The news broke last week that McDonalds was planning on opening an all-vegetarian store in India. There are already many vegetarian options on offer at Indian McDonalds due to the high percentage of Hindu and Muslim residents eschewing beef and pork. But this will be the first restaurant that features an all-vegetarian menu, due to its proximity to a shine in Amritsar. This was big news this week on the food blogs and was all over our Twitter feed; VegNews wrote about this, as did the ladies over at Eat Drink Better. I’m embarrassed it took me a week to get to it!
What’s behind the push for McDonalds creating this restaurant? Are they really dedicated to vegetarian offerings and decreasing the use of animal products? Probably not; Forbes notes that the company faced flat sales figures for the month of July, and is looking to, “optimize the menu, modernize the experience, and broaden accessibility to the [global] brand.” But even that doesn’t seem so bad: of course they would want to increase their sales, and in a country with millions of vegetarians, this might be the way to do it- or at least demonstrate their capability to address the vegetarian needs of the subcontinent.
But I think the bigger issue is not whether or not the products are vegetarian or vegan, but whether or not we should actually be eating them in the first place. The products (it can’t really be called food, can it?) are laden with corn syrup, processed sugar, isolated soy, and hybridized wheat, along with other terrible additives (pink slime, anyone? How about Dimethylpolysiloxane?). Yes, McDonalds offers inexpensive meals that feed our need for sugar/salty/fatty food; BUT THIS IS NOT REAL FOOD. This type of food, certainly not exclusive to McDonalds, has led to a world wide obesity epidemic. When countries are introduced to western foods like soda and fast food, their rates of heart disease, diabetes, obesity, and other diet-related problems increase exponentially. Offering vegetarian menu items is just one way to introduce more processed crap into developing economies, making them increasingly dependent upon American corporations pushing genetically modified corn and soy into emerging markets. Increasing reliance on processed foods decreases local knowledge of traditional foodways that have kept people healthy for generations. As one example, Vandana Shiva has written about the destruction of the natural food oils industry upon the introduction of imported soybean oil. The foods that are brought in by American corporations displace local food knowledge, and actually change our tastebuds to make us crave more of the same.
So, who cares if McDonalds is creating a vegetarian restaurant. Their business model is outdated, exploitative, and their products are unhealthy, veg-friendly or not. There is no argument that McDonalds can make about being culturally sensitive or meeting the needs of their customers. It’s not important that their offerings are technically vegetarian, because their food is inherently soulless. But how do you feel? Would you eat at a vegetarian McDonalds? What would it take to get you interested in purchasing products from them? Organic beef on a whole-wheat bun? What about Non-GMO french fries?