How President Jimmy Carter Made Peanuts Cool Again

There is no one clear path to becoming President of the United States. Many of our previous POTUSes were lawyers, most served in the military, and quite a few held previous high-level offices such as senator, congressman, or governor. Others, however, got to the Oval Office via a slightly more circuitous route: Ronald Reagan was a B-movie actor, while Donald Trump was a real estate mogul turned reality TV star. In the early years of our nation, presidents such as Washington and Jefferson could also have added "gentleman farmer" to their resumes. In the late 20th century, however, we elected our nation's first peanut farmer: the one and only James Earl Carter.

Carter grew up on a peanut farm, but he did get out of the peanut patch for a few years to attend the U.S. Naval Academy and serve as senior officer on a nuclear submarine. He returned to the farm after his father's death but left it again to take up residence in Georgia's gubernatorial mansion. When Carter was elected to the presidency, he had an Atlanta law firm take over the peanut farm, but this didn't work out too well as the business wound up going into the red to the tune of $1 million. The Carters were forced to sell the farm to get out of debt, but even though they were no longer in line to establish a peanut dynasty, the unassuming legume would forever after be inextricably linked to the Carter legacy.

The peanut was a symbol of the Carter presidency

The Carter campaign and subsequent presidency were perhaps the best marketing campaign the peanut industry has ever known and, best of all, didn't cost the industry a dime! Peanut cartoons and imagery were everywhere – on t-shirts, campaign buttons, neckties, and knick-knacks as well as in political cartoons. While some peanut caricatures may have been meant to poke fun at the president, others were more affectionate in their intent, such as the smiling peanut statue erected in Plains, Georgia in 1976 and still standing today. Carter himself was most definitely in on the joke, as The National Museum of American History has in its collection a bag of peanuts embossed with his image and slogan that was commissioned as a voter giveaway by the Jimmy Carter Presidential Campaign Committee. He also flew from one campaign stop to another aboard a plane called Peanut One.

So does the former president even like peanuts, or did growing up on a peanut farm and later being caricatured as a smiling peanut turn him off these legumes? Peanuts are not Carter's absolute favorite food, since what he really loves are dairy products like cheese (especially cheesy grits). Still, it seems he's retained a certain fondness for his nutty avatar in all its many forms as he enjoys peanut butter sandwiches, peanut brittle, coconut/peanut rice, peanut chiffon pie, and especially deep-fried peanuts.