"Will the President bring a food taster, like his predecessor George W Bush?
No. He is hardly a fussy eater, having eaten both dog and snake on previous diplomatic visits while in the Senate." - Daily Mail, London, 4/1/09, on the visit to Britain.
A number of references to Obama "needing a food taster" while in proximity to the Clintons during the '08 campaign...
From an interview with the author of a book on Georgetown hostesses: "Q: Mrs. Cooper also didn't appreciate having food tasters in her kitchen when she entertained the Reagans.
A: I think she ended up making a joke of it - and it did happen just after he was shot." - The Washington Times, 11/21/03
"AS if the Queen hasn't got enough on her plate accommodating all President Bush's security demands, the Secret Service have put a food taster into the Buckingham Palace kitchens.
Nothing is being left to chance by the Americans, who have assembled the largest security operation seen in London for the three-day visit.
According to sources, everything that is destined to be served up for the President has to be tasted first.
Even unflappable Palace courtiers are bemused. 'It's all a bit medieval,' said one. 'Perhaps they have got us muddled up with the Borgias.' Of course, Palace food is not to everyone's liking." - London Daily Mail, 11/19/03
"A humble mouse is to put its life on a plate for US president George Bush this weekend - acting as his official food taster to thwart any attempt at a bio-chemical assasination.
The rodent is one of 10 selected by the authorities in Thailand, where Mr Bush is starting a four-day visit today, and will be served samples of food which the president will eat.
According to Thai officials, the mouse will nibble on Thai dishes and then be observed to see if it drops dead or suffers any ill effects.
The director-general of the health ministry's medical sciences department, Somsong Rakpao, said no chances could be taken when it comes to protecting the world's most powerful man.
"We will collect samples of all the food and bring them to our labs," he said. "Some will be fed to the mice, some will be mixed into a clear solution and injected into their intraperitoneal cavity." - The Guardian, 10/18/03
Again, lots of "jocular" references to Obama needing food tasters when around the Clintons, McCain needing food tasters when with Bush, that sort of thing.
On a presidential dinner out during the Clinton administration:
"All the food was prepared under the watchful eye of a representative of the White House staff mess, which is run by the Navy. Such a representative is always on hand when the president dines out, to make sure he doesn't eat anything that would cause what a White House aide characterized as "an allergic or adverse reaction," such as, say, hemlock.
The one thing these so-called "food tasters" don't monitor is nutrition. That's a matter best left to the diner and his doctor.
Sometimes the food tasters actually do just that; sometimes they don't.
When the Bushes ate at i Ricchi, the food taster washed their plates, glasses and utensils before dinner and kept them in sight at all times. He tasted every dish to be served to the president. He watched as the food was put on the plates and served. And he uncorked and tasted the bottle of wine reserved for the Bushes.
Clinton's food taster was less stringent. The chef simply told him all the ingredients in each of dishes served to the president.
"The only thing he couldn't have was a dollop of whipped cream on the sorbet," says Tom Lozupone, kitchen manager and chef.
The food taster kept a watchful eye on the proceedings, but the only thing he tasted was the sorbet.
"He really didn't interfere," Lozupone says, "which was great because it could've been a real problem," what with all those other people to feed as well."
- Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, 7/16/97
"As their staffs scrambled to assemble a five-hour whiz through Pittsburgh, President Clinton and British Prime Minister John Major sent their appetites ahead of them.
Major and Clinton are set to appear before an invitation-only crowd at the airport, meet surgeons who tried to save the life of a 5-year-old British girl, possibly visit an old industrial site, and chat about affairs of state over dinner during their diplomatic pit stop Monday.
Planning went on with a team of advance schedulers and security experts fanning out to sites around the region for possible places for Major and Clinton to tour. The search for the right restaurant took special talents -- a security man was sent to check out the food at area restaurants.
''The guy appeared to be a professional food taster because he weighed about 400 pounds,'' said Tom Pastorius, owner of the Allegheny Brewery and Pub on the North Side, where a government agent walked in and announced he'd been ordered to check out the food for some very important potential diners.
