How A White House Recipe For No-Bean Chili Caused A National Uproar

Given its simplicity and warming pleasure, it's no surprise why chili became a mainstay of American cuisine. Although YouGovAmerica suggests that the likes of mashed potatoes, hamburgers, and fried chicken are now more popular, in the 1950s and 1960s chili was all the rage. According to Serious Eats, chili's fame expanded as a result of television cooking contests that showcased the filling dish to a wide audience. While most chilies feature beans, typical Texas chili does not (via Slate) – and it was this that caused unexpected controversy for President Lyndon B. Johnson. 

Johnson was born in Texas, and became the 36th U.S. president in 1963, according to The White House. Despite facing struggles including welfare reforms, riots, and the Vietnam war, one unbelievable crisis he found himself embroiled in was in 1964 when it was alleged that Johnson preferred no-bean chilies over the more widely accepted bean-filled ones, reports Arizona State University. In what today might be termed bean-gate, the public took a dim view of Johnson's choice, forcing the White House to take the heat off the president. 

The White House showcased Lyndon Johnson's love of beans

Author Adrian Miller explained to Arizona State University that the scandal stemmed from a Texas-style chili cooked by White House chef Zephyr Wright that sparked questions about the president's stance on beans. Given the general expectation that chili contains beans, controversy ensued. According to Miller, "Periodically the White House put out recipes and when they put out the recipe for this chili without beans, the agriculture people felt scandalized" (via DC Rider). Letting the public suspect it had a bean-hating president just wouldn't do. A transcript from the LBJ Library shows that White House secretary Juanita Roberts asked Wright to confirm the many types Johnson enjoyed – including lima, pinto, and green. 

Chili came up again the month before the 1964 presidential election. UT News reveals that Johnson's beanless Pedernales River Chili was pitched against rival Barry Goldwater's bean-filled recipe in a newspaper guide to assist uncertain voters. In 1967, humorist H. Allen Smith hilariously took back his vote for Johnson in a Holiday article, citing the president's "evil way with chili." 

Johnson famously proclaimed that non-Texas chili was a "weak, apologetic imitation" (via What's Cooking America). But it seems that for a time, he didn't eat it with or without beans. Per The New York Times, he pledged to cut back on chili after suffering a heart attack in 1955. But judging from the chili scandal of '64, he couldn't stay away entirely.