NEW YORK, NY—On Wednesday, Ivana Trump, businesswoman, ex-wife of the president, and mother to his three most odious children, officially launched her campaign to fight adult obesity in the United States by way of a diet of pasta and cookies. The event was held at the headquarters of American excess itself, the Oak Room at the Plaza Hotel. A few initial questions: Why? Who asked her? What is anyone here trying to prove? Why, lately, is everything exactly this mix of surreal and grotesque?
To do this, she’s chosen to team up with Gianluca Mech, an Italian millionaire and diet-hawker who once paid $200,000 to turn a Chinese restaurant into the club from Saturday Night Fever. He also has an unchanging hair-do, precisely-groomed into a little grey peak at the top of his small head.
“The obesity rate in the United States has reached epidemic proportions,” Trump said in a statement provided to CNN. “We have to fight this now because it is getting worse, particularly among young people who need to be taught how to eat and exercise correctly so that they can have a long and healthy life.”
More than 110 members of the media RSVP’d to what felt like a thoroughly unnecessary, clumsy subtweet of an event; I know this because the confirmation email did not take advantage of the BCC function, thereby exposing us all for our misguided priorities. It’s hard to tell how many attended: At first I was basically alone in the room; later, I was pressed on all sides by a throng of reporters from places like Restaurant Newz Tomorrow, unable to breathe, speak, or learn how to lose weight through pasta.
It’s an interesting pursuit given that curbing obesity is a classic campaign for, say, a first lady (specifically Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move campaign). Numerous reporters tried to make the connection, but we were explicitly and repeatedly barred from asking anything about politics. Even if we had been able to ask about such a parallel, it would only take us so far. A first lady’s campaign likely wouldn’t stem, at least not publicly, from an active resentment of the people she claims to want to help, which very much appears to be the case for Trump.
In an interview with the New York Post, she associated “good” parenting and “good genes” with slenderness, and laziness with obesity. “None of my kids are obese,” she said. “They’re all tall and slim and handsome and smart. And the grandkids are exactly the same—good genes.”
In addition to this almost sociopathic lack of human perspective, she also has little connection to the cause altogether. “I said, ‘How can I be a spokesperson for obesity? I’m slim,’” she told the Post. “Who wants to walk around with 300 extra pounds? You are lazy. You’re glued to the television.”
Instead, Ivana engages with inexpensive fast food like a Catholic might approach sex: fearfully, borderline offensively, and followed by days of guilt. Per the New York Post, she allows herself to eat KFC once a year followed by two days of fasting, and loves street meat, frequently ordering a hot dog without a bun (a steaming nude dog wrapped in tin foil—only in New York!). “It’s New York,” she said. “Live and let live.” Despite this and all other evidence that she is clearly not qualified for the role, there I was anyway, waiting to listen to her tips about healthy living.
I arrived at the event on time, like an absolute sucker, and was greeted by central casting for a mob funeral. Other than myself, a young Jew, the sparsely filled bar was littered with greying and greyed men in double-breasted suits and several plastic surgery enthusiasts lingering around the hot bar where they were serving the diet pasta. I was harassed almost immediately.
It happened at the bar. With nowhere else to go before Ivana showed up, I stood in front of two large bowls of Mech’s packaged cookies, one biscotti (a cookie for people who love to pretend they like cookies) and one praline, which had a picture of a hazelnut stamped right on the front, a kindness for Americans who don’t know what “nocciola” means. A man standing with his friend took a look at them, then thrust a praline one inch from my nose. “Looks like there’s a nut in that,” he said.
About ten minutes later, another man, damp and on his second plate of pasta, sidled up next to me while I stared at Trump giving an interview—her first—to an extremely credulous Fox Business reporter who pronounced pasta like pah-sta. “What outlet are you from?” he asked me. This led me to believe he was also a member of the media. I told him, then returned the question.
“Just a friend of the family,” he said. “A supporter.”
“Oh. What family?” I asked.
“Just... a friend of the family.”
