On November 9, the day after the election, Eric Tucker, an Austin businessman, noticed a group of buses parked in a lot not far from where demonstrations against Donald Trump’s election were going on. When he couldn’t find any notices on Google of conferences in the area, he jumped to the conclusion that those buses had brought in groups of paid protesters.
He tweeted about what he deduced, complete with photos of the buses: “Anti-Trump protestors not as organic as they seem.”
It turned out the buses Tucker observed had brought in several thousand people connected with a conference put on by a local software company. Journalists who checked with the bus company and the software company were both told the buses had nothing to do with the demonstrations going on some blocks away, but reality stopped mattering very shortly after the tweet. A story that lots of people welcomed, portraying liberals as cheating and underhanded, was too luscious to pass up, and thousands ran with it, including President-elect Donald Trump, who re-tweeted it as if it were fact. Over the next few days, before the original tweeter backtracked and labeled it false, it would be re-tweeted 16,000 times and shared 350,000 times on Facebook.
We know all this thanks to some excellent digging by the New York Times, which traced the mischievous post’s origination and movement along social media.
Last week, the raw milk community was treated to a similar example of fake news, when The Healthy Home Economist put up a blog post that ”Donald Trump drinks raw milk!” Because of Trump’s supposed health kick, we could expect to see changes to America’s policies regarding small farms and the interstate ban on raw milk, the post said.
How did Sarah Ann Pope, who runs the blog and is on the board of the Weston A. Price Foundation, know that Donald Trump drinks raw milk? Well, that’s where things get sketchy. Pope wrote that it’s “the word on the street” in Florida. Other evidence? That Trump’s wife is from Slovenia, and there are lots of raw milk vending machines in Slovenia…..and after all, everyone from Slovenia drinks raw milk, right?
The post got shared some on Facebook, where I got into some animated discussions with people who were convinced of the post’s truth, mainly because it “makes sense” or “seems like it could be true.” Their best evidence: Trump offers organic food at some of his properties, and he seems to have a lot of energy.
To their credit, a number of readers at Pope’s blog took sharp issue with her fantasizing, pointing out that Trump brags about his love of fast food, and also noting that having lots of energy doesn’t always equate with eating good food.
When I inquired with Pope about her sources, she simply responded, “More coming, and hopefully soon!” I hope that doesn’t mean more fake news.
This isn’t the first time I’ve had discussions on social media about Trump’s views on food. During the election campaign, one very passionate Trump supporter posted several claims that Trump is a backer of raw milk and other good food. Others chimed in agreement. When I asked for the evidence, I got more of the same, “It sure makes sense” or pointing to his wife’s European background.
What is this free-pass-to-Trump on food all about? Part of it is a desire to build Trump up as some kind of food and health savior, despite the absence of any evidence he takes a special interest in food and health matters. I’ve seen in social media a similar desire on behalf of Vladimir Putin, the president of Russia. Somehow he’s been anointed a health advocate because Russia has joined Europe in limiting genetically modified crops.
I think a lot of it has to do with excitement over the authoritarian leadership that Trump promises. Some of it certainly also has to do with resentment about America’s long-time support of Big Ag, and its crackdown on small farms and associated fear-mongering about raw milk.
Just because a Trump administration promises to be different than the one it replaces doesn’t mean it will be more responsive to the interests of small farms or sympathetic to the desires of raw milk drinkers for freedom of choice in their food acquisition decisions. No one would welcome a shift on farming and raw milk by the feds more than I would, but so far, all I’ve seen is a guy who publicizes his fondness for fast food, and has declined to offer a hard view on food and health matters.
At one point last September, Trump railed in a press handout against “the food police” at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, but shortly afterwards, all mention of his criticism had been deleted from his web site, and officials refused to explain the back-and-forth. Certainly not the kind of decisiveness and outspokenness you want from someone who is supposed to be a passionate supporter of good food.
What I sense here in the eagerness by some foodies to build Trump up is their propensity for cult of personality. They have it at the Weston A. Price Foundation in Sally Fallon, and they see in Trump an opportunity to latch onto a much more powerful authority figure. In the world of cult of personality, anything goes in building up the authoritarian—conspiracy theories, made-up events, blaming of “enemies”—all, of course, so long as the narrative sides with the big man/woman in charge.
The problem in such a world is that the Supreme Leader can never be wrong. It’s a make-believe world.
Following up on this theme, Saturday Night Live ran a cute skit about such a make-believe world last Saturday, a world where liberals could live the lives they had before Trump. This world was called “The Bubble.” (Worth watching if you have three minutes.) Especially notable about “The Bubble” was what was promised: Hybrid cars, used bookstores, and “small farms with the rawest milk you ever tasted” (paid for with a one-dollar bill adorned with the face of Bernie Sanders). Funny to see how the perception of raw milk has shifted, even in liberal circles. And heartening that it was all clearly presented as a fantasy.