The taster -- a throwback to the days when visiting potentates had a bad habit of poisoning each other -- tried a little of everything on the menu, quaffed a beer and departed." - Pittsburgh Post Gazette, 2/26/94
" CANBERRA: Don't spare the Sydney rock oysters and King Island smoked beef, but hold the broccoli _ these are the instructions to Aussie chefs preparing to feed United States President George Bush. Mr Bush has gone on record as saying he hates broccoli, much to the displeasure of Mrs Barbara Bush, who eats her green vegetables. Parliamentary Catering Service manager Mr David Parkes said he had ""steered away from the broccoli . . . just in case". The President and Mrs Bush will be guests of honor at two official Canberra dinners _ at Government House tonight and in Parliament House's Great Hall tomorrow. Government House staff have kept their menu secret, except to say the food and wine will be Australian. But Spotless Catering has detailed the Parliament House menu down to the cracked pepper on the hors d'oeuvres. Mr and Mrs Bush and 650 guests will enjoy a five-star meal prepared by chefs who will compete in the culinary Olympics in Germany next year. Mr Bush's food tasters, who follow him around the world, will be on hand to ensure the food is ""safe". Ingredients were selected from Australia's best, including Tasmanian salmon, Sydney rock oysters and King Island smoked beef fillet. Hors d'oeuvres will include rockmelon with prosciutto and salmon with dill cream and caviar." - Courier Mail (Australia), 1/1/92
"Yes, Virginia, the President does have a food taster. And no, the White House will not comment on food tasters -- or anything else, for that matter -- when it comes to protecting the Presidential palate.
But whenever the chief executive goes out to eat, there's a man in the kitchen standing over the food. Sometimes he just watches; sometimes he digs right in.
The night the First Couple went to I Ricchi, an Italian restaurant in downtown Washington, the food taster washed their plates, glasses and utensils before the meal and kept them in sight at all times; tasted every dish to be served to the President; watched as the food was put on the plates and served; and uncorked and tasted the bottle of wine reserved exclusively for the President and Mrs. Bush.
In April, right after traces of benzene were found in Perrier water, Bush joked with an audience in Indianapolis: "I'm sorry I couldn't get over here to have lunch with you today; I wasn't allowed to. On the way over I was notified that the Secret Service had found my food taster face down in the salad. Somebody had washed my lettuce with Perrier."
Traditionally, Presidents give up public dining when they move into 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.
Nixon occasionally strolled across Lafayette Square, Secret Service alongside, for dinner at Trader Vic's at the Capital Hilton. Ford and Carter rarely dined out. The Reagans, especially after the assassination attempt in 1981, kept close to the White House for meals. When Nancy Reagan did venture out, she favored the cloistered atmosphere of the Jockey Club.
But George Bush, determined to maintain as normal a lifestyle as possible, roars out of the Oval Office and into one of his favorite restaurants at the drop of a Daily Special.
The restaurants love it, of course. It inevitably boosts business. And it's a big thrill for other customers.
But any spontaneous jaunt is a complicated logistical maneuver for the Secret Service. His security staff gets nervous when the President goes out in public and even more nervous when he does it unexpectedly. But these excursions are safer than his announced appearances in two respects: There's the element of surprise -- what the public doesn't know can't hurt him. And he goes out to restaurants so often, they've got the drill down pat.
When George and Robert Tsui get a call from the Secret Service reserving Table N-17, they know exactly what to expect.
By now, the two brothers who run the Peking Gourmet Inn in Falls Church are old hands at handling the hullabaloo that accompanies a visit from the First Customer -- it's the President's favorite spot for a family dinner. Bush has been a VIP customer of the restaurant for the past five years and still stops by every couple of months: He came right before his inauguration, on the eve of the trips to Poland and Colombia, and to celebrate his son Marvin's birthday, to name a few occasions.
"They treat this, just like any other American family, as their little favorite Chinese restaurant," says Robert Tsui. "We try to be as low-key as we can."
Low-key, all things considered. The President is brought in one of the restaurant's seven doors; it varies each time and is always a last-minute decision by the security detail. There are Secret Service agents and police both inside and surrounding the restaurant. Customers are waved with a portable metal detector when they arrive for dinner. And then there's the taster . . . er, make that "nutrition expert."
"When President Bush was vice president, he didn't have a nutrition expert in the kitchen," says George Tsui. "After he became President, the nutrition expert stays in the kitchen to understand what he's eating." - Los Angeles Times, 7/26/90
"The entourage accompanying a presidential trip is often likened to a traveling circus. Reagan's forway into world diplomacy is no exception.
An estimated 275 members of the press, flying in a DC-10 jumbo jet, will take off two hours before the president. Hundreds of other reporters, cameramen and technicians will join up on the scene.
American security bolstered by the presence of the gendarmes and police of the host nations is expected to be the most rigid in the history of a presidential trip, in view of both the previous attempt on Reagan's life and the fear of terrorism.
Reagan's personal stewards and food tasters, his physician, Dr. Daniel Ruge, his military aides and secretaries are booked for the exhausting trip.
And there will be gifts for his hosts -- and a good stock of jars of jelly beans for wherever the president appears." - United Press International, 5/30/82
There are more, but you get the idea. I think most of it is pretty straightforward reporting of a detail most people never think about. At the least, supervision of the preparation of food is part of presidential security. Sadly, it's probably a good idea. To think this is unique to Obama is very naive.