After this mysterious exchange I decided to also try the pasta, for journalism. What if, despite the seemingly malicious intentions of its founders and the general unease of Ivana Trump’s reemergence into public life, this was an actual good, even delicious diet product, unlike the hundreds of similar boxed brands that were released in the pre-whole foods ’80s and ’90s? A Plaza employee served me a small portion on a nice looking plate and I found a quiet corner. I felt a queasy anticipation.
After one bite, I thought the gimmick might be to make the pasta so inedible you forget that you even liked pasta in the first place. It’s shape was kind of a limp fusilli; it’s texture, that of a cardboard box soaked in milk. It was at once dense and inflexible; soft and hard as bone, and went down, confusingly, like sand paper. It was covered in a red liquid that resembles Clifford the Big Red Dog’s used bathwater or a blood clot dislodged in oil, and utterly lacked integrity in such a way that made it promptly dribble down my white shirt. Somehow, each bite was worse than the last.
Trump soon made her way into the main room (where the hot bar was) for the press conference, where I was promptly squeezed between a number of camera men and reporters. Then, more harassment.
A very Upper East Side-type gentleman with an Al Franken sort of face stood next to me. As a photographer leaned his body into my body, I was forced to lean my body into my tote bag, which transitively leaned into this other man’s body. He stared at me. “Watch it. Your bag,” he said. “It was feeling good for a minute.” I felt the watery pasta imitation deep in my stomach and expelled a, HA HA, OKAY.
The press conference was, like the food itself, insubstantial. Trump really seemed to enjoy herself when she was spending slightly too much time talking about her guest episode on Italy’s version of Dancing With the Stars (Ballando Con Le Stelle). When she pivoted to obesity, her eyes became startlingly vacant.
“I really like to fight obesity in America,” she said. “The statistic, last time I read the statistic before I started to work with Gianluca, was that 40 percent of grown-up Americans are obese. He told me, he corrected me, he said ‘44 percent of American adults are obese.’ 90 percent of them are children.”
While it’s not clear where she got these statistics or if she believes adults are also children, a 2017 report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found obesity at the highest rate ever in the U.S., with almost 40 percent of American adults and almost 20 percent of adolescents classifying as such.
Later, we learned that Mech’s products work because they are low-carb and high-fiber, and apparently contain many ancient herbs that help with various detoxifying functions (Mech starts having to shout because many of the event attendees had at this point returned to their own conversations). We learned these products are okay to feed to children. We learned that the praline cookie, which is about the size of a silver dollar, can last “hours” for the right dieter.
“If you take a piece of chocolate, like a little bite, it’s like 350 calories,” said Trump, seemingly unaware of the calorie content of chocolate, or joking. “Our praline, it’s 60 calories. So you can have two or three. You can just sit in front of TV and munch on one of the pralines for hours.” I imagined the small, delicate bites required by such a feat of rationing. I imagined Ivana Trump at home, perhaps watching herself on Bailando Con Le Stelle, munching on a single praline for hours.
As the evening drew to a close, I found that my blood sugar had spiked so dramatically that I developed a migraine headache. It’s not clear if it was from the pasta (though I suspect it was) or of the suffocating presence of hair mousse and Restylane.
I looked to my right at a large man with wide, unblinking eyes and wet hair, talking to a man facing away from me. The large man said, “Losing weight is harder than balancing a state budget.” One minute later, the host introduced Former New York Gov. David Patterson—the man who was facing away from me, as it turned out—who delivered several remarks at the podium. “Losing weight is harder than balancing a budget,” Patterson said again, this time to all of us. “I would know, I’ve done them both.” I do not know how he found himself here. I do not know how any of us did, really.
We do not learn the specifics of the diet, or how you’re supposed to integrate these products into it; by the end of the event I found myself thoroughly deadened by the spectacle of irrelevance I had by then dedicated several hours to.
“Our health is the most important thing we have,” Trump said at the end of the presser, almost successfully delivering a truism. “Let’s keep it that way.” The wet haired man made a signal, and three enormous bodyguards descended on her to escort her to her car.