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McDonald's restaurants are found in over 100 countries, serving tens of millions of people each day. What are the cultural implications of this phenomenal success? Does the introduction of American fast food undermine local cuisines, many of them celebrated for centuries? Does it, as some critics fear, presage a homogeneous, global culture? These are but a few of the questions confronted in this engaging study that vividly demonstrates how the theories and techniques of anthropology can be used not only to examine obscure peoples and exotic practices, but to shed light on the motivations and behavior of people conducting their daily lives in some of the major population centers of the world.
Earlier studies of the fast food industry have emphasized production, focusing on labor or management. This book takes a fresh approach to the industry by concentrating on the perspective of the consumer. It analyzes consumers' reactions to McDonald's in five East Asian cities: Hong Kong, Beijing, Taipei, Seoul, and Tokyo. What do they have to say about McDonald's? How is fast food perceived by those who pay to eat it? How do their preferences and biases affect the system of production?
The book argues that McDonald's has largely become divorced from its American roots and become a "local" institution for an entire generation of affluent consumers in Hong Kong, Taipei, and Tokyo. In Beijing, the process of localization has barely begun, with consumers more interested in the experience of eating at McDonald's than in the food itself. In Seoul, many nationalists treat the Big Mac as a symbol of Yankee imperialism; meanwhile, increasing numbers of Korean children are celebrating their birthdays atMcDonald's.
Localization is not, however, a one-way process; the corporation has also had to adapt in order to flourish in new settings. The book demonstrates how consumers, with the cooperation and encouragement of McDonald's management, have transformed their neighborhood restaurants into leisure centers, afterschool clubs, and meeting halls. The contributors pay special attention to the effects of these activities on family organization, education, and socialization, and conclude that it is no accident that the fast food boom corresponds to the rise of a child-centered consumer culture in East Asian cities.