The List

This Year in Political Food Fights

Mitt Romney claimed grits, David Cameron staked out meat pies, and now Rick Santorum's trying to turn the jelly belly red.

When Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney decided to deliver a major address on U.S. foreign policy last fall, he chose a logical location: The Citadel in South Carolina. This week, Rick Santorum chose to hold forth on international affairs from a decidedly less conventional setting: the Jelly Belly factory in Fairfield, California.

Why, you ask, has Santorum decided to discuss weighty geopolitical issues from the place that brought you Tutti-Fruitti, Sizzling Cinnamon, and this guy? Is the Republican candidate unveiling some kind of Jelly Belly Doctrine -- a belabored metaphor about a diverse international system starring Iran as Sour Cherry and Cuba as Island Punch?

Not exactly. For starters, Santorum is no stranger to candy. In the Senate, he was in charge of stocking the "candy desk" for a decade. And he represented a state -- Pennsylvania -- that's home to the makers of Hershey bars and Mike and Ikes.

The Los Angeles Times also notes that Santorum may be trying to associate himself with Ronald Reagan, who loved jelly beans so much that a blueberry flavor was specially created so that the president could serve three tons of red, white, and blue beans at his inauguration in 1981 (yes, the portrait of Reagan above is made out of jelly beans). Two years later, Reagan surprised astronauts on the Challenger shuttle with the first jelly beans to travel in outer space.

On Thursday night in Fairfield, Santorum compared himself to the Gipper by declaring that Ronald Reagan didn't "whisper to Gorbachev, 'Give me some flexibility'" (unlike Obama) or "say one thing in front of one group and something else in front of another" (unlike Romney).

The Jelly Belly Candy Co. is active in Republican politics as well. Federal Election Commission reports show that Chairman Herman Rowland donated $2,500 to both Romney and former presidential candidate Rick Perry, and $1,000 to Newt Gingrich (he claims he also cut a check for Santorum on Thursday). The company said it would discuss "sugar reform" with the Republican candidate during his visit.

However unusual, Santorum's Jelly Belly gambit highlights a larger truth on vivid display over the past year: Food isn't just food. It's also highly political -- from pasties in Britain to mooncakes in China.

David Paul Morris/Getty Images


Food: Grits, kosher food

Fight: Santorum isn't the first Republican presidential candidate to politicize food. Earlier this month, critics accused Romney of shamelessly pandering to southerners when he told voters in Mississippi that he liked grits and told voters in Alabama that he was beginning to like catfish (after previously telling a crowd in South Carolina that he was not much of "a catfish man"). "Everything Mitt Romney learned about the South, he learned from a Jeff Foxworthy routine," Daily Show host Jon Stewart lamented. (Foxworthy has endorsed Romney.)

Then there was the Gingrich campaign's robocall in Florida claiming that, as governor of Massachusetts, Romney had denied kosher food to Holocaust survivors in nursing homes. PolitiFact ruled that the allegation, which was based on Romney's veto of a bill to provide additional funding for nursing homes, was "mostly false."

Here's Romney proclaiming his newfound love of grits:

Justin Sullivan/Getty Images


Food: Pasties

Fight: The British press is currently up in arms about meat-filled pasties -- specifically Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne's effort to slap a value-added tax on the previously tax-free food, plus other hot snacks such as sausage rolls (not to mention Osborne's remark that he couldn't remember the last time he'd eaten a pasty). Prime Minister David Cameron made matters worse by claiming that he'd recently munched on a pasty at Leeds station in northern England, only for reporters to discover that the pasty stand at Leeds station closed down years ago.

