Does it matter that Donald Trump likes his steak well done?

He throws away burger buns and scrapes the top off his pizza: why Donald Trump’s lack of interest in food should set alarm bells ringing.

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“Monster! . . . The man has no dignity! . . . WHAT MORE DO YOU NEED FOR AN IMPEACHMENT?!”

Donald Trump’s dinner had social media foaming at the mouth recently, and people weren’t drooling in envy. It turns out that desiccating a £45 steak (“It would rock on the plate, it was so well done,” according to his former butler) and then attempting to cover up your shame with a tsunami of ketchup is as much of a crime in certain circles as, say, discriminating against religious minorities or engaging in possibly the worst “locker room” banter of all time.

It’s safe to say that the US president was probably rather puzzled by this particular howl of outrage from the “lying” media, given his lack of interest in matters gastronomic. Food, to him, seems to be little more than a useful way of signalling to ordinary Americans that he is one of them – indeed, his senior aide Kellyanne Conway has pointed to the president’s fast-food habit as proof of “his authenticity”.

Though he posed for a photo with a taco bowl last year (guilelessly captioned, “I love Hispanics!”), what we know about Trump’s diet makes Tex-Mex look exotic. Among the “25 fun facts” that he shared with Us Weekly in 2010 were the revelations that he enjoys hamburgers and cherry-vanilla ice cream and that he has meatloaf on his birthday. No wonder the website Jezebel decried him as having the taste of “a damn child”.

And although Potus is not averse to splashing the cash on shrimp cocktails for friends such as Nigel Farage, he prizes convenience when eating alone. Despite the lavish, gold-accented kitchen on board the Boeing 757 private jet that he calls the “T-Bird”, a journalist shadowing his campaign reported that Trump had his driver visit a Burger King drive-through on the way to the airport – because “it’s quick” – and he has also been pictured eating KFC in the air . . . with a knife and fork.

It seems that the strict hygiene standards that the fast-food giants promise are part of the attraction for this self-confessed “germaphobe”. “I think you’re better off going there than maybe some place where you don’t know where the food is coming from,” he once said. Depressingly, he seems to take little joy in these feasts of fast food, peeling off burger buns and scraping the toppings off pizza, “so that we keep the weight down at least as good as possible”.

Trump seems impatient of any time wasted eating. The chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten has told the media that he rarely stays for longer than an hour at his three-Michelin-starred restaurant at the Trump International Hotel and Tower in New York, and the president seems proud that he often lunches at his desk. He has even threatened to do away with the official banquets held for visiting dignitaries: “We should be eating a hamburger on a conference table, and we should make better deals with China and others and forget
the state dinners.”

It is tempting to dismiss Trump’s terrible taste as the least of our problems. But though the leader of the free world should be allowed to do what he likes with his burger buns, the implications of such indifference for US food and farming policy are surely of wider concern. The Obama administration’s environmental and agricultural regulations and school lunch reforms may well be under threat in the months to come.

Add in the appointment of an agriculture secretary with what the New York Times describes as “ties to large agribusiness interests” and links to the two largest salmonella food recalls in US history, and Trump’s contempt for good food sounds less amusing. To paraphrase Federico Fellini, never trust a man who doesn’t like to eat. He is probably lousy in office.

Felicity Cloake is the New Statesman’s food columnist. Her latest book is The A-Z of Eating: a Flavour Map for Adventurous Cooks.

This article appears in the 23 March 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Trump's permanent revolution

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