The Oval Man in the Oval Office

PATRICK ERCOLANO

December 26, 1992|By PATRICK ERCOLANO

Bill Clinton probably didn't need another reminder that he's about to move into the world's largest fishbowl. But he got one anyway, in the form of a polite yet urgent petition from a group of American chefs who want him to set a national example as a consumer of healthful foods.

Mr. President-elect, the chefs implored, would you kindly drop the much-publicized apres jogging refuelings at Mickey D's? We don't need a chowhound chief executive. A president whose shape matches that of the Oval Office. A guy who, when he hangs around the White House, hangs around the White House. Go ahead, idolize Elvis if you must, but not to the point where you could fit into his last Vegas jumpsuit, the one they use now to cover the patio furniture at Graceland.

Well, as folks might say in a place called Hope, don't that beat all!

Just get a load of some of the chefs who put their John Hancocks on this Declaration of Anti-Gluttonousness. Julia Child, for one. Yes, that Julia Child, the one whose rich French recipes over the years have contributed to the clogging of countless arteries worldwide.

Paul Prudhomme signed. He's the humongo New Orleans chef who made headlines last September when he was found packing a gun at Baltimore-Washington International Airport. He explained that he usually traveled with a weapon for self-protection. Protection from what? From the chance that the guy in the next seat might grab his complimentary bag of honey-roasted peanuts?

Granted, there's something a tad scary about the way our next president chows down. We're not talking the odd pork rind here, folks. According to the cook at the governor's mansion in Little Rock, Mr. Clinton's favorite dishes include lemon chess pie made with two cups of sugar and a 1/4 -cup of lemon juice, a fruit salad slopped with a dressing of poppy seeds and 1 1/2 cups of sugar, and beef tenders marinated in bottled Italian salad dressing.

It's also said that Hillary Clinton whips up a mean cold steak salad with homemade Italian dressing (she probably got tired of fighting Bill for the bottled stuff), and that one of the favorite snacks of our president-elect is a peanut butter and banana sandwich. Which, by the way, was a beloved repast of none other than Elvis Presley.

Scary indeed. But that doesn't mean we should be heaping grief on Bill Clinton. It's not the gastronomy, stupid. The man has more important things to worry about than whether he's supping to the satisfaction of Wolfgang Puck. Is it fair to demand he watch his waistline at the same time he has to watch the deficit, Bosnia and Somalia?

Besides, it's hard to believe that if the president of the United States became Euell Gibbons reincarnated, the rest of the nation's citizens would suddenly throw those fast-food monkeys off their backs.

Mr. Clinton's hankering for what's euphemistically called ''real American food'' seems one of the more genuine things about him. Some of his down-home, aw-shucks, mah-mama-tol'-me persona appears the affectation of a clever (did some one say ''slick''?) politician. ''Faux Bubba,'' in Southern cartoonist Doug Marlette's term. There have even been rumors Candidate Clinton dyed his hair gray to look more mature. The fact that his hair has darkened since November 3 may confirm those rumors. Either that or the man has discovered the wondrous properties of Grecian Formula.

There's no Grecian Formula for the gut, though, and the president-elect's belly betrays a love for grub not seen at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue since perhaps the Taft administration. Now there's the thing to watch -- not how close the next president comes to imitating his idol John F. Kennedy, but how close he comes to blowing up like the 300-pound William Howard Taft.

Then, instead of playing sax on ''Arsenio,'' President Clinton could keep his common touch by appearing on TV commercials for Campbell's Chunky Soups. Or moonlighting as the Jolly Green Giant, with a huge bottle of Italian salad dressing in one hand and a great slab of lemon chess pie in the other. Or playing a series of downs on the offensive line of the Washington Redskins -- with him as the entire line.

And so what if he does. If his fondness for food is as genuine as it seems and it gives him pleasure, then the American people shouldn't begrudge it. Let him eat cake -- and marinated beef tenders and anything else that has the misfortune of landing on his plate. Let Clinton be Clinton. A hunka, hunka president.

Patrick Ercolano is The Sun's Baltimore County editorial writer.

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