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The Politics Behind Presidential Candidates Eating Pizza With a Fork

Maybe just be yourself.

Ahead of Tuesday’s presidential primary in New York, there was as lot of eating going on. There was Bernie Sanders taking in some pizza on The View:

There was Hillary Clinton refusing to eat cheesecake, which in turn inspired Stephen Colbert to show her how it’s done in New York (without a fork and with your hands, duh).

Well before all of that was Ted Cruz glumly eating a pie: 

There was also Donald Trump, of course, who has found new ways to innovate in this department. He is on record as one who eats pizza with a fork, but he revealed a truly groundbreaking method over 20 years ago: eating pizza backwards:

Ultimately, however, the winner this year was John Kasich, who housed an exceptionally large amount of Italian food in the Bronx:

Politicians eating food is not a new phenomenon, mostly because not eating is a fine way to die. But eating in public is a choice. Hillary chose not to (because, she rightly pointed out, the press would find a way for her to look ridiculous), while Kasich made the diametrically opposed choice (the press, in his case, didn’t need help making him look ridiculous.) 

How informed is that choice? For presidential candidates, the answer tends to be: very, according to Jeff Guillot, a partner at Millennial Strategies, a New York City-based political consulting firm. 

Every candidate, Guillot says, has state, county, and local leaders advising them before any visit anywhere, in part to act as local guides. 

Which means, among other things, that Chris Christie probably knew what he was getting into when he ate fried peanut butter and jelly last year at the Iowa State Fair. 

“It’s really important to have a staff that know the customs on the ground,” Guillot says.

In New York City, home to one of the largest Orthodox Jewish communities in the world outside of Israel, that can mean more than just pizza and odd fried things. It can mean, at some events, complying with Jewish dietary law.

“We’ve had to advise some candidates, lay off the cocktail shrimp at events,” Guillot says. 

In some Asian cultures, it isn’t proper to leave food on your plate. The advice then? 

“Don’t order it if you can’t finish,” Guillot tells candidates. 

Guillot’s advice when it comes to protocol that is not actually offensive, but is highly debated, such as the correct way to eat pizza, is pretty simple: Be yourself. 

“I think the most important thing for any candidate is to find a way to be genuine. If that means eating pizza with your hands, or eating a corn dog at the county fair, you have to do that,” Guillot says. 

Voters, he says, can see through anyone faking it. 

“They’re going to go with the person they think you can drink a beer with,” he says. 

But do embarrassing photos of candidates eating in public actually matter when it comes to election day? Guillot doesn’t think so, offering a convincing counterexample: Bill de Blasio. A Red Sox fan who famously eats pizza with a fork, de Blasio was elected mayor of New York City, where residents eat pizza with their hands and support baseball teams that are not the Red Sox. 

So, John Kasich, you do you, unless, of course, you used a fork just for the attention

As for Guillot’s own preferences, his answer is a Solomonic version of having your pizza and eating it too. Plain pizza, he says, he eats with his hands. But if there are toppings? 

“I go fork.”

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