Jan 11 2005

Comparing Food Favourites Around the Wide World

Published by at January 11, 2005 7:30 pm under Cross-cultural Training,Global Culture,Globalization

There’s a difference between the pre-packaged Shanghai stir-fry vegetables in my refrigerator and a McDonald’s restaurant in Brazil.

On a trip to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, last year, I visited Rocinha favela, one of the largest hillside shantytowns in the world. As I walked into the hillside community, surrounded by street children digging through garbage for their next meal, I noticed a McDonald’s restaurant on the corner.

The golden arches stood out amid the noticeable poverty of the community.

When I asked a resident about the presence of McDonalds, he replied that the favela residents pleaded for a McDonald’s restaurant because it made them feel connected to the rest of the city of Rio de Janeiro, and by extension, to the global community.

The golden arches symbolize inclusiveness in commercial society. Attached to the brand McDonald’s is a particular idea of modernity and development. Rocinha favela residents desired to participate in a global culture that eats McDonald’s hamburgers.

Suddenly, the difference between the pre-packaged Shanghai stir-fry vegetables in my refrigerator and the McDonald’s restaurant in Brazil is obvious.

When I take my Shanghai Stir-Fry vegetables out of the microwave and savour the exotic flavouring, I do not feel a part of Shanghai culture. By contrast, a McDonald’s hamburger carries a symbolic value to a low-income Brazilian. The hamburger symbolizes inclusiveness to a global consumer culture that can afford to purchase a hamburger.

The food we eat not only contains nutrients and minerals to keep our bodies healthy but also contains a psychological element, reflected in how we perceive our economic status in the world.

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I spent the first eight years of my life in the United States, where I was born. The next eight years were spent in Venezuela, my father’s native country. While living in Venezuela, I witnessed the arrival of Burger King. The Venezuelan fast food chain Tropi Burger or any of the local Cuban hamburger joints served better tasting burgers than Burger King’s, which tasted like they had been shipped down from the United States frozen (presumably because they had). But there was something special about eating at Burger King. It was American. Same goes for chocolate. I grew up on some of the best milk chocolate in the world in cacao-producing Venezuela. Nowadays, Venezuelans are eating American chocolate and the founder of Tropi Burger brought T.G.I. Friday’s and Benihana to Venezuela. Why? Because they’re American.

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