By Ayushi Vig:
No matter what, the one thing I always thought I’d be able to count on wherever I go was the presence of a McDonald’s, the ubiquitous fast-food chain that really needs no introduction, that most of us unconsciously accept as an integral part of daily life. A place where you can’t get a Big Mac seems set apart from the rest of the normal world–not because of the burger alone, but because McDonald’s has come to define so much more than just food. We may not admit it, but the sheer presence of a McDonald’s seems to promise civilization and modernity. In this crazily diverse and often intimidating world, McDonald’s is a pattern among the chaos for us to hold onto.
But not, as it turns out, in Bolivia. Here, McDonald’s is the polar opposite of everything that it represents for many.
After fourteen years of perseverance, McDonald’s finally decided to shut down its Bolivian outlets, completely disappearing from the nation in 2002. Bolivia is presently the only country in the Americas, and indeed one of the few around the world, which does not have a McDonald’s. But what makes Bolivia so unique is that it completely rejected McDonald’s; it chose not to have it around–during the fourteen years that the chain was present in the country, it brought in nothing but loss. In a world where McDonald’s means so much, that is truly remarkable, andÂ it is still making headlinesÂ more than ten years later.
The documentary Fast Food Off the Shelf: Why McDonald’s Went Bankrupt in Bolivia (2011) was created to explore just what makes Bolivia so remarkably unique. It features interviews with sociologists, cooks, nutritionists, and educators, who point out that it isn’t that Bolivians are anti-hamburgers–indeed, the indigenous street hamburger market continues to flourish–but rather that Bolivians are anti-fast food.
For Bolivians, a good meal is one prepared with time, care, and strict standards of hygiene – the complete opposite of everything that fast food is. Moreover, in their minds, food simply cannot be a commercial entity. Bolivians operate on a food system that is based locally, protecting the needs of native farmers, retailers, and markets. Many aspects of their food network do not even involve money, with farmers working collectively to produce rich, healthy crops. And amazingly enough, Bolivians refuse to compromise – even afterÂ extremely economically viable options in a country where the majority lives below the poverty line and works long hours each day.
Despite everything, Bolivians still choose to invest time and energy into what is going into their bodies.Â Can we say the same about ourselves?
Fast food has taken Indians by storm, and has completely transformed the way people eat. Not only have international franchises profitably expanded their businesses in the country, but our traditional food has also undergone alterations to better suit the needs of the fast food industry. Idlis and dosas can be whipped up in under five minutes, as can kathi rolls–and that is nothing more than what we have come to expect.
Unlike Bolivians, Indians have embraced this new lifestyle on-the-go. Instead of resisting foreign commercial ventures, which are undoubtedly driving indigenous ventures out of business, we can’t get enough of them. We can’t wait for Dunkin’ Donuts and Starbucks to reach us. We can’t wait to order takeout from Domino’s or grab yogurt from Cocoberry. We can’t wait for our food to be prepared, no matter whether that is at the cost of nutrition or hygiene.Â We compromise, and most of us don’t even think twice.
We’re winning short-lived and ultimately empty gains, of time, money, and ease. But in the process, we lose out on so much more. We’re losing health, we’re losing hygiene, we’re losing to obesity and disease, all for what is ultimately a desire for simple convenience and a lack of willpower. Despite what it seems, fast food is not a win-win industry; it’s win-lose. The franchises, of course, win, and we lose. I know, I know–we’ve all heard it before. We’ve all realized it, Indians and Bolivians and the rest of the world.
The Bolivians are smart enough to stick to the winning side. But are we?