The Globalization of Food


vietnam-mealWhen I read an article about McDonald’s starting to serve pasta in Italy, I wondered if this was progress of any sort. In India, Mac's serves McCurry. In France they serve the Croque McDo (their version of a popular French sandwich, the croque monsieur). It’s frustrating to see that the tolerance of mediocrity has become a chief American export. Take a great cuisine and commercialize it so that it is fast, somewhat affordable and above all, uniform. You always know what you’ll get. From a business standpoint, it’s amazing what they’ve done, but from a cultural standpoint it’s a disaster. Will you ever remember that “great McDonald’s meal” you had in Florence? Hardly. It's just like the one you had in Moscow or Hong Kong. But that garlic shrimp you had in a palapa with a single-burner stove in San Blas, Mexico, now that was something.

My first trip to India was in the early 80s. In those days, the country was closed to outside corporations. No Coke, no Pepsi, no McDonald's. Sure, I yearned for a cold Coke almost every sweltering day, but India was a distinct culture, and traveling there forced you to embrace difference. Even farther back, I was a student in Bordeaux, France before there were any American fast food chains. I managed to find one little shop that would cook up a hamburger. But hey, a hamburger from scratch can be pretty good, and when you're a little homesick, it can even beat a ham and Swiss on baguette. It's human nature to want the familiar, the comfortable.

We can mourn the loss of cultural difference and the loss of quality. We can condemn the encroachment of globalization. But honestly, we only have our own laziness to blame. You can still get a great dosa in India, great pasta in Italy, or fantastic pho in Vietnam. Just don’t fall prey to convenience and ease. You’ll have hits and you’ll have misses, but either will be more memorable than that meal in a chain restaurant.

Here's a fun list of a few McDonald's "innovations": - McDonald's Menus from Around the World

Want to experience some great homegrown food? - Volunteer or intern in India - a Vegetarian Paradise

Note: The picture above was taken in Dalat, Vietnam. It was as good as it looks! ELI coordinator, Dao, can steer you towards great, inexpensive local restaurants in our locations in Ho Chi Minh City and Dalat. - Volunteer (and dine!) in Vietnam

Update: April, 2016 Good news! Now the Taliban can get McDonald's in their stronghold of Quetta, Pakistan.

By Kevin O'Neill


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