or a fundraiser.

Except for a famous one showing him enjoying an ice cream cone, this photo of him eating corn is perhaps the only other image of John F. Kennedy with food in his mouth. 1960.

John F. Kennedy was fanatical about never eating within the camera’s range, even during his presidential campaign  – which is when most men who would become President are usually snapped with their mouths wide open. 

Despite all the jokes during the early part of his presidency, Bill Clinton quickly grew conscious of this as well – and there are almost no such pictures of him eating during his second term.

But Ike? Well, Ike just kept munching away, not giving a damn who saw him. Even after his 1955 heart attack and adherence to a strictly regulated low-calorie regiment, President Eisenhower enjoyed his “lo-cal” favorite out in the open. It’s a matter of seemingly unimportant significance – yet it offers yet another human glimpse into these men too often marbleized as symbols.

Ever the good soldier, General Eisenhower eats his C-rations.

Some toast and tea on the campaign trail, October 1952.

Eisenhower, Dairy man.

President Eisenhower picnics at Camp David, the presidential retreat he named for his grandson.

President Eisenhower carves and sample his 1954 Thanksgiving turkey with wife Mamie and England’s Viscount Montgomery.

Ike’s healthy snack: sampling some fruit in Grand Junction, Colorado, 1954.

Ike enjoying a hot dog at a Washington Senators game, seated with Vice President Richard Nixon, 1955.

Ike cleans his plate.

President Eisenhower cuts himself a nice hunk of birthday cake.

Categories: Food, History, Politics, Presidential Foods, Presidents, The Eisenhowers

7 replies »

  1. well, actually theres other pics of POTUS kennedy with the munchies… i can get you another pic of JFK eating a hotdog and one ever cuter of bobby kennedy slurping an icecream (but he wasnt meant to be president and therefor wont fit into your lovely POTUS article)
    i will leave you a link to the pic of JFK asap ;D

  2. Ike used to be famous for his skills at the barbecue grill, too.

    • Hey thanks for reminding me of that John – I do have a future post idea along those lines – I used several pictures of him grilling on the White House roof – literally on the roof area where there is a walkway in front of the solarium, hidden from public view by the South Portico balustrades. They are in my book America’s First Families. And that’s only the second time I’ve ever referred to one of my books on here – and the first time was another comment for this story, just a few moments ago. When it rains….

  3. I suppose it’s similar to the idea that you aren’t supposed to snap a pic of the Queen eating or drinking, although it’s OK to take shots of her applying lipstick…

    You are right that it’s the little things, like not really seeing the President eating, that helps to monumentalize rather than humanize the man or woman. Sort of the idea that came with George W. Bush – people could see themselves having a beer with him. Of course, the problem with that is that he didn’t drink and, although I am sure there must be some, I’ve never seen pictures of him eating or drinking much of anything. I am torn about whether this is a good or bad thing. In a monarchy where the monarch is the State in terms of who and what they represent, there seems to be a stronger case for keeping some of the unworldliness alive. In a republic, where the President is both political leader and Head of State, it’s a harder line to tow, I think.

    Didn’t Ike use a kitchen on the third floor of the White House, as well? I seem to remember reading that he liked to make soup and stew, although all the ingredients were always ready, chopped and measured ahead of time for him. I think he also used to like to read cookbooks?

    To me, Ike is a bit of a mystery. I can’t quite what his personality was like in his private life… Maybe it’s time to pull out my copy of “First Families”?

    • I think he had a lot of complexity. He could be ice cold and stern – with a very short temper. Yet also gregarious and warm, enjoyed laughing and making others laugh. Generally though, he was a serious man focused on serious issues most of his life. And yes – he did have a small kitchen upstairs in the White House, on the third floor. He loved to cook and paint there.


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