Taylor’s Maid Rite restaurant in Marshalltown, IA, had a real friend in Thomas James “Tom” Vilsack, 40th Governor of Iowa. He gave them a waiver from state food safety laws to allow a 1920s-style cooking vessel, risking cross contamination in the production of loose meat sandwiches. There’s no record of anyone being sickened taylor'smaidrite_406x250or killed by the Vilsack waiver. His loose food safety enforcement for loose meat was in effect during much of his term, from 1999-2007. Iowa’s next governor, Democrat Chet Culver, eliminated the Vilsack waiver for  Taylor’s.   Iowans love their loose meats and other older Maid Rites may have been in on the waiver. It’s an ironic little story because, as we all know, Vilsack went on to become Secretary of Agriculture with responsibility for food safety of  meat, poultry, eggs, and since March 1, catfish. It was looking like Vilsack  would remain as secretary of agriculture right up to the hour of Obama’s departure from office next Jan. 20, about 187 days from now. But in recent hours, there have been reports that this long-time friend of Bill and Hillary Clinton could be tapped as the Democratic nominee for vice president. This will all work out in the next few days. But as long as the possibility is there, it gives up the opportunity to dish up dirt on Vilsack for the “feeding frenzy” that is sure to follow if he does get the job. We wonder, for example, how many of the nation’s ace political reporters know that Congress made a law back in 1993 that says the president shall nominate someone who, subject to confirmation by the U.S. Senate,  shall serve as USDA’s under secretary for food safety. But guess what? We don’t have one. Tom Vilsack-featuredSince Dr. Elisabeth Hagen left government three years ago, there has not been a USDA under secretary for food safety. Nor has anyone been nominated, let alone confirmed. No one talks about it, but it’s pretty clear it goes unfilled on purpose. Washington political writers have already depicted Vilsack as a dull white guy who may have some agribusiness contacts but that’s about all he has going for him, other than his long friendship with the Clintons. But tell me, does a dull guy play fast and loose with loose meat and dare to flout the law requiring the naming of an under secretary for food safety? I think not. Vilsack cuts a cerebral figure atop the behemoth USDA with its $140 billion budget that reaches into every corner of the country. But underneath, he’s a prospective vice president who likely wants it bad. He’s probably be a lot like Joe Biden, just with less chortling The principal qualification to be a modern day vice president is simply the ability to grovel. It did not use to be that way. Harry Truman could drink bourbon down at the Capitol until FDR assumed room temperature. But the change came when President Jimmy Carter gave Walter Mondale a White House office. From then on the vice president as his own man was out and the groveling vice presidents have been in. Vilsack’s groveling was demonstrated to be a good as it gets. Most of Michaelle’s Obama’s early initiatives fell upon Secretary Vilsack, everything from the “Let’s Move” obesity project to the White House garden fell on USDA’s people and budgets to pull off. And a childhood friend says Tom and Christie Vilsack are Iowa’s “sanitized” version of Bill and Hillary Clinton. One never knows if a candidate for vice president wants the pressure of being held up to any kind of standard. These are, after all, the highest offices in the land. Shouldn’t that be enough? (To sign up for a free subscription to Food Safety News, click here.)