Mayor Thomas Menino loved food almost as much as he loved Bostonians. He loved eating it, talking about it, and arguing about it. We had a running battle about the best pastry in the North End; as an Italian, even with parents born in the U.S., he always pulled rank, preferring Modern Pastry to my favorite, Maria’s. Chefs at campaign events would invite him back to their kitchens after he had talked with pretty much everyone who showed up—a 2008 Boston Globe poll famously reported that more than half the city's then-609,000 residents had met the mayor—to sneak him something special they had made. Lydia Shire, a pioneering Boston chef, named a pizza for him at her restaurant Scampo, a modification of one she'd thrown together the night of one of his countless (okay, five) inaugurals, with pickled jalapeno and chopped broccoli rabe. "I know the mayor likes his robbie," she said one night soon after the restaurant opened, hand-serving him one from the pizza oven.
But aside from the coddling and special treatment any mayor who shows up gets, Menino cared about food for exactly the reasons today's food-movement activists do, and long before it was fashionable to embrace what food can and should mean: access to fresh produce for everyone of every income level; gardens as ways to unite and repair communities; and, most importantly, fresh food as a route to better health. The mayor told everyone, including his biographer, longtime Atlantic senior editor Jack Beatty, that he wanted to be remembered as "the public-health mayor." That made him work particularly closely with my spouse, John Auerbach, who served 10 years as Boston's health commissioner.