God help me, I’m fascinated by politicians and their garbage palates.
Initially, I’ll admit, I’d assumed that the trend of performatively eating bad food originated with Republicans. First, there was Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, who famously claims to have eaten two ham and cheese sandwiches every day for the past 26 years (with sad-looking photo evidence). Walker also gave us what Wired’s Ashley Feinberg called “the nightmare kebab incident of 2017,” featuring some char-less grey meat on a lukewarm grill.
Trump’s trash palate (well-done steaks, Filet O Fish sandwiches, bunless Big Macs) is well known and seems to have infected Air Force One, as evidenced by the viral sad pepper lantern disaster. Meanwhile, Senator Tom Cotton famously copped to eating birthday cake almost every day, Tennessee representative Kent Calfee was snapped swigging from a bottle of Hershey’s chocolate syrup as if it were a flask on the floor of the statehouse (he claimed it was actually filled with water which is slightly less weird), and former Utah Senator Orrin Hatch appeared in a horror film about eating bacon (admittedly bacon is more basic than strange, but not the way Hatch does it).
Taken all together it does paint a vivid picture: A group of doddering old men with the collective palate of a preschool class.
As he waits for the State of the State to begin, Rep. Kent Calfee takes a swig of from his Hershey’s chocolate syrup bottle, as he often does during #tnleg session. Photo by @Tennessean’s @GeorgeWalkerIV. pic.twitter.com/TWPZ8yxbM9
— Natalie Allison (@natalie_allison) February 3, 2020
On the flip side, Democrats may not brag about terrible food as often or in quite the same way, but they’re not innocent in this regard. Nancy Pelosi showed off an entire freezer full of expensive ice cream on James Corden as if it was her proudest (and most relatable) possession, while Joe Biden, apparently cribbing from the same playbook (or just using the same consultants) shot a high-larious “social distancing” video with Keegan-Michael Key from Key and Peele, in which Biden made a point of saying “I always start with dessert” while slurping down ice cream. These videos are extremely humanizing if you’re the type of person who enjoys seeing how various corporations celebrate Star Wars Day.
I’m not sure why every politician thinks eating processed unseasoned garbage or fetishizing dessert endears them to the American voter, but my guess is it has something to do with general disdain. Pandering and contempt for your audience are kissing cousins. “Hey, you guys are big fat dumb babies, right? I’m just like you!”
This is all a very circuitous way of introducing the latest bit of viral food content from a politician: a tuna melt recipe so horrifying it may qualify as performance art, courtesy of Virginia Senator Mark Warner. He’s a Democrat, though this recipe seems to owe more to Scott Walker than Nancy Pelosi.
(The embedded version comes from Twitter, but it’s basically identical to the one from Warner’s own Instagram page).
Warner calls this how-to guide for microwaving tuna “one of my favorite recipes.” Was it a bit? If so, it made me cringe more than laugh, and anyway I’m sick of trying to figure out which world leaders are being sarcastic, so I choose to take it more or less at face value.
Still, “don’t knock until you try it,” as they say, so I set out to see if could really create a delicious meal with just a few minutes, a few basic ingredients, and a microwave. First, the ingredients:
I couldn’t tell what brand of mayo Warner was using, but it definitely came in a squirt bottle (my favorite mayo is the Trader Joe’s canola oil brand, very lemony and with a custardy texture, but this Best Foods wasn’t bad). I used medium cheddar just as Warner specified (pleasantly surprised he doesn’t use American) and while we didn’t have the Chicken of the Sea he used, we did have some Starkist — chunk light.
I now think if you’re going to eat canned tuna, at least spring for the albacore instead of the leftovers they stick in chunk light, but I digress.
From what I could tell, Warner used A LOT of mayo, arranged in a circular pattern. Presumably, this is to compensate for just scooping the tuna directly out of the can, creating a kind of deconstructed, half-assed tuna salad.
Of all the offensive things Warner does in this video, I think that by far the most offensive is the way he doesn’t even bother to drain his tuna. He just scoops it straight of out the can, apparently straining with the fork, though he doesn’t seem too concerned about the moisture.
Do you see how wet a can of chunk light tuna is? Yecch.
Mmm, already looks horrible. But Mark Warner is a two-slice man, so today I am a two-slice man.
Pop it in the microwave and bingo bongo…
After 30 seconds in the microwave, the cheese on this tuna “melt” was still unmelted. Maybe my microwave is not as powerful as Senator Mark Warner’s? I popped it back in for 30 more seconds.
The cheese still wasn’t melted in the way I would imagine for a “tuna melt,” but the bigger issue was the giant, revolting wet spot that had developed in the middle of the bread — a predictable result of putting undrained tuna on top of some bread and then microwaving it. You might say this was a mistake, but I watched Warner do it four times and he absolutely does not drain his tuna. Maybe my bread was the wrong brand, or too fresh. Maybe you need two slices of 40-day dry-aged Wonder bread to make this recipe truly sing, hard to say.
Enough talk, time to taste.
Now, however gross you imagined this microwave tuna melt to be, let me assure you that the reality is ten times worse. It smelled like cat food and the texture was like something you’d find at the bottom of a trash can. Nonetheless, I am a professional so I forced myself to choke down at least one bite, even though the sight of the soggy bread made me shiver. It was somehow both soggy and dry, pungent yet unseasoned and bland. It barely held together long enough to make it to my mouth and when I lifted it, all the tuna goo dripped out and pooled into a toxic puddle on the plate:
This was a horror movie. One bite was enough. It was more than enough. I did the rational thing and fed it to my dog. Even he seemed a bit skeptical.
My advice: absolutely do not attempt to make a tuna melt like Mark Warner. Now, I’ve nothing against tuna. I used to make it every day when I worked at a sandwich place and it was great. Drain your tuna (preferably not chunk light), add mayo, mustard, celery, salt, and pepper, and it’s a solid sandwich filling. You can swap the celery for water chestnuts if you want the celery crunch but not the flavor.
Let’s say for the sake of argument that the eight minutes you might spend making your canned tuna into actual tuna salad is a bridge too far. I would say that’s insane, but let’s accept the hypothetical. In that case: why the microwave? If you set your oven to broil just before you opened your tuna can and constructed the sandwich, you could stick the open-faced sandwich in there on the top or second-to-top rack and it probably wouldn’t take much longer than 30 seconds for your cheese to melt. Even better, put it on a cast iron pan and get a light toast on the bread while you melt that cheese. Not only would the cheese melt, the bread would dry out a little instead of getting soggier. The man is a senator, he clearly has an oven.
All I can say about Mark Warner’s sandwich recipe is that this is a prison sandwich conceived by a particularly uncreative inmate. I know it’s some attempt at a cute and relatable bit but like most political food content, it just makes me think that yet another politician is irredeemably strange, with values I barely recognize. In fact, anyone who thinks that this is an acceptable way to prepare food shouldn’t be in charge of anything.