When Ray Kroc, founder of the McDonald’s Corporation, opened the first McDonald’s restaurant in Des Plaines, Ill., he wasn’t concerned with obtaining 145 tons of beef per year from such remote places as Brazil to grind into hamburgers. He was concerned with selling more Multimixers, a five-spindled milkshake maker.
In the year of 1954, Kroc, at 52-years-old, put a mortgage on his house and invested his life savings to become the exclusive distributor of the Multimixer. The man was obviously a milkshake fanatic. When he heard about the McDonald Brothers’ hamburger joint way out in California, it was the legend of Dick and Mac McDonald using eight Multimixer machines at once that prompted Kroc’s pilgrimage across the country. Kroc had never seen such efficient food preparation as he witnessed that day in California. He began to think that if there were more than one of these places and each of them had eight Multimixers in them that would be a whole lot of cash.
And so the story goes …
Jump 50 years into the future and the McDonald’s Corporation is not only a multinational megalith that is also the largest owner of retail space in the world, but its facade and its logo are by and large the most recognizable symbols on the globe. McDonald’s quest for the global dominance of the golden arches, or the McWorld, a term copyrighted by the corporation, has led it through every culture and to every corner on the planet – whether it be opening a restaurant in Kuwait or buying iceberg lettuce from farmers in India or being the largest employer in Brazil. No matter what you think of McDonald’s, one has to agree that it is not only a mere symbol of American globalization, but is also ingrained into the world’s popular culture. You can buy a Big Mac in Tallahassee, Fla., or in Cairo, Egypt, and they will taste exactly the same. In fact, it is even remotely possible that they came from the same cow.
For some reason, when I eat McDonald’s, I am usually not in America, which probably relates to the fact that I never really feel like an American until I leave America, but that’s another column. The point is you can learn a lot when you are traveling, and McDonald’s has learned a lot in its travels. You can get a glass of beer at a McDonald’s in France. I’m not telling anyone who has seen “Pulp Fiction” anything new, but its true: a glass of beer. While I was in Paris, a friend was telling me that when McDonald’s first came into France, nobody went. It was the exact same McDonald’s that you would find in Paris, Texas, and the allure was not there. Then it started to sink more money into it – give the decor a little class, offer up a menu that didn’t have some of the puritan setbacks that Americans adhere to during their fast food experience, and voila!, there are over 900 McDonald’s restaurants in France alone. It has found these little concessions to make a lot of difference all over the world, whether it be serving lamb burgers in India, where there is a large majority of Hindus, or serving the McTeriyaki in Japan. In Tokyo, I was feeling a little homesick and went into a McDonald’s where one wall was a television that played music videos by bands sponsored by McDonald’s. In Tokyo, every corporation sponsors bands, so McDonald’s adapted.
While quasi-cultural adaptation has been a success for McDonald’s, one thing it have not been able to adapt to is the worldwide opposition that has surfaced in the wake of its global expansion. When U.S. environmentalists raised concerns about the large number of non-biodegradable Styrofoam containers the corporation used every day, McDonald’s stopped using them. In America. Every other McDonald’s around the globe that did not threaten consumer backlash still uses Styrofoam containers. McDonald’s uses roughly 900,000 tons of disposable packaging a year.
Beyond the environmental issues, there have been concerns raised about its marketing techniques toward children and above all else the nutritional value of its products: beef-flavored french fries, and of course, the double-double, cheese-cheese, burger-burger, please-please. It has adapted the term “super size,” which used to be reserved only for describing Superman’s underwear to include the definition, “pertaining to the massive amount of a substance that no human being needs to consume in one sitting.”
There are too many complaints about McDonald’s to list in this small article, but my point is not to complain about it in particular. I don’t think that McDonald’s is any more evil than any other multinational corporation, it has just succeeded on a grander level than most have had the opportunity to achieve. Do you think Jared from Subway would really stop the disposal of 900,000 tons of packaging if he could be more popular than Jesus, like Ronald McDonald? Hell no, he would be munching down those Subway clubs and rolling around in big piles of money. The point of a corporation is to generate profit and expand production, and in this, McDonald’s has succeeded for a while by having a limited number of ethics and a time-honored supply of grease.
McDonald’s has long been a symbol of American expansion and that is why it gets picked on like it does, because it is universally recognizable. But now McDonald’s is on the decline: It has closed 600 restaurants, and its stock is slowly plummeting – not even the McRib could help that. After 50 years of McEffiency, people are choosing to eat better and I applaud this, but how long will it take America to get tired of Walmart? Just changing the symbol won’t solve the larger problem.