Broccoli Gets a Second Chance at the White House

President Obama declares that he loves the maligned vegetable.

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It's the story that never dies, or wilts: broccoli and the White House.

President Obama resurrected the tale when he was asked during a meeting with schoolchildren to name his favorite food. "Broccoli," he replied. The story immediately went viral.

Obama made his comment Tuesday after he dropped by the Kids' State Dinner, a lunchtime event sponsored by First Lady Michelle Obama to reward 54 children who won a contest by submitting healthy recipes. The president said that when he was growing up, all the vegetables were boiled and he never developed a taste for them. But he said he has learned that vegetables can taste good when "they're prepared right."

I was thunderstruck by the episode.

[READ: Broccoli's Back in Political Discourse]

In 1990, I broke a story in U.S. News about the same vegetable but with an entirely different outcome: President George H.W. Bush, I wrote, had banned broccoli from Air Force One because he couldn't stand the vegetable and had hated it since he was a boy, when his mother made him eat it. "I'm President of the United States and I'm not going to eat any more broccoli," Bush declared.

This story made news for weeks as pundits drew larger meanings from it: that Bush was decisive, that he had a sense of humor, that he was preoccupied with trivia, that his nutritional judgment was off, that he was setting a bad example for young people.

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The broccoli growers of California prolonged the story by sending a truckload of broccoli to the White House in protest. First Lady Barbara Bush, holding a bouquet of the veggie as she addressed reporters, accepted the truckload of broccoli on the White House lawn – and sent it to a homeless shelter. Even today, Bush still jokes about his relationship with the maligned vegetable.

Now President Obama can do the same.

 

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  • Ken Walsh covers the White House and politics for U.S. News. He writes the daily blog "Ken Walsh's Washington" for usnews.com and "The Presidency" column for the U.S. News Weekly. He is the author of the new book "Prisoners of the White House: The Isolation of America's Presidents and the Crisis of Leadership." Ken Walsh can be reached at kwalsh@usnews.com and on Facebook and Twitter.