McDonald's Goes A Little Bit McLocal
Galleria Vittorio Emanuele, Milan. Image: chairman moneko via Flickr
In January, McDonald's Italy announced the launch of its McItaly menu. The burger giant has always offered different menus throughout the world to cater to local tastes so it's no real surprise that they've chosen Italy - a nation of proud culinary diversity - to go McLocal. So great, McDonald's supports local food systems now, right? Well, not so fast. The McItaly menu has boosters at the highest level of the Italian government. The (now ex-) agriculture Minister, Luca Zaia, celebrated by helping McD's launch the menu at the burger giant's outlet near Rome's famed Piazza di Spagna. This same restaurant inspired Carlo Petrini to found Slow Food when it opened as Italy's first in 1986. The menu features "100% made-in-Italy meat", extra virgin olive oil, parmesan cheese, along with Italian ham, artichokes, onions and pancetta.
The Global Post reports some of the numbers resulting from the new menu.
According to McDonalds Italy, the McItaly experiment exceeded expectations: More than 3 million "100 percent Italian" hamburgers were sold in the first two months. The menu was offered at the chain's 392 locations around Italy, which serve 600,000 clients a day. Since January, McDonalds said, about 100,000 clients per day have bought a McItaly hamburger. Seventy-eight percent of respondents to a survey taken by the company praised the initiative.
At the time of the launch Mathew Fort, writing for the Guardian, didn't mince words with his analysis of the new menu.
If ever there was a sign of the moral bankruptcy of Silvio Berlusconi's government, it is the sight of a McDonald's apron wrapped around the svelte frame of the Minister of Agriculture, Luca Zaia as he helped launch the new McItaly range of burgers. The President of the Council cavorting with young women, the allegations of shady connections, slippery financial arrangements, dubious political allegiances, and all-round dodgy dealings are as nothing when compared to this monstrous act of national betrayal.
Zaia has been quoted as saying that he supports the menu because, "we want to give an imprint of Italian flavours to our youngsters." By this it is implied that he thinks a McDonald's hamburger made with Italian ingredients equals a cultural experience for Italy's Millenial Generation. But, as Fort points out, Italy is a nation with hugely diverse food cultures. Suggesting that condensing this diversity, not to mention regional commitment to quality, into a mass produced patty for a multinational fast food joint is sure to boil some Italian blood.
Slow Food's Petrini, who has said he'll "give 'McItaly' a chance", explores this cultural compression along with the cost to the Italian farmer in A Letter to the McItaly Burger.
First of all, McDonald's. I'm not arguing with your marketing choices, but I would like to know if you can guarantee the quality of the ingredients whose names you're using. I'm talking about sensory characteristics that have nothing to do with the "unmistakable flavor of McDonald's," characteristics that deteriorate with certain kinds of handling, transport and processing. And, more importantly, are you willing to state how much you pay the farmers and the artisans who make them? Because Italian products already have widespread circulation in the large-scale retail trade, and yet they still offer very little profitability to the producers. In fact they've become debased; so little is paid for them that in many cases the farmers can't even cover their production costs, and the biggest consortia, having increased quantity and standardization to the detriment of quality and the richness of diversity, are pushed in desperation to rely on these new channels, the only ones able to absorb the excess. If the McItaly is just a new way to exploit farmers, paying them poorly, imposing further production standardizations which can only impoverish people, flavor and tradition, then this whole thing is quite a farce. All we're asking for is a little transparency, to help us understand better. We don't want those aggregated figures showing the total amount of money moving around, without ever knowing in whose pockets it ends up. Please tell us how much you paid for the raw materials, the cost per kilo of the individual ingredients, so that maybe we can have a better idea of the contribution you're making to Italian agriculture.
The final irony in this "celebration of Italian culture" is that the Italian agriculture minister is hoping that this is a way to "globalize Italian tastes". As I think back to the pizza I had last night and forward to the pasta I'll have tonight I can't imagine any other "global taste" that has been more globalized than that of Italy. Not to mention the fact that if this is a way to push these tastes beyond national borders it defeats the whole purpose of a local menu.
McDonald's can hardly be blamed for zeroing in on a marketing opportunity and going McLocal. But, the active promotion of the menu as a cultural benefit by Italy's agriculture ministry is just plain McLoco.
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