Where have all the fishermen gone? The port is horribly deserted, no old men sitting mending their nets on the jetty. The old Buccaneers’ Tavern is empty. Just walk a little further on and the mystery is solved: they are all at McDonald’s eating fried fish and shrimp. There they all are with their old sea-dog hats, at the fast food tables with their fried fish and a cool vintage Coke.
A new recipe, a new advertising campaign which has invaded our homes every day for the last month through television. Despite the fact that the creative staff of this multinational use worn-out stereotypes we have seen over and over again, the ad is revealing in that it demonstrates how McDonald’s have decided to tackle the issue of ‘mad cow disease’. The beef crisis has certainly not brought the company to its knees, but for the first time ever profits have dropped by 7% (last quarter’s figures). Although this fall was predicted, and predictable, considering the uproar that accompanied cases of BSE in most of the main European nations, McDonald’s’s strategies have been reshaped.
Obviously the ad is saying that their product is so good that fishermen who have sailed all night and hauled in their catch in the nets still have no better alternative than to go into McDonald’s and order a delicious chunk of fish fried in oils and fats of dubious origin.
So dubious are they that a few months ago the American company had to make a formal apology to the Hindus, who did not react favorably to the news that French fries served at McDonald’s are pre-cooked in beef fat. This is unacceptable for Hindus because cows are sacred animals according to their beliefs. So many American Hindus are now suing the fast food multinational. In India, where the 30 or so McDonald’s serve chicken, lamb and vegetarian dishes, the news caused rioting.
The relaunching strategy undertaken by the big yellow M is not confined to the new image presented in their advertising campaign; for some time, McDonald’s restaurants in various countries have adopted their own versions of the typical dish of that country. In Egypt for example, they have started selling ‘McFalafel’ a globalized version of the traditional Arab dish falafel, bean and spice patties. In the Mc-version of this dish, the spiced bean patty is placed inside an American-style bap with tomatoes, lettuce, pickles and tahini. The price – as well as the taste – could be a problem. The McFalafel is priced at about 40 cents, and is one of the cheapest items in McDonald’s: but outside in the streets, the traditional falafelcost three times as much.
These problems do not cause undue concern for the Illinois multinational, in fact their strategy seems clear: rework a country’s typical dishes, adding a dash of the famous “American dream”. A dream which is no longer cherished by the employees of the many McDonald’s restaurants in the US, Canada and all other western nations. Forced to work extremely flexible hours, with scandalously low wages, they are also subjected to the unspoken – but no less real – ban on joining unions.
The metamorphoses of McDonald’s do not end here. Shrimp and falafelwere just the first symptoms. A few days ago the managing director, Greenberg, announced a revolution of the single-product, single-brand philosophy of the all-American company. McDonald’s, it seems, has purchased hundreds of restaurants serving tex-mex food, pizza and sushi. They will open new McPizza and McSushis, disguised with more ‘exotic’ names like ‘Donatos’, ‘Boston Market’, ‘Chipotle’, ‘Pret à Manger’ and ‘Aroma’. Abandoning the strategy that made the hamburger a real icon of American culture, they now plan to embrace a company relaunch plan, ostensibly ‘slower’ in its philosophy but (given past experience) more likely to cheat lovers of good food. Famous national cuisines (Italian, Japanese, Mexican) are reworked with a global flavor. In Tokyo, New York or Paris you will be able to eat a standardized, identical plate of sushi or pizza. The usual formula, mass-produced and globalized, but this time hiding behind evocative ethnic names. Which, by the way, protect them from the rage of the people of Seattle.
Talking of Seattle: as we all know, G8 just took place in Genoa, where many protesters travelled to express their opposition to the excessive power of multinationals (incidentally, the acts of madness which esnused deserve our strongest condemnation). Clearly we should not lay all the blame at McDonald’s door alone, but we feel it is only right to report their mischief when, like now, they invade and trample over different cultures for the oldest reason in the world – money.
Giancarlo Gariglio, a journalist, is a member of the Sloweb editorial staff
Translated by Ailsa Wood