- Ivana Trump, the president’s first ex-wife, introduced her new national campaign to fight obesity with a distinctly Trumpian event at the Plaza Hotel on Wednesday.
- Trump is promoting her Italian business partner’s “Italiano Diet,” which includes patented low-carb cookies and pasta, and herbal tonics.
- The duo will travel to the country’s “10 fattest cities” over the coming months and aim to make $US30 million in profit over the next few years.
Ivana Trump is back in the spotlight.
The Czech-born businesswoman and mother of the president’s three eldest children arrived at the Plaza Hotel on Wednesday evening to talk business – not politics.
Surrounded by a throng of reporters and well-groomed PR professionals, the self-proclaimed “first Trump lady” introduced her latest project – a national campaign against adult obesity – in partnership with Italian businessman and nutritionist Gianluca Mech.
After a glowing introduction from a former Fox News host, Trump sang the praises of Mech’s “Italiano Diet” under chandeliers she imported from Italy back when her husband owned the hotel in the 1980s and early ’90s.
“I used to be Eloise of the Plaza,” she said, before describing her love of Mech’s brand of packaged, low-carbohydrate foods and herbal supplements, and decrying the “calamity” of obesity in America.
As Frank Sinatra crooned and cameras flashed, Trump and her semi-circle of large bodyguards criss-crossed the Oak Room explaining how obese Americans can eat “pasta, cookies, and lose weight.”
‘The American Ferrari of energy’
Trump, who has had two Italian husbands since divorcing the president in the mid-1990s, met Mech in Italy several years ago through a mutual “celebrity friend.” A self-professed fan of all things Italian, Trump became a fan of Mech’s Praline cookies – a sweet 60-calorie treat she says you can munch on “for hours” and not feel guilty about.
She began insisting that her friend bring his diet – which former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi says he lost 10 pounds on – to the United States.
That was about five years ago, but now the time is finally right – in part because of the new American president.
“With President Trump there are two things that are very attractive for any company. He cut taxes so it is very interesting to produce here because you’ll pay less taxes than in Italy, for example,” Mech said. “And the other thing is that it is more quick to obtain all the permissions you need, so it is very convenient and very easy for a company to invest in the United States.”
Mech said he doesn’t know if the president is aware of the venture, or will use his platform to promote it, but added that he believes Ivana, who he calls “the American Ferrari of energy,” will be key to his success. Indeed, Trump has promised to “make America svelte again.”
Their goal is to bring in about $US30 million in profit over the next few years before Mech begins manufacturing his Italian products – which include flourless pasta and herbal diuretics – in the US.
Politics, pasta, and (sometimes) fried chicken
The afternoon wasn’t entirely free of politics.
When asked how her campaign differs from former first lady Michelle Obama’s fight against childhood obesity, Trump said the best way to solve the problem is to focus on parents, not kids.
“It’s all on the parents. Whatever they put on the plate in front of the children, they’re hungry, they don’t cook, they eat,” she said. “So if you put food in front of them that’s junk – pizza, unhealthy food, French fries – of course they eat it, and then they get obese.”
But Trump, like her ex-husband, has a soft spot for fast food, and boosted her household name in the ’90s by starring in ads for Kentucky Fried Chicken and Pizza Hut.
“I dream of it. I have it once a year, and I’ll have it and won’t eat anything for two days,” she recently told the New York Post, adding the president’s “only weakness is the Big Mac.” (The White House revealed earlier this year that the president is one pound shy of being considered obese).
Trump allows herself one monthly baked potato with sour cream – her absolute favourite food, she said.
“It is very important for people to be able to cheat sometimes,” Mech says.
Former New York Gov. David Patterson, a Democrat, made a surprise guest appearance, praising Trump for her efforts to fight one of the nation’s most pressing public health problems. He also said he liked the food – especially the pasta with red sauce, served to attendees on silver platters.
“One of the reasons people don’t change their diets is because they think the food is going to taste worse,” said Patterson, who championed New York’s controversial soda tax. “Now, when I ate this pasta, it was no different from any other pasta.”
But the effort – arguably a marketing campaign for a private venture dressed up as a public health initiative – will surely find critics among health experts and others fighting the growing obesity crisis.
Andy Bellatti, a registered dietitian and the cofounder of Dietitians for Professional Integrity, is sceptical of the effort and calls the program, which restricts certain foods including legumes and fruit, “unnecessarily complicated” and “sort of snake-oily.”
“If you’re doing a public health campaign, patented foods make no sense, tonics aren’t necessary, you shouldn’t be telling people they can’t have fruits and beans,” he said. “Americans don’t need tonics right now. What they need is less sugar, less meat, and more plants.”
There will always demand for “a magic bullet” when it comes to weight-loss, Bellatti said, but sometimes there simply isn’t one.
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