Critics claim these actions demonstrate that the Conservative Party is teeming with wealthy politicians who are hopelessly out of touch with ordinary citizens, who are struggling with austerity measures and, as the logic goes, disproportionately eating pasties (sample headline: "Why Stop at Pasties, George Osborne? Class-Based Taxation Is the Future"). As bakers threaten a protest march, politicians are vying to see who can look best devouring pasties and sausage rolls on camera. The Telegraph has a great video roundup of the theatrics:

Matt Cardy/Getty Images


Food: Cottage cheese

Fight: Protests erupted in Israel last summer over rising food prices, in what was quickly dubbed the "cottage cheese rebellion" after a Facebook page calling for a boycott of the expensive Israeli staple took off and put a significant dent in cottage cheese sales. As the Wall Street Journal noted at the time, the campaign was pretty successful:

At first, Israel's two huge food conglomerates, Tnuva (headed by Zahavit Cohen) and Strauss (chaired by Ofra Strauss), blamed cottage cheese's high price on rising production costs beyond their control. But relentless reporting -- especially by the Marker, a pro-market business publication -- revealed that the consumer was being fleeced at each stage of production, from the high-prices charged by milk-producing cooperatives and the conglomerates' own dairies, to retail chains that divvy up market share to curb competition and inflate prices. The boycott forced the cartel to cut prices.

Now there's a different kind of cottage cheese protest brewing. Tnuva's employees and management are engaged in a labor dispute, which has produced a cottage cheese shortage.

Jack Guez/AFP/Getty Images


Food: Bread

Fight: Many people have cited the rising price of food -- and bread in particular -- as one of the underlying causes of the Arab Spring uprisings. Rami Zurayk, an agronomy professor at the American University of Beirut, has made this very point -- noting that the Tunisian uprising began in the country's rural, farming region and the Syrian uprising began in the agricultural center of Deraa. Foreign Policy published a slideshow last April of Arab protesters brandishing various forms of bread -- including some that even had slogans baked into the dough (the most iconic photo is above).

A year later, sustenance issues -- whether the possible removal of food subsidies in Egypt or a looming water crisis in Yemen -- are now threatening the region's new class of leaders. In March, the Economist pointed out that countries in the Middle East and North Africa depend more on imported food than anywhere else, and are clinging to costly and ineffective food subsidies in the wake of the unrest. "The Arab spring is making food problems worse," the magazine argued.

Khaled Abdullah/Reuters


Food: Tortillas

Fight: Enrique Peña Nieto, the frontrunner in Mexico's presidential race, did enough damage in December when he admitted that he didn't know the exact price of tortillas, the quintessential household staple in Mexico. But he then dug himself a deeper hole by explaining why: "I am not the lady of the house," he pointed out. Social networks lit up with criticisms of the candidate's comments (plus the obligatory hashtag: #nosoylaseñoradelacasa) and Josefina Vázquez Mota, Peña Nieto's female challenger, pounced, noting that she manages to be both a prominent government official and a "housewife" who checks the refrigerator every night.

Peña Nieto later claimed that he was merely explaining how things work in his family, not disparaging women. But the clarification couldn't halt a wave of satire, including this depiction of the dashing former governor as Rosy the Riveter:

Ronaldo Schemidt/AFP/Getty Images


Food: Halal meat

Fight: In February and early March, halal meat improbably became a top issue in the French presidential election when a television documentary reported that most slaughterhouses around Paris were producing halal meat, prompting far-right presidential candidate Marine Le Pen to raise hackles about non-Muslims in the capital unwittingly eating halal. After initially dismissing the allegations, President Nicolas Sarkozy called for labels on meat explaining how the animals were slaughtered and reiterated his opposition to serving halal meat in school cafeterias. Sarkozy even deemed the halal hullabaloo the "issue that most preoccupies the French" despite, as the Guardian put it, "surveys showing that voters were less concerned about halal meat than they were about the weather and football."

Things really took a turn for the worse when Prime Minister Francois Fillon alienated the country's Muslim and Jewish communities by suggesting that the religious slaughter of animals was outdated. In the aftermath of the deadly shooting at a Jewish school in Toulouse, it's unclear whether the issue will continue to play a prominent role in the campaign.

Philippe Huguen/AFP/Getty Images 


Food: Cooking oil

Fight: Last year, Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez did an about-face and began partnering with foreign companies to alleviate domestic shortages of staples such as milk and corn flour, in what was perceived as an effort to buoy his 2012 reelection bid. And he's continuing to wield food as a political weapon as he struggles to overcome cancer and stay ahead of an emboldened opposition. (The latest tool in his arsenal? Cuban ice cream.) In an article for Foreign Policy in February, Peter Wilson noted that, ahead of the opposition's primary, the government sponsored markets across the country that offered products such as cooking oil, powdered milk, and chicken at subsidized prices.

