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[personal profile] mimulus_borogove
In last night's VP debate, Joe Biden and Sarah Palin both set their hypothetical John and Jane Smiths "around the kitchen table" having difficult talks about the woes of the middle class. Having just made a pasta frittatta for dinner, I had food on the brain, and that got me thinking of the debate in food terms. What if, instead of the mini-speeches we got, we were instead dropping by for dinner at their kitchen tables? Not a fancy Sunday dinner, mind you, but a weeknight "since you're in town, why don't you come have dinner with the family?" dinner.  So I tried to translate their words and messages into food.

Sarah Palin invites you into a kitchen whose decorations include a moose head and a praying-hands plaque. "Hello there!" she says. "Sit on down! Since I'm a mom and and American, I made an apple pie!"

The box from which the frozen pie emerged is clearly visible, poking from the garbage. While the family says grace ostentatiously, you peek at the ingredients. It's from a faraway bakery run by a food conglomerate known for its wasteful practices. A glance at the ingredients list tells you that it's mostly made up of bleached flour, high fructose corn syrup, and artificial vanilla flavor. You try a bite; the crust is gummy, and the gelatinous filling shows only a mild tolerance for fruit. Still, it's warm, and she put some ice cream on top…and it is pie. You manage to choke down a piece.

"Gosh-darn good pie," you say politely. "And it's really innovative of you to serve it as the first course."

"They wouldn't try that in Washington!" Mrs. Palin laughs at her own joke, then gets serious. "This is all we're having for dinner." "

"Oh." You are hungry, and it looks like you'll stay that way.

Mrs. Palin gives you a steely look. "You're not trying to say you don't like pie, are you?"

Joe Biden leads you down a book-lined hall to a well-used, somewhat messy kitchen.  "Have a seat," he says. "We're having frittatta tonight. It's a bit of an experiment." He doesn't sound apologetic.

The frittatta uses a bit of everything: zucchini, cherry tomatoes, eggs, cheese, cooked pasta. "I hope you like it," Mr. Biden says. "Maybe another time I could serve you something fancier, but this is what America has to offer right now."

"It's pretty good," you tell him. Having gone hungry on oversweetened pie the night before, you're happy to have a real meal: protein, carbohydrates, vegetables. It's a little over-browned in places, and it could take a little more salt, but it's filling.

"The trick to making frittata comes from practice," he tells you. "Over time, you learn what works together. Leftover pasta may not be glamorous, but it's a good base. You can make it with potatoes, but we've had those so much lately, nobody can stand them. But what's important is knowing your ingredients, knowing what will work and what won't."

Mr. Biden goes on to tell you the provenance of each of the ingredients, down to the specific farm. It takes a while; sometimes it's complicated. But he really seems to know his stuff. And the more you eat the frittatta, the more you find to like: a subtle flavor throughout, a burst of sharp spices here and there.

"Maybe we'll have something more exciting for you next time," Mr. Biden says as you leave. "When I'm cooking for real."

I am astonished that some people are declaring this so-called debate a draw. Palin came in with a few speeches and a number of buzzwords and used them relentlessly and off-topic. Biden put thought into every answer, and he had an excellent recall of events and a good understanding of cause-and-effect. Palin's homespun language and "shout-out" to third-graders seemed calculated, forced, and cheap; Biden neither talked down to anyone nor downplayed his knowledge, and his memories of being a single parent welled up in a way that appeared spontaneous and sincere.

It's clear to me: If anything happened to the president, I would much prefer to sit down at Biden's kitchen table. And I say this despite a deep and abiding love of pie.

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March 2009


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