The answer is yes, and from Air Force One as well, in March of 1990. The President had hated broccoli all his life and since he was not only 61 years old, but also the “leader of the free world,” he decided that it was time to put his foot down once an for all. A story subsequently went to press in U.S News and World Report that got the attention of California broccoli growers. The growers planned a stunt whereby they would send a truckload of broccoli to the white house as a sort of protest/publicity stunt. Bush got wind of this through a Reuters wire report, and later had a chat with the Reuters representative Gene Gibbons during a state dinner for the prime minister of Poland, Tadeusz Mazowieki. 1
When Bush caught the Gibbons’ eye, who was covering the dinner, he called him over to where he was talking with the prime minister. “Well, Mr. President,” said Gibbons, “as the representative of Reuters, I guess I have to ask you about broccoli!
In response, the President flew into a mock tirade, much to the discomfort and confusion of the befuddled prime minister: “I don’t like broccoli! I’ve never liked it. And when I was a little kid, my mother made me eat it all the time, but by God, I’m president of the United States now, and I’m not going to eat it anymore!” The rant was translated to the prime minister, and Bush explained also about the publicity stunt, at some point asking “Does Poland want the broccoli?”
President Bush jokingly brings up the incident in his book Speaking of Freedom: The Collected Speeches, where he says No discussion of freedom can be complete without touching upon that fundamental right of all humans: freedom from broccoli. He says to show things were on the right track, that the reporters stopped asking about freedom in Lithuania and Poland and started asking about broccoli. “The reporters,” said the President, “tried to draw me into a discussion of Brussels sprouts, but I would not be sidetracked.”
Bush quipped that the backlash was that the opposition caused broccoli sales to skyrocket and he feared they would lose the broccoli vote in the next election. I didn’t bother to check whether broccoli sales actually did go up in that time period, as he was obviously joking. He said that two large truckloads of the “Green Menace” indeed did arrive at the White House from the broccoli farmers, but true to his policy, he did not greet them, although Barbara did so happily. 2
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- Levantrosser, William F., and Rosanna Perotti. A Noble Calling: Character and the George H. W. Bush Presidency. Westport, CT: Praeger, 2004.
- Bush, George. Speaking of Freedom: The Collected Speeches. New York: Scribner, 2009.