WASHINGTON — The nation's most famous broccoli shipment was welcomed at the White House Monday by Barbara Bush, her faithful dog, Millie, and scores of White House reporters, who milled around the dark green stalks looking for news.
As Mrs. Bush surveyed the scene and tried, without success, to keep a straight face, George Dunlop, president of the Washington-based United Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Assn., waxed metaphorical.
Broccoli is "a green beam of light" emanating from one of President Bush's famous thousand points of light, he said as he presented the First Lady with a beribboned vegetable bouquet. An additional 10 tons of the California-grown vegetable, which arrived in two truckloads, is being donated to a capital-area food bank.
"Millie and I thank you for the broccoli. We'll eat it," Mrs. Bush said of the three boxes of green veggies that arrived at the White House. But, as for her husband, the President: "If his own blessed mother can't make him eat broccoli, I give up."
For her part, "I am never going to eat pork rinds, ever," she said, referring to a high-salt snack food with which the President makes a point of being photographed during political campaigns but otherwise almost never eats.
All this began when Bush told stewards on Air Force One that he never wanted to see broccoli on his plate again. Last week, he escalated matters, declaring that his mother had made him eat the stuff when he was a kid and now, "I'm President of the United States, and I'm not going to eat any more broccoli."
The broccoli growers, not giving up on a potential customer, sent along a sheet of recipes, on appropriately green paper, for broccoli stir-fried, sauced, baked, souped or casseroled.
Meantime, the capital's omnipresent corps of commentators, who have had little else to chew on recently, have busily spent the last few days trying to turn broccoli into a political indicator. Theories have been spinning faster than broccoli flowerets in a Cuisinart.
Will the broccoli flap cost Bush votes among parents of vegetable-averse children? "My own children have checked in with a little bit of criticism," Mrs. Bush said.
Or, as one columnist suggested, was the President trying to enhance his just-folks, regular-guy image when he made a public spectacle of his unwillingness to eat his vegetables?
Or would he, perhaps, benefit, as another columnist opined, by finally stating an unequivocal opinion on some issue, if only one of culinary preference?
Whatever the answer, there was no doubt Monday that broccoli was the biggest show in town.
Events starring Mrs. Bush seldom draw much of a press crowd. Neither, for that matter, do events starring plant matter.
This time, however, White House Press Secretary Marlin Fitzwater cut short his usual morning press briefing to make sure that he would not be upstaged by a cousin of the cauliflower. And virtually the entire news-starved White House press corps arrayed itself on the sunny South Lawn to stare at three cardboard boxes of high-in-fiber, loaded-with-vitamins California produce.
"We're doing a brisk business, and it's because of the President," observed Steve Adlesh, director of sales at Apio Produce of Guadalupe, Calif. "Broccoli has never enjoyed so much publicity."
In the glare of the spotlight, he said, broccoli sales had suddenly risen by 10%.