Food incidents have always had a strong confirmation bias: They tend to underscore the prevailing character sketch of the candidates. John Kerry underscored his image as a vaguely French elitist when he ordered a cheesesteak in Philadelphia with Swiss cheese, not Cheez Whiz; and though George H.W. Bush’s wonder at a grocery scanner was exaggerated, stories about it still confirmed a sense that he had grown out of touch with what it took for average Americans to get food on their tables. Hillary Clinton’s (likely truthful) claim on a hip-hop morning show that that she carried hot sauce everywhere she went—à la Beyonce—was seen as pandering for black support.
This year, candidates’ eating choices are already being scrutinized for signs of inauthenticity—perhaps more than ever. Kirsten Gillibrand got a little heat when she tried to eat fried chicken at a South Carolina chicken and waffles spot. She started using a fork, but then looking around at her neighbors, checked in with the restaurant owner to see if she should eat the chicken with her fingers as well, and after getting the go ahead, did so. “Is there anything Gillibrand has done that is not contrived and opportunistic?” tweeted New York’s Frank Rich. (Using utensils on hand-held food is generally a no-no—recall Tony Blair using cutlery on a hot dog and Bill de Blasio forking at a slice of pizza.)