But basic items like cooking oil remain scarce. When Chávez's 14-year-old daughter, Rosinés, posted a picture of herself online clutching a fistful of U.S. bills, irate Venezuelans populated a Tumblr with satirical photos such as the one above.



Food: Mooncakes

Fight: In the lead-up to China's Mid-Autumn Festival this past fall, mooncakes -- the stuffed pastry traditionally eaten during the holiday -- caused all sorts of political headaches. The government's decision to make employees who receive mooncakes from their companies, as is customary during the festival, pay personal income tax on the goodies (which could actually bump them into a higher tax bracket) prompted a furious debate among more than 50,000 users of China's Twitter-like Sina Weibo service over the course of two days, according to the Global Times.

Chinese news outlets also reported that mooncake prices were rising steeply, that Chinese regulators had discovered mooncakes with high bacterial content, and that 34 countries had banned mooncakes from entering their borders.

"It is supposed to be a pleasant time to eat the mooncake under the full moon," Xinhua quoted a Weibo user named "fenchun" as complaining.

Ah, fenchun, if only food were that simple!

Mike Clarke/AFP/Getty Images

The List

Trained in the U.S.A.

The United States has a long history of inadvertently (and sometimes not so inadvertently) training future coup plotters around the world.


Country: Mali

Training: U.S. military officials have acknowledged that Sanogo "participated in several U.S.-funded International Military Education and Training (IMET) programs in the United States, including basic officer training," though it's not yet clear which courses he took. He has affirmed receiving U.S. training in several interviews, but has declined to elaborate. Until this month's events, the United States allocated $600,000 per year for military training in Mali as part of an effort to combat Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.

Back home: On March 22, Capt. Sanogo and a renegade group of officers calling themselves the National Committee for the Reestablishment of Democracy and the Restoration of the State overthrew the government of President Amadou Toumani Touré. (Touré himself first took power in a 1991 coup but quickly handed over the presidency to a civilian government and was then elected a decade later.) The soldiers felt they were insufficiently supported in their fight against Tuareg rebels in the country's north. The junta has dissolved the country's governing institutions and closed its borders while several key international organizations have suspended Mali's membership. The United States has denounced the coup and cut off military aid.

Although Sanogo's supporters are already referring to him as le président, he has vowed that he will not cling to power and will quickly turn over his office to a civilian government, though this is a bit odd given that an election was already scheduled for next month.


Country: The Gambia

Trained: Jammeh, then a captain, attended a military police training course at Fort McClellan, Alabama, in 1994.

Back home: Only 29 years old and just returned from his training in Alabama, Jammeh and four other junior officers led a bloodless coup in 1994, overthrowing longtime democratically elected president Dawda Jawara. Jammeh promised that his would be a "coup with a difference" and that he would stand down "as soon as we have set things right." Eighteen years later, he is still in power.

In addition to brutal crackdowns on the opposition and the press, Jammeh has become known for his eccentricities, including promoting a banana-and-herb cure for AIDS and rounding up those suspected of sorcery. After he was re-elected in 2011 to a fourth term in a widely criticized election, His Excellency the President Sheik Professor Alhaji Doctor Yahya Jammeh, as he calls himself, told his critics they could "go to hell" and vowed to rule for a billion years.


Country: Haiti

Trained: Biamby received infantry training at Fort Benning, Georgia, in 1980 and 1985. François received small-arms and ammunition repair training at the Army Odrnance School in Aberdeen, Maryland, and the Savanna Army Depot in Illinois in 1983.

Back home: In 1991, Biamby, the Army chief of staff, and François, chief of the national police, led a coup along with Army Gen. Raoul Cedras to overthrow President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, installing Cedras as leader of the country. (It is also frequently reported that Cedras received trainingin the United States though the Pentagon claimed at the time to be unable to find any record of him training.)

