George H W Bush (father of George W, who had one less initial and a lot fewer functioning cortical neurons) divided US public opinion with this famous declaration in March 1990:
I do not like broccoli and I haven’t liked it since I was a little kid and my mother made me eat it. And I’m President of the United States and I’m not going to eat any more broccoli. Now look, this is the last statement I’m going to have on broccoli. There are truckloads of broccoli at this very minute descending on Washington. My family is divided. For the broccoli vote out there: Barbara loves broccoli. She has tried to make me eat it. She eats it all the time herself. So she can go out and meet the caravan of broccoli that’s coming in.
On one side of the ensuing controversy were outraged broccoli farmers and hand-wringing nutritionists who worried that these remarks amounted to a Presidential endorsement of broccoli-hatred. Recalcitrant kids all over the US might start emulating the President at the family dinner table whenever steamed broccoli appeared on the menu doing themselves long-term developmental harm by refusing to eat a vegetable which is a valuable source of essential nutrients.
On the other side were that substantial minority of the population for whom, thanks to their genetic heritage, broccoli really does taste quite foul. They’re called ‘supertasters’ and there’s a very simple objective test for this trait: if you can taste phenylthiocarbamide (PTC) you’re a supertaster. If you can’t, you’re not.
I’m not a supertaster – I learnt this in a first year university Biology class way back. When I put my cotton bud soaked in a solution of PTC on my tongue, I tasted nothing. So I found the extreme reactions of those who did taste the PTC quite perplexing; what could possibly taste so foul that it sends someone into a fit of reflexive spitting and gagging followed by a dash to the cold water tap for a thorough mouth-rinse?
So it’s possible that George Bush Snr hates broccoli because he’s a supertaster while his wife Barbara, who loves the stuff, definitely isn’t. They each experience broccoli differently leading to an irreconcilable difference of opinion because it’s a difference rooted in sensory experience. Hence this later remark from George Bush Snr on broccoli:
There’s something wrong with this country. I read a poll taken by a New England newspaper, a Boston newspaper, a national poll, that showed 79 percent of the people liked broccoli.
The remark may be jocular, nonetheless it shows that Bush could no more understand the tastes of the 79% of the US population who like broccoli than they (and I) can understand his strong aversion to it.
Since Bush’s 1990 declaration of his position on broccoli the subject has become politicised; it may not be fought as vehemently as the late unlamented culture wars in the US and Australia or Australia’s local history wars but this simmering tension born of mutual incomprehension lingers on. Bill Clinton avoided taking a pro or anti-broccoli position; George W Bush declared a lukewarm liking for it and Barack Obama recently declared (perhaps to distance himself from the paleo-conservative Republican position) that broccoli is his favourite vegetable.
The only thing that might end this trivial partisan sniping ending is the election a Democratic president who openly detests broccoli as much as George Bush Snr does.