We were reminded this week that president Donald Trump likes his steaks cooked well-done and smothered in ketchup. On its own, this piece of information matters little—who cares why one man wants to turn lovely $54 cuts into dried-out, rubbery hunks of protein? But as with most minor Trump-related quirks that become internet take-bait, the reactions to Trump’s steak preference say a lot more than the preference itself—especially about the bizarre way meat, its varying degrees of bloodiness, and masculinity are mixed up in America.
Plenty of outlets have condemned Trump’s choice in meat preparation in the year since that personal detail first came out. The Huffington Post called it “the worst possible way” to eat a steak last March; earlier this week, Jezebel claimed the practice made the president seem “like a damn child.” Preemptively heading off readers who might dismiss a steak hot take as distracting from politics and policies that matter, Eater contended that “Actually, How Donald Trump Eats His Steak Matters,” then spent nearly 1,800 words explaining what consumption of certain kinds of meat can reveal about a person’s ability to trust others and take advice.
In response, some alt-right America-first #MAGA people have done what they do best: react to something silly with knee-jerk extremism and brain-contorting insults. “Only men with testosterone deficiencies order their steak anything less than burnt to a crisp,” tweeted an InfoWars editor, writing that progressives need a “trigger warning” for the “traumatizing” content of a photo of Trump nomming on a golden fork. Someone on the r/The_Donald subreddit joked (?) that “satanists and pedophiles like their meat raw,” so it “makes sense that Trump would like his well done.” This sudden love among right-wingers for brown, shriveled discs of flesh was the subject of a nice comic from Matt Bors at the Nib. “Flavor is for cucks. I burn my steaks now,” says the strip’s Trump fanatic, who cuts his meat with a chainsaw. “We are owning libs so hard with our steak eating. Hashtag #welldone.”
The defense of a well-done steak in communities that normally go to great lengths to defend the purity of their masculinity is a wonder to behold. ‘Twasn’t but a short time ago that the rare steak, close as it is to the animal in its live, hunted form, was the thing men were supposed to eat. While writers critique Trump’s preferred meat treatment for its assault on flavor and texture, people on Twitter are questioning his manhood: “No real man would have voted for Trump if they’d known he eats steak ‘well done with ketchup,’” one man tweeted. Another user cast doubt on the idea that Trump could be “a real man’s man” with that kind of taste, calling him a “pansie-ass” who’d be better off eating chicken.
But I’m a vegetarian snowflake with a bias against hegemonic masculinity, so maybe I don’t know what I’m talking about? Internet research brought me to this thread on a forum called “Dawg Shed”—a site manly enough to have a section called the “hoochie bin”—that wondered “When it comes to steak, what is the most manly level of doneness?” Lots of men voted for rare or medium-rare, but one called them a “bunch of pussies that think it’s manly to eat raw meat.” He continued: “You know nothing about flavor bitches.” One user with a Reagan-Bush ’84 avatar (two men!) offered that “my buddy claims real men eat their steak well done.” Since man-buddies talking to man-buddies about what “real men” do constitutes the closest thing the world has to actual gender police, I’m inclined to believe that there may be some grain of truth here.
Then again, Hollywood has done a pretty thorough job of synonymizing manly-men with rare meat. John Travolta as Vincent Vega in Pulp Fiction gets his steak “bloody as hell”; Raging Bull finds Robert De Niro yelling and shoving his onscreen wife for overcooking his piece of meat. In what might be the most extreme example, The Cowboy Way, uncouth country boys Kiefer Sutherland and Woody Harrelson order red wine with ice and marvel at “gift-wrapped” lemon slices at a fancy restaurant. When the server asks Harrelson how he’d like his meat cooked, he instructs the chef to “just knock its horns off, wipe its nasty ol’ ass, and chunk it right down on the plate.” The trope of a violent red-meat eater is so common in popular cinema, Roger Ebert’s Movie Yearbook 2005 contained this observation from a contributor: “When characters order steaks, they always ask for ‘rare,’ which people hardly ever order in restaurants, instead of ‘medium rare’ or ‘medium,’ which is what most people order. This is because the kind of character who orders a steak in a movie would sound like a wimp asking for ‘medium.’”
No matter how it’s cooked, meat—especially red meat—is one of the most heavily gendered foods on the pyramid. Multiple studies have shown that people associate meat with men and vegetables with women, and medium-rare steak ranks above hamburgers and well-done steak in measures of masculinity. “To the strong, traditional, macho, bicep-flexing, all-American male, red meat is a strong, traditional, macho, bicep-flexing, all-American food,” the authors of one study wrote. The connotation spans borders: In Ethiopia, eating raw meat is a “male thing” manly men do together, and most languages with gendered pronouns put meat in the masculine camp. Someone who engages in over-the-top consumption of meat is signaling that he doesn’t care about his health or the planet, and not caring about harming things is one of the most important elements of traditional masculinity. Men are less likely to do things perceived as eco-friendly, like eat vegetarian, lest they be confused for women.
Lucky for you, reader, German newsmagazine Der Spiegel gave us a prime example of just such a conspicuous meat consumer this week. A profile of Alex Jones, the walking aneurysm who heads up InfoWars, describes the guy sweating in a 65-degree room, heaping barbecued meats onto a plate, and removing his shirt in front of the reporter before sitting down next to a case of Italian mineral water and beginning his feast. “With his bare torso, he sits there and shovels meat into his mouth, a caricature of manliness, but also a show of power to the reporter sitting in front of him. He can do as he pleases,” reporter Veit Medick writes. “Then Jones gets up and holds out a sausage. ‘Wanna suck?’ he asks.” The only thing men who doth protest too much about their manliness love more than showing off how much they love meat is turning meat into sexual metaphors. See: the sensual rare-meat ads of “female-friendly” steakhouses that want to use salads and small portions to attract sexy women, then use sexy women to attract men.
Trump may lack the devil-may-care approach to food-borne illness of a real stud like Beauty and the Beast’s Gaston, who eats 60 raw eggs a day, but his preferred steak scenario tells some people that he’s just like them, a regular guy with no sophisticated taste for anything that can’t be found in a bottle at Safeway. On r/The_Donald, resident intellectual “autisticlibtardcuck” posited that “90% of HollyWood thinks their palette is too fine for such a condiment” as ketchup, while “POTUS and Billionaire eating like the working class people he loves so dearly. Keep killing it Mr. President, I want 8 years of this.” In a rare case of Hollywood noting the blue-collar appeal of beef that’s been cooked all the way through—a typical way of preparing lesser cuts of meat—Goodfellas shows Johnny Dio cooking steaks in prison, mocking another guy as an “aristocrat” for ordering his medium-rare.
Okay, so in the eyes of some supporters, Trump makes up for his loss in man points with a boost in not-a-snob points by eating meat-bricks with Heinz. Those attentive calculators of right-wing propriety may want to check out Manly Health and Training: To Teach the Science of a Sound and Beautiful Body, a new collection of writing by America’s foremost populist of poetry, Walt Whitman. Under a pen name, Whitman argues in these recently-discovered essays that men should be bearded carnivores. But more than that, to reach the heights of masculine splendor achieved by the “noble-bodied, pure-blooded” Greeks, Whitman writes, men should eat “fresh rare lean meat” for breakfast and “fresh meat (rare lean beef, broiled or roast, is best) with as few outside condiments as possible” for lunch. Of all the eagle-eyed evaluators of masculinity mentioned here, I trust Whitman the most, for one admittedly un-P.C. reason: He was gay.