Donald Trump loves fast food. A cursory search of his Twitter feed reveals the President’s love of McDonalds, KFC, and Burger King. Trump’s hearty embrace of such high-fat, high-caloric foods would seem at odds with his ostentatious displays of wealth. This is a man who gilded his entire apartment, bragged about his business acumen, and owns an airplane with his name branded on it. He should enjoy expensive wine, foie gras, and caviar. Yet he’s a teetotaler who eats $10 takeout from Wendy’s. While this may seem like a contradiction, it’s not. Trump’s affection for fast food stems from two interlocking factors that reflect his personality. The first is his single-minded germophobia. The second is a mid-twenieth century understanding of food culture that linked consistency with quality.
Trump’s germophobic habits are well known. He has admitted that “I’m also very much of a germaphobe, by the way.” This tendency has revealed itself most notably in his penchant for eating well-done steaks smothered in ketchup. Trump’s butler has explained that Trump’s steak “would rock on the plate, it was so well done.” By cooking his steaks past the point of flavor, Trump has removed any possibility of food borne illness. But he’s also, as Anthony Bourdain explained in his famous book, Kitchen Confidential, left himself open to exploitation—something the notoriously vain president would be loath to admit. As Bourdain wrote, “So what happens when a chef finds a tough, slightly skanky end-cut of sirloin, that’s been pushed repeatedly to the back of the pile? He can throw it out, but that’s a total loss…Or he can ‘save for well-done’ – serve it to some rube who prefers to eat his meat or fish incinerated into a flavourless, leathery hunk of carbon, who won’t be able to tell if what he’s eating is food or flotsam.”
In describing his love of fast food, Trump has repeatedly praised its quality and consistency. He once told Anderson Cooper of CNN that “One bad hamburger, you can destroy McDonald’s. One bad hamburger, you take Wendy’s and all these other places and they’re out of business. 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.” As with anything involving Trump, his embrace of the cleanliness, consistency, and quality of fast food is at odds with reality. Fast food companies have lobbied repeatedly against efforts to reveal their ingredients and the nutritional value of their food. This refusal is similar to Trump’s own refusal to release his tax returns and efforts to stymie any investigation into his numerous failed businesses.
Trump’s praise of fast food reflects a mid-twentieth century understanding of food culture. Historian Paul Freedman, in his book Ten Restaurants that Changed America, described how Howard Johnson’s restaurants became a staple of American life by embracing a homey restaurant atmosphere and uniform menu. As Americans took advantage of the post-World War 2 economic boom and the creation of the interstate highway system, they naturally sought out good dining options. Howard Johnson’s pioneered the use of frozen food, created at regional commissaries and sent out to restaurants as a way to ensure uniformity. Additionally, it had strict procedures governing service, décor, cleaning, and kitchen equipment to create a welcoming atmosphere. As Freeman explained, “These seemingly contradictory notions were bridged by a mid-twentieth century consensus that quality meant predictability—the variation and imperfection that today signify handmade and ‘artisanal’ in the past denoted food that was poor quality and unreliable.”
Donald Trump’s love of fast food reflects his personality. He’s a germophobe who loves to win, but orders his food in a way that opens himself up to exploitation. And his loving embrace of the Big Mac stems from an older cultural attitude from the mid-twentieth century that praised the uniformity of fast food as a marker of high, rather than low, quality.
 Paul Freedman, Ten Restuarants that Changed America (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2016), 142. Emphasis in original.