Macaroni politics

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Charlie Spiering, "Hillary Clinton touts 'macaroni and cheese' issues at Emily's List gala", Breitbart 2/4/2015:

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton touted the importance of “macaroni and cheese” issues in the federal government, as she teased a presidential run in a speech last night.  

During her appearance at the EMILY’s List 30th anniversary gala, Clinton recognized Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), who recently announced she’ll retire after 2016.  

Mikulski, she explained, helped her when she was elected to the U.S. Senate from New York.  

“She knew the ropes, but she also knew how to cut through all the hot air,” Clinton said. “She understands that, yes, we have to work on macro issues and also macaroni and cheese issues, too.”

CSPAN has video of "Hillary Clinton Remarks at Emily's List Gala", 2/3/2015. The mention of Mikulski occurs at 1:03:20 or so.

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I will always remember Barbara's kindness and wisdom when I was elected in the
two thousand election she was one of the first calls I got
It went something like this:

I followed it, that was a hard-fought race
Now you need to figure out how to BE a senator
since you've been elected to serve as one.

And she came over
and sat down with me and started giving me a tutorial that stood me in such good stead
She knew the ropes but she also knew how to cut through all the hot air

She understands that yes we have to work on macro issues
but also macaroni and cheese issues too
and that for hard-working families, they're really one and the same.

Zeroing in on the macaroni-and-cheese sentence, we see that Spiering's article only gets one word wrong — and instead of but — which is amazingly accurate for journalistic quoting:

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However, Spiering implies that Clinton invented the phrase "macaroni and cheese issues" — and this implication is picked up in the comments, with astonishing but typical venom:

Does this woman ever say anything of substance? You just know the maccarroni line was written by some metrosexual swish in her entourage and delivered after it was focus grouped by a bunch of liberal women. Cut me a friggin' break.

Or again:

"Don’t you someday want to see a woman president?” Yeah, that's her issue: "I'm a certified wimmin. You elected Obama because he's black, so you'll SURELY elect me because I'm a wimmins."

She throws in the macaroni b.s. just to try to look human and endearing (puke).

This tiresome old bag has no real issue or cause except her own insatiable lust for power, money and position. Her campaign slogan should be, "Shut up, peasants!"


The only Mac n Cheese related to Hillary is on the back of her thighs and Butt !

But in fact Clinton was quoting Mikulski rather than describing her. Thus Erin Gloria Ryan, "20 Badass Quotes From the Women of the DNC", Jezebel 9/07/2012, where "badass quote" #4 is this one attributed to Senator Mikulski (emphasis added):

We work on macro issues and macaroni and cheese issues. When women are in the halls of power, our national debate reflects the needs and dreams of American families.

And there's confirmation from Vincent Bzdek, "Woman of the House: The Rise of Nancy Pelosi", 2/8/2008:

Mikulski said women in Congress are not a single, monoilithic block but rather a force. "We are not solo acts — we believe that every issue is a woman's issue and we work together to form coalitions to get things done. We work on not only the macro issues, but also the macaroni and cheese issues — the issues that affect American families — from foreign policy to the climate crisis and healthcare."

Another version of the phrase, again attributed to Senator Mikulski, can be found in this post by Congresswoman Donna Edwards:

Senator Mikulski, Dean of the Senate women, said: "For women and families it's about macro issues and macaroni and cheese issues. From access to quality and affordable health care to safe and reliable child care and equal pay for equal work. I'm proud to stand with the women of Prince George's County and will continue to fight for Maryland women and families leading healthy lives with a brighter future for their children."

And yet another version, from Ann Gerhart, "Hillary Inc.", More 2008:

A blunt-talking pol from Baltimore, she has been in the Senate for 20 years. It’s time for a woman to be president, and particularly this woman, Mikulski bellows, and it’s time for other women to put her there, "whether you are working on macaroni-and-cheese issues or macroeconomics, whether you are tap-dancing backwards or tapping on your BlackBerry, even doing Pilates on the way." It’s a neat populistic wrap-up, a way to subtly sew up any split between at-home mothers and careerists or blue-collar women and their professional counterparts.

