By Betsy Rothstein - 06/28/06 12:00 AM EDT
Enter Rep. Mike Pence’s (R-Ind.) office and you might get a handful of movie-theater-style popcorn freshly popped from an old-fashioned machine.
Rep. Zach Wamp (R-Tenn.) offers Little Debbie snack cakes such as honey buns, chocolate-covered wafers and doughnuts.
Step into most Georgia or Alabama congressional offices and you’re likely to get a bag of roasted peanuts and a Coke.
On the other hand, generous Rep. Mark Foley’s (R-Fla.) institutional greeting for guests is plain water from a cooler. He has fish in his office, but they’re for looking at, not eating.
Like spas and dental offices, not all Capitol Hill offices are created equal. Some, such as the office of Rep. Shelley Berkley (D-Nev.), go all out, offering chocolates and caramels. Others don’t worry about feeding their guests and suggest that if you’re hungry you should swing by the Longworth cafeteria.
“Most people are here for other business, not the food,” says Matthew Specht, spokesman for Rep. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), who explains that the office’s only offering is water.
Still, some offices are all about detail and make constituents and guests feel a little special when they walk in.
If you go to Rep. Adam Putnam’s (R-Fla.) office, you’ll get a cup of fresh, pulp-free, Florida orange juice. “Gotta move that product,” Putnam spokesman John Hambel jokes. “We have a refrigerator that’s filled with orange juice.”
Occasionally the Florida Farm Bureau sends Putnam food. “Sometimes you get peanuts,” he says. “Sometimes we’ll get fresh fruits and vegetables, sometimes strawberries, when they come in from Plant City, the strawberry capital of the United States. If you have never been to the Plant City Strawberry Festival, you have not lived.”
Before you dismiss water as boring, consider the approach of Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska). His office takes water seriously. It comes from Sitka, Alaska, in the Tongass National Forest.
“It’s a mix of glacial and rain water,” explains Young spokeswoman Meredith Kenny, with an air that suggests this is a good thing. Probably is.
Some offices like surprises. Rep. John Shadegg’s (R-Ariz.) office offers varying mixes of hard candies, peanut-butter cups, Peppermint Patties and Hershey kisses.
Geography is a determinant of many offices’ food and drink offerings. With Georgia or Alabama, you get peanuts, it’s orange juice from Florida and Wamp’s Little Debbie snack cakes come from his Tennessee district.
In the office of Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), the specialty beverage is Southern pecan roasted coffee. “We offer any variety of soft-drink beverage and the standard water,” says Thompson’s chief of staff, Lanier Avant, “but our featured beverage is [this] coffee … roasted at a roastery at our district that’s minority-owned, and she does a wonderful job. So if you come on the fourth floor of Rayburn you can smell the scent of Southern pecan roasted coffee every morning at 9 a.m.”
Avant says his boss averages four to six cups a day. “It’s absolutely the best flavored coffee you can ever find.”
The office doesn’t offer food.
“We’re having problems getting the superintendent to let us fry catfish in the office,” he says. “It’s probably a fire hazard.”
Rep. Terry Everett (R-Ala.) boasts a large peanut supply and nothing else but water; he represents the second largest peanut-growing district in the country. Mike Lewis, Everett’s spokesman, says, “We’re cheap here. Don’t have much else, but the peanuts are good ... if not better than what they get on the airplane.
“They are better than the Georgia peanuts. We argue that ours are the tastiest. They are the ones used in candies and peanut butter.”
Naturally, Becky Ruby, spokeswoman for Rep. Phil Gingrey (R-Ga.), raves about the Georgia peanuts in her boss’s office. The Georgian also offers a wide choice of soft drinks — Coke, Diet Coke, Diet Coke with Splenda, Coke Zero, Barq’s root beer, Sprite, Diet Sprite, and Vault energy drink — all made by Atlanta-based Coca-Cola. Ruby says that when constituents arrive hot and sweaty they really appreciate the cold drinks.
Rep. Ed Case (D-Hawaii) offers an assortment of Hawaiian favorites such as macadamia nuts, macadamia candy and rice crackers, but also more intriguing snacks such as dried cuttlefish and ling hi mui (dried salted plums).
An unusual snack eaten in the office is ling hi mui powder over gummy bears. “It’s really delicious,” says Esther Kiaaina, Case’s chief of staff.
Rep. Joe Pitt’s (R-Pa.) district includes Elizabethtown, home to an M&M-Mars manufacturing plant. It sends chocolates, which Pitts offers to guests and constituents his office lobby. There are miniature packages of M&Ms and bite-size versions of Three Musketeers, Snickers and Dove chocolates. Wilbur Chocolate, from Lititz, Pa., also occasionally sends chocolate-covered nuts and milk-chocolate buds.
“I wouldn’t say staffers eat the majority of it,” says Pitt spokesman Skip Brown. “It’s definitely mainly on display out in the front lobby for constituents. I pick some out now and then. I’ve been trying to cut back because I’ve been training for a marathon. It can be tempting.”
Pitt’s district is home to a lot of tasty treat manufacturers, including Turkey Hill ice cream, Herrs Potato Chips and Auntie Anne’s pretzels. So far those companies have not provided Pitt with their goodies.
In Rep. Ellen Tauscher’s office (D-Calif.), the food of choice is Jelly Belly jellybeans, as the factory is in Fairfield, a city in her district. Typically, Jelly Belly sends Tauscher a supply and aides stash them — not in the foyer, but back in the legislative room.