Punjab Journal: GT Road, a University and McDonald’s

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On Grand Trunk Road, near Jalandhar City

by Diditi Mitra

McDonald’s is everywhere!

Seeing this fast food restaurant with which I am all too familiar on the side of Grand Trunk Road, close to Jalandhar City, was a reminder of the extended arms of McDonald’s and by way of that, the United States of America. It was an odd sight, I must say. There was a University nearby. Lovely Professional. I suppose that was considered when the fast food joint was built in this area.

Mostly though, there were villages that surrounded this now mega enterprise originally started by Ray Kroc in 1955. Kroc was inspired by the efficiency of a restaurant run by Dick and Mac McDonald when he first saw it on his visit to California in 1954. The restaurant was a small enterprise, but a successful one, with a limited menu of hamburgers, fries and various kinds of drinks. As the story goes, the brothers, Dick and Mac, were looking for a new agent. Kroc jumped at the opportunity and created McDonald’s System, Inc and six years later bought the rights to the name McDonald’s. His objective was to offer food of consistently high quality and uniform methods of preparation.”

McDonalddization of Society

Little did Kroc know that years later McDonald’s” would be used by sociologist George Ritzer as a trope to reflect upon and critique the homogenization of cultures ushered in by a globalized modernity. It is a completely different meaning of uniformity than what was conceived by Ray Kroc, a meaning that is critical of the many diversities it is accused of erasing and the subsequent losses incurred by us all. Ritzer had offered this critique in his now well known book, at least among academics, called The McDonaldization of Society.

And, consistent with Ritzer’s suggestion, albeit on a much more broader level of globalization and also remember that his use of McDonald’s” was metaphorical, the physical structure of the restaurant on G.T. Road looked no different than what I have seen anywhere in America. Thanks to globalization, as the photograph at the very top shows, even the cars in the parking lot looked the same. Without any caption, it would be difficult to tell that this fast food place was not anywhere in America, but surrounded by villages in Punjab, India.

McDonalds India

McDonalds menu in India

However, appearances can be very deceptive, as they say. The exterior might look the same as any McDonald’s in America, the menu though is anything but! From it, one can order McAloo Tikki with fries and coca cola, or perhaps a Masala Grill Chicken, or even Veg or Chicken Maharaja Mac burger with Corn and Cheese Patty! What is also different about McDonald’s in India is its clientele. It varies from college students, to IT professionals, to elder couples to families with children.

The company that entered India in 1996 with one restaurant in New Delhi now has 213 outlets. The plan, according to Amit Jatia who is the Vice Chairman of Westlife Enterprises which is a master franchisee for McDonald’s in India, is to add another 250 restaurants by 2020!

And, McDonald’s is part of a growing business of chain restaurants in India. In 2013, this market yielded $2.5 billion and is expected to grow to $8 billion by 2020.

Clearly, profit is being made through these giant corporate franchisees in India. Wealth is being accumulated. Supposedly progress” is taking place too. But, I am not completely convinced that all” are benefiting from this so-called progress, especially in light of the growing gap between the rich and poor in all parts of the world that includes India. I would thus go out on a limb and say that this injection of progress in India is helping only some to accumulate wealth, while others are providing the labor for them to do so.

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