This is a complete turn-around from the 18th-century meaning of macaroni referenced in the song:

Yankee Doodle went to town
Riding on a pony;
He stuck a feather in his hat,
And called it macaroni.

As Wikipedia explains, macaronis were sort of late-18th-century metrosexuals:

The Macaroni wig was an extreme fashion in the 1770s and became contemporary slang for foppishness. The Macaronis were young English men who adopted feminine mannerisms and highly extravagant attire, and were deemed effeminate. They were members of the Macaroni Club in London at the height of the fashion for dandyism, so called because they wore striped silks upon their return from the Grand Tour – and a feather in their hats. They also wore two fob watches: "one to tell what time it was and the other to tell what time it was not" ran their joking explanation. […] The verse implies that Yankees were so unsophisticated that they thought simply sticking a feather in a cap would make them the height of fashion. Peter McNeil, professor of fashion studies, claims that the British were insinuating that the colonists were womanish and not very masculine.

According to Joseph Twaddell Shipley, "The Origins of English Words: A Discursive Dictionary of Indo-European Roots":

The Oxford Magazine in 1770 declared: "There is indeed a kind of animal, neither male nor female, a thing of the neuter gender, lately started up among us. It is called a Macaroni. It talks without meaning, it smiles without pleasantry, it eats without appetite, it rides without exercise, it wenches without passion." It wears two watches, Mme D'Arblay observed in her Diary, 9 Dec. 1783, and a beribbon'd lovelock.

The Macaroni wig was extreme indeed (though presumably this picture is a bit exaggerated):

According to the OED, the word macaroni is "of uncertain origin", "appears earliest to have denoted a dumpling or gnocco , and only later pasta in tubular form", and "is scarcely evidenced in English until the mid 18th cent.". The OED also notes that the name of the dandyish Macaroni Club was "a designation probably adopted to indicate the preference of the members for foreign cookery, macaroni being at that time little eaten in England."

The OED's earliest citation for macaroni and cheese is from 1846, in Judith Cohen Montefiore's "The Jewish Manual: Practical Information in Jewish and Modern Cookery with a Collection of Valuable Recipes & Hints Relating to the Toilette":

Maccaroni and cheese. Boil some maccaroni in milk or water until tender, then drain them and place on a dish with bits of butter and grated Parmesan cheese; when the dish is filled grate more cheese over it and brown before the fire.

However, the Wikipedia article says that

A recipe called "macaroni and cheese" appeared in the 1824 cookbook The Virginia Housewife written by Mary Randolph. Randolph's recipe had three ingredients: macaroni, cheese, and butter, layered together and baked in a 400 °F (204 °C) oven.

Usage of the phrase seems to have taken off around 1970:


My first thought was that this was due to the availability of packaged instant mac-n-cheese, but Wikipedia says that

A variety of packaged mixes which are prepared in a sauce pan on the stove or in a microwave oven are available. They are usually modeled on Kraft Macaroni & Cheese (known as Kraft Dinner in Canada), which was introduced in 1937 with the slogan "make a meal for four in nine minutes." It was an immediate success in the US and Canada amidst the economic hardships of the Depression. During the Second World War, rationing led to increased popularity for the product which could be obtained two boxes for one food rationing stamp. […] The boxed Kraft product is immensely popular in Canada, where it is the most-purchased grocery item in the country.

Maybe it just took a few decades for usage in books to catch up with vernacular cuisine.

But there's at least one more  chapter in the politics of macaroni. According to Amber Ferguson, "Michelle Obama Banned Chelsea Clinton's Favorite Dish From The White House", HuffPo 2/10/2015:

Despite her daughters' love of macaroni and cheese, first lady Michelle Obama reveals in a new interview that she barred the boxed treat from the White House dinner table by teaching Sasha and Malia that cheese dust is not food.



  1. J.W. Brewer said,

    March 5, 2015 @ 8:59 pm

    This seems a particularly weird locution to be using if it is supposed to stand for "issues of particular interest to female voters and/or which female politicians ought to be particularly good at addressing," since (generalizing from my own experience as a father) it is widely believed among 21st American children and their mothers that Kraft mac-and-cheese is one of the few dishes kids will reliably eat that is so simple that adult males can be trusted to prepare it without screwing it up.

