© Ravi Wazir, 2020

Pointing fingers at McD’s may be irrelevant

Just a few days ago, it was reported that 43 McDonald’s Delhi outlets were shutting down. The reason was some long standing issues between the franchisor and franchisee. Many expressed disappointment and wished them a quick return. What was a revelation however, was how some critics still think about foods of international origin.

Urban India is brimming with self-proclaimed “foodies”, and by that virtue, several million Indians are now “food experts”.

Some expert nutritionists tell us that foreign food is unhealthy and that we should stick to Indian food which is healthy, fresher and grown locally. Sure that could be the case, but not always. A samosa fried for a pav is no healthier, fresher or locally grown than an aloo patty fried for a burger; and a steamed momo can certainly give an idli a run for its money health-wise.

Good health is a factor of overall lifestyle – including nutrition, exercise and rest. Placing the onus of good health on any one of these three, or worse still on a sub-component of one of them i.e. a single dish (whether it’s foreign or Indian), is kidding yourself. It is not one or two unhealthy dishes eaten occasionally, that will lead you to the brink of collapse, but a long-standing poor lifestyle. Likewise, consuming just one or two “healthy” dishes a day, is not going to make you healthy. For good health, a holistic lifestyle is a must.

And what is Indian food anyway? A samosa?... one of India’s most popular snacks, which isn’t even originally Indian? It became a part of our culture only since the 13th century and with time has slowly become accepted as our own. Will we banish it now, because it is “foreign”? Never!

Culinary historians have long documented the influences of many foreign cultures including the Moghuls, the British, the Persians, the Portuguese etc. on our cuisine, as we know it today.

There is a part of each of us Indians, that cannot do without our dal-roti, rajmah-chawal and curry-rice; but there is also a part of us, which as global citizens craves experimentation and enjoys foreign tastes & styles.

A few foreign foods, once tried and liked sufficiently, get loved enough to become mainstream. So when you see international foods that have been adopted, Indianized and available in the trenches of mass consumption, like an Italian Pizza at an Amul stall, a Chinese bhel at your neighbourhood chaatwala, a Mexican nacho at your Gujarati friend’s home or an American Burger at an Udipi restaurant, you know that it signals their complete public acceptance. They are now “our dishes” and much like the samosa, are no longer “foreign” to us. In fact, in a few years from now, if someone says a nacho is Mexican, we are likely to fight them as aggressively as a Britisher fighting for his claim over chicken tikka masala.

Regardless of the absence of a mass-scale Mexican restaurant chain in India, nachos will still be around, just as regardless of McDonald’s presence in India, burgers are here to stay.

When someone criticizes McDonald’s food quality, they should first look at the brands value proposition. McD’s promise is not to give you a burger made from the finest gourmet ingredients and then charge you for it. It is to find a price point in India that a large number of people find affordable, and then build them a burger made of the best quality ingredients within that price point, in the cleanest and quickest way possible.

Whether you love McD’s burgers or hate them, whether you love the fact that they’ve Indianized their tastes or not, you simply can’t deny that your fellow countrymen in India (and in every country that has McD’s), voted for McDonald’s in large enough numbers with their wallets for the brand to survive and in most locations, undeniably thrive.

As with a transfusion, where we must accept that the blood of one human being has been irrevocably transfused into another; we must also accept the irrevocable culinary transfusion of many foreign cuisines, into our own; and so pointing fingers at McDonald’s for its food now, is actually quite irrelevant!