Donald Trump and Food
Eating is a political act; food, too, can fall victim to fascism. In Donald Trump’s hands, food is a weapon. Rather than see it as a source of pleasure, an occasion to ponder the historical and cultural forces that bring us together and determine who eats what, Trump has recruited food to his cause, made it a vehicle of aggressive, swivel-eyed semiotics, pushing the signifiers of his brand with all the subtlety – going up? – of a gold-plated elevator staffed by a black man.
Consider steak. Trump is synonymous with steak: there is a brand of steak that bears his name; there is a Trump Grill serving steak at the foot of Trump Tower; steak is the culinary focus of the 21 Club, where Trump eloped sans media on the night of his election win. Trump practically is steak: at once rich and a symbol of a certain kind of wealth. To read Barthes parse steak in Mythologies is to read, in one sense, a gloss on the 45th US President:
It is the heart of meat, it is meat in its pure state; and whoever partakes of it assimilates a bull-like strength
Full-bloodedness is the raison d’être of steak
It is a food at once expeditious and dense, it effects the best possible ratio between economy and efficacy, between mythology and its multifarious ways of being consumed
Among the apparent complexity of exotic cooking, it is a food which unites, one feels, succulence and simplicity
Think of the Bikers for Trump, pledging to form a “wall of meat” to protect the pure, beefy values of their full-blooded leader, a bull-like presence at the heart of it all. Hefty, simple, efficacious: a no-nonsense business-minded sort devoted to getting the biggest possible bang for your buck.
But also, cunningly, a man of the people, who reportedly gorges on fast food, practically lives off the stuff. Another shrewd lie by omission, another selective version of the truth, like that camera angle that shows the Pences walking through a thronging capitol when, seen from another side, the stands flanking them are empty. Through the Trump lens – the lens that isn’t distorted by fake news, cuck – this love for fast food casts him as a man so in love with American capitalism that he eats one of its greatest successes and furthest-flung exports three meals a day. What better way to prove your patriotism, to show how full of it your heart is, than to consume the product of big pharma and big agriculture and big business – economies of scale on a scale you wouldn’t believe, hang the nutritional or environmental impact – than to yawp it down out of a greasy wrapper, just like real Americans do? Donald Trump eating a Big Mac is Donald Trump eating himself, or another facet of himself as he wants the American people to see him. Sure, maybe it comes on a bit cheesy. Sure, it might have been bigger in the 80s and it might not be palatable to the liberal elite. But dammit if – when you’re feeling down, when you’re feeling hungover, when you need a lift – it isn’t exactly what your gut tells you that you need.
And then there’s this, from New Year's Eve at Mar a Lago:
Mr Trump’s Wedge Salad
Roquefort, Grape Tomatoes, Bacon, Red Onion
Wild Mushroom and Swiss Chard Ravioli
Carrot Puree, Truffle Madeira Jus
Sliced Tenderloin & Pan Seared Sea Bass
Parsnip Mousse, Butternut Squash Puree, Roasted Heirloom Carrots, Glazed Morel Mushrooms, Burgundy Jus
Baked Alaska, Crème Anglaise
I mean: it’s perfect. The starter ripped straight out of an own-brand steakhouse, the imperceptible gaslighting of calling a perfectly standard wedge salad “Mr Trump’s”, making you doubt the very idea of a wedge salad that had previously been living perfectly happily in your brain, minding its own business. The emetic implausibility of that second course, the Rubik’s Cube-esque way in which you find you can slot maybe three of the components together, but not the whole lot. The prime cut American apocalypse of the entrée, the duo of baby food smears, the plagiarism of ingredients and techniques from earlier in the meal. The oh that’s not too bad simplicity of dessert, before something starts agitating in your brain pan, a slow simmer that becomes a rolling boil as you realise that, like a child, he wants to eat cake with both ice cream and custard.
You can think about food as symbolic, but when it’s laid this bare we’re almost in the domain of semantics, a message unencumbered by metaphor. The message is this: we’re back, baby. The 80s, Reagan, leather and steak and steak like leather, vegetables sectioned off like dissidents into comically small side-dishes. Food as trolling, food as political accessory: nursery food, brown food, food you thought you’d escaped forever. The president’s tastes feeding the president’s body, the body presidential as the body of the dominant political class despite the wishes of the majority of the body politic: male, old, fat, rich, heedless. The Obamas' kitchen garden? Gone, dug up. Instead, a carnivorous, pitiless, high fructose corn syrup presidency, a battery farm chicken in every pot. Make America steak again.
Well here’s a prediction. You can see it as metaphor, more semiotics, if you like, though I mean it literally. This can’t last. You can’t do this to a body forever: poison it enough and at some point it will rebel against you. And at that point something will happen, suddenly and irrevocably. A heart that feels like a Black Lives Matter protestor is gripping it in righteous fury; a bloodstream as teeming with adversaries as DC during the Women's March; something even now growing darkly, secretly, conspiratorially in a hidden space. Trust me on this: in the next four years, Donald J Trump will suffer a personal health crisis. And it’s gonna be yuuuuuge.