    Does "macaroni and cheese issues" ever appear outside a context in which it is alliteratively contrasted with "macro" something? If not is there a name for an idiom like this that cannot be used on a freestanding basis? It seems related to, yet somehow distinct from, the more well-established political idiom "kitchen-table issues" (common since the '90's and claimed by a Wm Safire column to be attested as early as a Boston Globe story during the '84 presidential campaign), but I'm not sure if I can figure out how it might differ in semantic scope.

  2. Dick Margulis said,

    March 5, 2015 @ 9:56 pm

    I'm not sure what the recipe actually said in the 1824 cookbook, but it most assuredly did not say "in a 400 °F (204 °C) oven."

    [(myl) No doubt. And in fact I was too credulous in accepting that implausible-sounding antedating — the 1838 edition of Randolph's book has nothing involving "maccaroni" but this "maccaroni pudding" which is different in nature as well as in name:


    Be that as it may, I find the way the spelling of some words migrates over time interesting. According to the Google ngram viewer, maccaroni and macaroni were neck-and-neck from about 1800 till 1860, at which point maccaroni tailed off to almost nothing (quasi-literate anonymous commenter above notwithstanding).

  3. Levantine said,

    March 5, 2015 @ 10:05 pm

    This is a complete aside, but British English usually omits the "and" and calls the dish "macaroni cheese" (and we also have "cauliflower cheese").

    [(myl) We Americans, on the other hand, increasingly omit the "-aroni", yielding "mac and cheese" or "mac-n-cheese".]

  4. Chad Nilep said,

    March 5, 2015 @ 11:43 pm

    @J.W. Brewer: I take "macaroni and cheese issues" not to mean "of interest to women" but "of interest to ordinary folk". In this regard it resembles the "Wall Street / Main Street" contrast.

    @No one in particular: Isn't Thomas Jefferson averred to have popularized macaroni and cheese? That would place the dish, though not necessarily the name for it, at least a decade earlier than Kraft Macaroni & Cheese.

    [(myl) Apparently not.]

  5. Levantine said,

    March 5, 2015 @ 11:58 pm

    myl, I've started hearing "mac and cheese" in the UK, too. I suppose the "and"-less abbreviation "mac cheese" just doesn't work!

  6. Q. Pheevr said,

    March 6, 2015 @ 12:30 am

    I think I can antedate the recipe for macaroni (and) cheese, if not the name. From page 285 of the 1786 edition of Elizabeth Raffald's Experienced English House-Keeper:

    BOIL four ounces of maccaroni till it be quite tender, and lay it on a ſieve to drain, then put it in a toſſing pan, with about a gill of good cream, a lump of butter rolled in flour, boil it five minutes, pour it on a plate, lay all over it Parmeſan cheeſe toaſted; ſend it to table on a water plate for it ſoon goes cold.

    (The next recipe on the page is intriguingly headlined "To ſtew CHEESE with LIGHT WIGS.")

  7. Levantine said,

    March 6, 2015 @ 1:55 am

    Unless my eyes deceive me, Randolph's book uses "yelk" for our "yolk".

    Q. Pheevr, fantastic! I love the subjunctive in the first sentence, and the recipe itself sounds rather tasty (though I don't quite understand at what stage and how the Parmesan is supposed to be toasted). Moreover, it's remarkable to see how cosmopolitan historical English cooking (at least in its elite from) could be. Thirty years ago, you'd be hard pressed to find olive oil, let alone Parmesan, in your average British food market.

  8. Dick Margulis said,

    March 6, 2015 @ 7:04 am

    Levantine, I think the toasting was supposed to happen after the laying all over, as is still done, despite the ambiguous syntax.

  9. Levantine said,

    March 6, 2015 @ 7:16 am

    Dick Margulis, that's what I suspected and (for the sake of the recipe) hoped. Now all I need is a gill of good cream…

  10. Dick Margulis said,

    March 6, 2015 @ 7:36 am

    Aside: Just dig a bit of digging about "To ſtew CHEESE with LIGHT WIGS" Found this, which seems right for the recipe (should anyone be interested):

  11. Q. Pheevr said,

    March 6, 2015 @ 12:05 pm

    So, it turns out that the recipe is much older. It appears in The Forme of Cury, a compilation of recipes put together circa 1390 and attributed to the cooks of the court of Richard II. Here's how it appears in the edition edited by Samuel Pegge that was published in the late 18th century:

    Take and make a thynne foyle of dowh. and kerve it on peces, and caſt hem on boillyng wat̅ & ſeeþ it wele. take cheſe and butt̅ caſt bynethen and above as loſyns. and su̅e forth.

