Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Comfort Food

Recent discussions on the globalization of McDonalds detail how this company breached other cultures to become a part of that nation's culture and change that unique food culture usually for the worst. Claims have been made in class that McDonalds creates homogeneity within food cultures across the world. Evidence for this claim is spawned by the similar advertising within each country, that McDonalds has become a landmark in most countries, that McDonalds is comforting to individuals looking for something fast and familiar. I will dispute that this is not entirely the case, especially in Russia.

Uzeal U. is a Russian male about 29 years old; he is a fan of McDonalds. My friend has berated an American or two for complaining about the relatively long wait in a line backed up in an American McDonalds. Uzeal has experienced McDonalds: Russian McDonalds and American McDonalds. Both, he would argue, have similarities, but are as different as day and night compared to Russian and American culture. The most easily noted differences were, he stated, the expense per burger, the difference in quality of meat, and the culture within McDonalds.

The lacking homogeneity of McDonalds in Russia provides ample primary evidence for my case. Russia has its own McDonalds' culture and they use it far beyond what American's do. As described by Caldwell, McDonalds has become a social outlet for folks without homes, or persons wishing to use the McDonalds space as a social scene for late night talks, birthday parties, or a comfortable setting to do work. To say the least, McDonalds is not a place with which the American populace loiters in. American McDonalds do not participate in community aid past the Ronald McDonald Charity. The differences between Russian McDonalds culture and American become clear once we consider their historical origins and intents.

McDonalds in the United States began as a drive-in restaurant in the 1940s and eventually developed into one of the most convenient and fast-paced restaurants in the country. Successful development of McDonalds in the U.S. relied heavily on the construction of interstate highways and the change in the working class. Once women became a part of the work force, no longer living lives dictated by a cult of domesticity, they would turn to the ease and convenience of quick dinners to supply their family. The advent of frozen dinners and fast food pushed American food culture to expand. Entrepreneurship has been embraced in the U.S.

This year is Russia’s McDonalds 20-year celebration. Clearly McDonalds has not been a part of Russian culture for as long as it has in U.S. The McDonalds Company chose a key time to move into Russia – before space in Moscow became limited and was not for sale. [This data was obtained from a news article; I do not have the source listed.] When McDonalds first moved into Russia it was visited mostly out of curiosity. It wasn’t until McDonalds became an icon of trust and a part of the local community that it became as popular as McDonalds is in U.S. Particularly, I believe that an integral part of the trust between the Russians and their McDonalds concerns their food stock origin.

Within a PSD blog there are details about the Russian McDonalds quality of food: “Today, private businesses in Russia supply 80 percent of the ingredients in a McDonald’s, a reversal from the ratio when it opened in 1990 and 80 percent of ingredients were imported.” Broad statements have been bandied about concerning similar taste and cost expectancy in McDonalds world-wide. However, my friend Uzeal claimed that McDonalds tastes different and is more expensive in Russia – especially in the first decade of its existence.

Some of the difference in taste is accounted by the difference in farming techniques in Russia. The rest can be attributed to a touch of personalized Russian culture in McDonalds. This disputes the claim that everyone eats the same thing at McDonalds. On a website in my sources are pictures of various items sold in McDonalds located around the world; these items show a clear individual taste within each country that is not found in America despite the United States being known as the proverbial melting pot.

Though McDonalds is often characterized as being evil incarnate and a consuming monopoly on world food culture, I find McDonalds to be inspirational in its ability to adapt to other cultures, particularly Russia’s. Yes! I am a fan of hybridization of food into local cultures. I believe that change can often result in new, good experiences. This is why I try every food at least once before saying that I don’t like it and why I don’t blame the McDonalds company for attempting to assimilate – not force – itself into other cultures.


Caldwell, Melissa L. Domesticating the French Fry: McDonald's and Consumerism in Moscow. M. L. Caldwell and J. L. Watson. The Cultural Politics of Food and Eating, A Reader. (pp. 180-192). Blackwell Publishing.

Pilcher, Jeffrey M. Industrial Tortillas and Folkloric Pepsi: The Nutritional Consequences of Hybrid Cuisines in Mexico. M. L. Caldwell and J. L. Watson. The Cultural Politics of Food and Eating, A Reader. (pp. 235-247). Blackwell Publishing.

Interviews: Nava and Uzeal.

An interesting link about McDonalds experiments with food:


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