My stomach has guided me to many different places, and in my gastronomic globe-trotting, I’ve eaten traditional dishes ranging from beef-tongue tramezzini to squid chowder. National cuisines often reflect what a country values and its history, and despite the antiquity of many other nations and the food produced by it, the national cuisine that intrigues me the most is that of the fresh-faced America.
America is an infant compared to the rest of the world that had the benefit of time to design the dishes that would represent them. Our forebears fumbled around with food, integrating the cuisines of their native countries to the degree that they could with what was agriculturally available to them. France may have La Petite Chaise and Paul Bucose and foie gras, but America has the glorious golden arches, and inside this great reliquary are the trans fats and artery-clogging sustenance that defines “great American food.” McDonald’s is arguably more American than apple pie.
Deride Trump all you want, but in that iconic photo of him standing with demonstrative jazz hands underneath Lincoln’s portrait, in front of a dining spread of sterling silver and fine china, in between golden candelabras, is the American National Cuisine: Filet O’Fish, Big Macs, Domino’s, and Whoppers.
The imagery coming out of the White House has reached the media and Trump’s largest critics (I’m being redundant), who have harangued him for what they consider a pathetic display of congratulation, but I don’t know what could make the image more American. The context itself is even patently, on-brand American: College football players, anticipating dining with the president at the White House after they won a national championship during the longest government shutdown in American history; the billionaire-turned-president wearing his staple red power tie, paying for the fast food on his own dime.
McDonald’s is cheap, fast, and satisfying (even if the satisfaction is only ephemeral). The obsession with automation and convenience is an American one, and our food reflects this. When I have an intense food craving, it’s not duck confit or cassoulet that I want — it’s the addictive, guilt-inducing soul food that only an employee behind a drive-through window can give me. Big Macs and Whoppers are immediately accessible food for the working class, and Trump knows this — he could’ve easily afforded to purchase roasted russet potatoes and salmon, followed by other upscale-dinner norms of petite desserts with fancy coulis designs. He could’ve afforded a reception with rotating waiters holding glistening trays of hors d’oeuvres.
But he didn’t. He chose “great American food.” The naysayers are saying “Qu’ils mangent de la brioche” — Let them eat cake.