From Marie Antoinette telling her starving countrymen to eat cake, to Donald Trump’s Cinco de Mayo taco bowl, to various candidates' attempts to eat pizza with a knife and fork (only to be abused for it on social media), politicians can't help trying to relate to "the people" via food—and failing.
The latest edition of foodgate occurred when Donald Trump, always active on social media, posted an Instagram of himself enjoying fast-food fried chicken (on his private plane, of course).
Twitter immediately erupted.
While obviously voters have much bigger fish to fry this election than contemplating how a candidate eats his fried chicken, the kerfuffle is only one instance of a larger trend we’ve seen across parties and elections for years—from New York City mayor Bill de Blasio getting shamed for eating pizza wrong (with silverware!) during his campaign to Hillary Clinton's supposedly intense passion for hot sauce and chili peppers. Instead of all these blatant, and some would say flat-footed, attempts to appeal to the hoi polloi, maybe candidates should stop eating in public altogether?
Not so fast, experts say. Politicians rely on their public eating performances to help humanize them and send a message to potential voters, saying, basically, I'm just like you. “Donald Trump digging into a bucket of KFC is a perfect example of this," as Jonathan Alpert, Manhattan psychotherapist and author of Be Fearless: Change Your Life in 28 Days, tells The Feast. "It also connects the politician to the community. We've seen this with past candidates in Philadelphia eating [cheesesteaks] at Pat's or Geno's... It's a way to support the local small business owner, and that always looks good. Offering a glimpse into common everyday activities of these larger than life figures such as Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump only helps to humanize them and remind people that they too eat, shower, and yes, even go the bathroom just like everyday Americans."
It's not about the food; it's about the branding. "For the same reasons they appear with the sleeves rolled up on their Thomas Pink shirts, they appear to be eating fast food or diner food," Bruce Mendelsohn, a digital marketing and social media consultant and coach in the Boston area, tells The Feast.
Contrary to appearances, there's often absolutely nothing spontaneous about these food moments. "You'll generally notice that these photos are taken in ordinary cafes or diners, with the politician in casual clothes, just breaking bread with the townsfolk," Mendelsohn adds. "It's done to personalize them and break down the barriers that increasingly exist between politicians and the people."
Interestingly, notes Mendelsohn, "in his photo of this morning, Trump is shown alone. That's in keeping with his brand; that it's all about him, all the time."
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