Eat & Run

Is Wendy Davis The Democrats' Secret To Flipping Texas?

Seven years after an 11-hour filibuster for abortion rights, the Lone Star State’s feminist hero talks food insecurity and the power of beer.

Originally Published: 
Democratic candidate Wendy Davis, famous for her abortion filibuster, on running for Congress
Owen Franken, Robert Daemmrich Photography Inc, Robin Marchant/Stringer, TheCrimsonMonkey/Getty

When Wendy Davis was 19 years old, she was a newly divorced single mother, living in a mobile home outside of Fort Worth, Texas, and balancing two jobs alongside early-morning paralegal classes. Like millions of Americans, she struggled with food insecurity, something both her own mother and grandparents had faced before her. "Thousands of people are in food bank lines who never imagined they’d be. We need to be fighting for [them]," she tells Bustle.

Her experience wasn't unique. In 2018, the U.S. Department of Agriculture estimated that 37.2 million Americans lived in food-insecure households, where they were unable to consistently meet their needs. The hunger-relief organization Feeding America projects that figure could rise to more than 50 million in 2020 due to the economic strains of COVID-19.

In November, Davis is running for Texas' 21st Congressional District, hoping to bring her firsthand experiences to Washington. She's been decorated as the Democrats' "Joan on Arc," having rallied an 11-hour filibuster to protect abortion rights as a state senator and later launching an unsuccessful bid for governor in 2014. (She lost to current Republican Gov. Greg Abbott.) Regardless, pundits have repeatedly asked: Could Wendy Davis turn deep-red Texas blue?

She'll try again this year. The Democratic party is counting on it.

In a July 22 poll from Quinnipiac University, former Vice President Joe Biden was leading President Trump in Texas by 1 point. The delegate-rich Republican stronghold is now a swing state — as is the 21st district, which hasn't been in Democratic hands since 1979. If Davis, 57, can turn out voters and flip the seat, it could have a statewide effect. And if the Lone Star State flips, the White House would almost certainly follow suit.

Davis talks to Bustle about why she's running for office, 99-cent pizzas, and throwing back beers with constituents.

On matrilineal cooking legacies:

"My maternal grandmother had a sixth-grade education; my grandfather, a fourth-grade education. She raised 14 kids. They were tenant farmers for most of their lives and struggled to literally put food on the table. But what she did cook was magnificent: from fried chicken to Southern ham to cobblers. And they grew much of their own food. I have memories of canning vegetables with her, listening to the pressure cooker hissing in the kitchen while we were snapping beans until our fingers were sore."

On the culinary charms of Kraft:

"As a single mom, I definitely had days of food insecurity. The thing that got me through was 99-cent Totino's frozen pizzas, which I could make last for four meals. I would eat a quarter each evening. For my daughter, that magical blue box of Kraft macaroni and cheese was sustenance in her early years. Back then, extravagance was making fried chicken in a cast-iron skillet, just like my grandmother used to do."

On gaining financial stability:

"Sometimes there’s a certain guilt that comes with bounty. I feel that right now, but I remind myself that that's why I'm running. The experiences people are having [with economic hardship] deserve more than abstract consideration. Because it's not abstract. They deserve policy change and people who understand their circumstances."

On bonding over a beer:

"During a political campaign, food would normally bring [candidates and their constituents] together, through hot dogs, burgers, and barbecue. Beer is certainly part of campaign culture. It's the drink that everybody loves to share. It's the drink that says, ‘We're getting to know each other. We're friends now. We're pulling our walls down a bit.’ And I don't ever have beer at home, so I've missed that."

On the ultimate Texan debate — Tex-Mex or BBQ:

"I'd choose Tex-Mex. I mean, give me a bag of tortilla chips or a stack of corn tortillas and I am a happy girl. That's not to say I don't love barbecue. I do. But if you told me I had to eat one or the other for the rest of my life, I would go with Tex-Mex."

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

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