The Slow Food movement began in 1986 on the historical Spanish Steps in Rome as a protest against a McDonald’s. The founders were not concerned that McDonald’s would be competitive with the upscale restaurants frequented by the upper/middle-class, but they feared the safety of little places serving local delicacies. The mission of Slow Food was to spread a new attitude of taste guided by the attitude that people should have the right to taste. Other objectives included spreading knowledge of “material culture” (every product reflects its place of origin and production technology), preserving the craft-based food production, and protecting the historical and artistic heritage of traditional foods. (Miele, 2006) In efforts to do so, they have created an “Ark of Taste” along with awards for biodiversity of cuisine. (Pilcher, 2008: 405)
Slow Food recognizes that local foods are disappearing because they are too embedded in local cultures and ecologies. Compared to the McDonald’s hamburger, the regional foods cannot be easily sold into modern food markets. Little technology has been developed to make it possible for these foods to travel around the world, let alone out of their local villages. Slow Food uses taste education in attempt to bring modern consumers to these traditional products. The organization has gone so far as creating a “Slow University” which aims to spread good practices in relation to growing, processing, preparation, and consumption of typical products. Slow Food was very aware of McDonald’s University and established its imitation university in attempt to enlighten people against the ideals the McDonald’s preaches in its institution. (Miele, 2006)
Sociologist George Ritzer (2006) observed the threat of corporate fast food to local traditions. He examined Max Weber’s theory of rationalization – the process whereby modern technology has made society more efficient, predictable, and controlled – in relation to McDonald’s. Ritzer found the result of this process to be the standardization of food and the creation of “McJobs.” Standardized food has replaced endless variety of local cuisine with artificial choice and the construction of these new jobs “has further alienated labor by requiring only minimally skilled workers who respond to the commands of machinery.” (Pilcher, 2008: 403) This dehumanization of the eating process embodies everything Slow Food is against.
In conclusion, it has been the strong organizational culture of McDonald’s that has enabled the business to triumph the global market. Ray Kroc established the company’s values in 1955, and they are still alive and well in the organization today. The organization’s ideals are easily recognized by employees and consumers and they create the essence of McDonald’s culture.
When expanding to the East, McDonald’s faced challenges having to do with the different regions’ potent cultures. In Japan, the organization was tested when dealing with consumer taste, commensality, and the view of hamburgers as a snack. McDonald’s decided to include additional menu items that were more suitable to the palates of the Japanese but kept their restaurants as is, with most of the seating consisting of counters with stools facing walls. Finally, they accepted themselves as a “snack place” where locals could enjoy a something simple to eat while socializing. Hong Kong was tackled by the incredible leadership skills of Daniel Ng. He was cautions in refraining from inflicting the organizational culture onto the local people, and in doing so he was able to have gradual influence. Beijing, the last of the Asian regions to acquire a McDonald’s, exemplified a give and take relationship. The construction of a new social space attracted countless new customers and created a new consumer group consisting of youths and women. Customers were willing to adapt to McDonald’s “rules” of seating themselves and clearing their own tables, and in turn McDonald’s management had to accept customers lingering in the restaurant.
The compromise of consumer and organization represents the fusion of cultures. Though the transformation of local culture has been slow and steady, it is pertinent and real. The Slow Food movement, disapproving of the alternation of national cultures, has attempted to educate the masses on local cuisine. In doing so they have successfully brought back nearly extinct flavors that characterize historical customs and traditions. Slow Food recognizes their foods will never be as global as McDonald’s but instead focus on promoting diversity in food as an intrinsic part of cultural and environmental diversity.
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