Cedras's three years of rule were characterized by human rights abuses, including the murder of hundreds of Arisitide supporters by François's death squads and a massive increase in cocaine smuggling, reportedly organized by the police chief. But, under international pressure, the regime stepped down in 1994 and allowed Aristide to return to power. Cedras was reportedly given a million-dollar "golden parachute" by the U.S.  government to convince him to leave. Both he and Biamby are reportedly living in Panama. François was arrested in Honduras in 1997 and held on drug charges for several months but then released after a court denied a U.S. extradition request. His current whereabouts are unknown.

Aristide was again overthrown in 2004, this time by rebel leader Guy Phillipe, who had also reportedly received training by U.S. Special Forces.


Country: Honduras

Training: According to the advocacy group SOAWatch, Vasquez took a combat arms training course at the School of the Americas (SOA) in 1976 and another on small unit training in 1984. The SOA was a controversial U.S. military training program for Latin American military officers, a number of whom went on to be implicated in human rights abuses or military coups. The school was officially closed in 2000 but critics allege that similar training is taking place under the auspices of the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation based in Ft. Benning, Georgia.

Back Home: Honduras's constitutional crisis of 2009 began when then President Manuel Zelaya ordered Vasquez, then commander of the Honduran armed forces, to help administer a referendum that would have allowed him to run for reelection. Vasquez refused, believing the referendum to be illegal, and was dismissed by the president.

As Zelaya moved ahead with the referendum, Vasquez and his allies supervised a plan to seize the ballots around the country, arrest the president, and remove him from the country. Elections were held several months later and Vasquez was named head of Honduras's government-owned telecoms company in 2010. He has suggested he may run for president in 2013.


Country: Panama

Training: Took four courses on command at SOA between 1963 and 1967

Back home: In 1968, the left-leaning anti-militarist Arnulfo Arias was elected president of Panama, promising to regain control of the Panama Canal and reassert civilian control over the country's military. He took office on Oct. 1 and was removed from power 10 days later in a military coup led by Lt. Col. Torrijos, fleeing -- ironically-- to the U.S.-controlled Panama Canal Zone. (Arias had bad luck with coups: It was the third time he had been ousted from power by the military.)

The new junta quickly disbanded all political parties and arrested hundreds of political opponents. Torrijos, who promoted himself to brigadier general a year later, ruled Panama for 13 years, consolidating political power in the hands of the military elite. He is best remembered internationally for negotiating the treaty with U.S. President Jimmy Carter that returned the canal to Panamanian control in 2000.

Torrijos died in a plane crash in 1981, after which his fellow SOA graduate Manuel Noriega quickly became the de facto ruler of the country.


Country: Guatemala

Training: Montt attended a training course at SOA in 1950.

Back home: More than three decades of civil war and military dictatorship began in Guatemala following the U.S.-backed coup that overthrew leftist President Jadobo Arbenz Guzman in 1954. In 1982, following an election widely viewed as fraudulent, Montt -- by then a general -- seized power in yet another CIA-backed coup.

Montt led the country for only 18 months before he was himself overthrown in a coup, but during that time thousands of peasants were killed as the military hunted down leftist opponents in the countryside. Despite CIA reports of an increasing number of bodies "appearing in ditches and gullies," the Reagan administration lifted the U.S. arms embargo on Guatemala during this period. He was also a close friend of U.S. preachers Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson, who praised his anti-Communist Christian message.

During his time out of power, Montt was accused of having ties to organized crime. In 2003 he made an unsuccessful run for the presidency of Guatemala. In January 2012, he was indicted on charges of genocide against native Guatemalans and crimes against humanity. The prosecution has implicated him in the deaths of at least 1,771 people.


Country: Bolivia

Training: Took a motor vehicles course at SOA in 1956 and received more training at Ft. Hood, Texas, in 1960

Back home: The career soldier served as a military attaché in Washington, minister of education, and director of the Argentine military academy before he first attempted a coup against leftist president Juan Jose Torres in 1971. Several months later, he returned from a brief exile in Argentina to finish the job and declare himself president. Banzer survived 13 coups during his rule before allowing elections and conceding defeat in 1985. It's estimated that during Banzer's first period of rule, more than 15,000 people were arrested and 200 killed for political reasons.

In 1997, he was elected president again and ruled until 2001 when, stricken with cancer, he handed over power to his vice president. He was known as a strong supporter and ally of the U.S.-led war on drugs. He died in 2002.

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