When Donald Trump talks these days about what he’s eating, he mostly puffs about his penchant for fast food. "The Big Macs are great. The Quarter Pounder. It’s great stuff," he said at a CNN town hall early this year.
He elaborated on that last point at the CNN town hall: "One bad hamburger, you can destroy McDonald’s. I’m a very clean person. I like cleanliness, and I think you’re better off going there than maybe someplace that you have no idea where the food’s coming from. It’s a certain standard."
But it wasn’t always this way.
Before he morphed from reality TV star into presidential candidate, he sounded a lot more like a health-conscious foodie than a fast-food aficionado. There was a time when Trump favored heirloom tomatoes, lemongrass-infused salmon, and lingonberry sorbet.
Wedged deep inside Trump’s many books — amid thoughts on women, migrants, and politics — are significant musings on food and diet. Here are some of the gems.
The "Mar-A-Lago Diet"
While Trump today extols the greatness of KFC and McDonald’s, he once advised people to eat like the really rich. Preferably, with a personal chef.
As he wrote in the 2004 book Think Like A Billionaire, "You can’t just think like a billionaire; you have to eat like one, too." At that time, in the early 2000s, Trump’s chef at the Mar-a-Lago Club in Palm Beach, Florida, was Gary Gregson. Gregson kept Trump on a strict regimen. "We call it the Mar-a-Lago Diet, and if I didn’t adhere to it from time to time, my waistline would be an absolute disaster," Trump wrote.
Here’s a summary of that amazing diet:
1. It has to be served in a fantastic setting.
2. It has to look fantastic.
3. It has to taste incredible.
4. It cannot make you gain weight.
If you eat the best foods and watch your waistline, you’ll begin to look and feel great in no time."
According to Trump, the Mar-A-Lago diet amounted to a wholesome eating pattern, replete with a diverse, fresh, and minimally processed foods:
"Breakfast might consist of an egg-white omelet with spinach, tomatoes, and a little feta cheese, a small cup of tropical fruit, and a mimosa made with freshly squeezed orange juice. Lunch could be a small portion of tilapia and steamed vegetables with fresh herbs and extra virgin olive oil, served with yogurt sauce on the side, iced tea with lemon, and fresh blueberries for dessert."
He also shared some details about his refined palate, specifically, that he enjoys lemongrass-infused salmon, yellow heirloom tomato gazpacho, and lingonberry sorbet.
In addition to extolling the benefits of eating fresh and light, Trump has bragged about maintaining his weight with little tricks. He mentioned one of them in his 2011 book, Time to Get Tough. Rather than shoveling down pizza slices with his hands, he writes:
"...I ate my pizza with a fork. (The truth is, I know how to eat pizza but I was trying to eat as little as possible because I hate gaining weight!)"
Blending the past with the present, in August he tweeted a picture from the campaign trail — the Donald ready to chow down on a KFC bucket with a fork and knife (on his private jet).
Great afternoon in Ohio & a great evening in Pennsylvania - departing now. See you tomorrow Virginia! pic.twitter.com/jQTQYBFpdb— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 2, 2016
Fast food politics
So why have the heirloom tomatoes and lemongrass-infused salmon disappeared from Trump’s menu? It’s clear that the new fast food regimen is a strategic one: Presidential-hopefuls have long used food as a shorthand for the kind of person they are and to appeal to their voter base. In a campaign like Trump’s to "Make America Great Again," nothing says America more than McDonald’s.
The choice to eat cheap fast food is an attempt to relate to voters — voters who’ve never dined at a private club like Mar-A-Lago and could never afford to. Trump may fly around on a private jet, but fried chicken serves the illusion that he’s just a regular guy who doesn’t shell out big bucks for fancy food.
His son, Donald Trump Jr., tried to make this case in an interview with the Washington Post in January: "I always say that we’re blue-collar Americans who’ve been very blessed by success. My dad isn’t the type who puts on a tuxedo and eats caviar. He’s a burgers-and-pizza kind of guy."
Considering Trump’s campaign is imploding for a variety of reasons — as diverse as his bragging about sexual assault and soft spot for strongmen who use chemical weapons on their own people — fast food isn’t likely to save him.