    Or, to update the orthography:

    Take and make a thin foil of dough, and carve it into pieces, and cast them in boiling water and seethe it well. Take cheese and butter cast beneath and above as lozens, and serve forth.

    Pegge writes in a footnote that "Maccherone, according to the Recipe in Altieri, correſponds nearly enough with our proceſs; ſo that this title ſeems to want mending, and yet I know not how to do it to ſatisfaction." For Clinton's purposes, though, the parallel betwen macro-economics and macrow-and-cheese economics seems ideal.

  12. Anthony said,

    March 6, 2015 @ 1:33 pm

    I don't see anything macaronic here.

  13. Jerry Friedman said,

    March 6, 2015 @ 4:45 pm


    Hillary's speech has an elle-sait-bien-quoi
    With a reference to food you can't eat at a spa.
    To manage those trillions takes tricky technique,
    But boxed dinners count too for Realpolitik.

  14. Graeme said,

    March 7, 2015 @ 6:58 am

    A silly play on 'macro'. What's wrong with 'bread and butter' issues/concerns? Or is it now a side dish to macaroni cheese?

  15. Mike said,

    March 7, 2015 @ 7:35 am

    M+C is also, perhaps legendarily, known to have been Beethoven's favorite food:

  16. Cuconnacht said,

    March 7, 2015 @ 12:21 pm

    The recipe for Losyns (lozenges, lasagne) in the Forme of Cury also involves macaroni and cheese:

    Take gode broth & do in an erþenpot, take flor of payndmayn & make þer of past wit water & make þer of thynne foyles as paper wiþ a roller, drye hyt hard & seeþ hyt in broth, take chese ruayn grated & lay it in disches wiþ poudor douce & lay þer on loseyns ysode as hole as þou myȝt, & aboue poudor & chese and so twycs or þrycs & serue hit forth.

    Payndemayn is fine bread; poudor is powder douce, a spice blend including sugar, cinnamon, and ginger. I imagine cheese rouayn is Rouen cheese.

  17. Jerry Friedman said,

    March 7, 2015 @ 3:44 pm

    What's "ysode", sowed?

  18. Macaroni Politics | ok-cleek said,

    March 8, 2015 @ 12:43 pm

    […] Macaroni Politics […]

  19. Another Holocene Human said,

    March 8, 2015 @ 1:06 pm

    Fascinating to discover upon googling that references to "loseyn" predate the Forme of Cury in Italy going back to the early 14th century, and that the accepted etymology, lasanum (latin) from Greek lasanon, is a chamber pot–!

    Also the ingredients of loseyn bring to mind a sweet-spiced baked-brie-in-pastry rather than the savory lasagna/e we know and love today. I googled Rouen cheese and found cheese shops in Rouen advertising very Brie-looking cheeses. I suppose it might taste like a cheesy noodle kugel.

  20. Alex Bollinger said,

    March 8, 2015 @ 6:54 pm

    So how long until we hear a Canadian politician saying they care about kraft dinner issues?

  21. Colin Fine said,

    March 9, 2015 @ 8:28 am

    Jerry Friedman: 'sod', I think, ie seethed'.

  22. T. Sigríðarson said,

    March 10, 2015 @ 7:21 am

    Icelandic soð(inn) = ~boiled, poached, seethed

  23. Xmun said,

    March 10, 2015 @ 2:35 pm

    Indeed. See Genesis 26: 29 in the King James Bible (a.k.a. Authorized Version): "And Jacob sod pottage [. . .]".

  24. Xmun said,

    March 10, 2015 @ 2:38 pm

    And "ysode" is the past participle of the same verb.

  25. Jerry Friedman said,

    March 10, 2015 @ 9:22 pm

    Thanks, Colin Fine, T. Sigríðarson, and Xmun.

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