Sunday, February 24, 2008

Well Done Motueka!

For standing up to the might of McDonalds. It's not that I have anything personal against McDonalds, it's fast food chains in general and the insidious globalised approach they have to 'taking over the world.'. The first time I went to Beijing in 2001 I was appalled by the impact of McDonalds. My interpreter, thinking I might not like Chinese food, took me to lunch at McDonalds. The place was packed beyond belief. I found that a little unnerving but what really unhinged me, was the fact that I could not understand a thing. Never in my worst nightmares had I expected to be defeated by a McDonalds’ menu; but there it all was, written in Chinese and totally incomprehensible. I wouldn’t have cared if I had been anywhere else but somehow, being linguistically beaten by greasy fries and hamburgers felt like a very real and unnecessary punishment. When a table became available, a very young mother with her baby boy joined us. The baby, she told us, was just sixty-two days old and she was feeding him McDonald’s hot chocolate, cooled by her caring breath as she siphoned it from her cardboard cup into his baby bottle. He suckled contentedly with a frightening vigour. The first McDonalds opened in Beijing in 1992 and people lined up for hours to try the new ‘American-style’ restaurant. The company has never looked back. They’re virtually a part of Chinese urban life now, along with KFC, Pizza Hut, Subway and all the others. In 2003 there were 560 McDonalds restaurants throughout China and the company was aiming for another 100 in 2004. (KFC had 900 Chinese outlets). In China, Ronald McDonald is known by the cute-sounding name, Mai Dang Lao Shushu. And just for the record, when I visited Beijing in 2001 there were 19 Starbucks outlets. When I returned two years later, there were 40. The Chinese have undergone a major transformation in the way they eat and you don’t have to go far to find articles attesting to new, worrying levels of obesity and the chronic diseases often associated with it. It would be unfair to blame western takeaways entirely. The Chinese diet had also been significantly changed by the introduction of many more meat and dairy products, soft drinks and flavoured milk drinks – despite the fact that China has one of the world’s largest known national prevalences for lactose intolerance.

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