McDonalds announced on Tuesday that it will be opening two vegetarian restaurants next year in India, the world’s most populous nation. Currently, no beef is served at any of the 270 McDonalds in India; the country’s Muslims also refrain from pork.
As a vegetarian for the past thirty years, I am curious at McDonald’s plans. It’s been about 35 years since I bit into a cheeseburger (the thought is enough to send my husband into serious chortles, especially after years of saying yet again to my late mother-in-law, “no Mom, Kristina doesn’t eat burgers”). What if there was a McAloo Tikki burger (with a mashed-potato patty) or Pizza McPuff (a vegetable and cheese pastry) on the menu?
McDonalds in a Country Where Cows Are Sacred
Considering that 20 to 42 percent of India’s population does not eat meat, and that 80 percent are Hindu (a religion that holds the cow as sacred), McDonalds (which accounts for 3 percent of all beef consumption in the US — 800 million pounds) may not be able to expand its market share in India terribly much. McDonalds, of course, thinks otherwise; indeed some in the Indian media responded with enthusiasm to its announcement.
The reality is that McDonalds has been trying to establish itself in India for two decades. In July, the fastfood giant’s reported profits in India fell. As Adharanand Finn (who says he has never eaten at McDonalds) writes in the Guardian, “surprise, surprise, here comes a headline-grabbing idea for boosting sales.”
The two new vegetarian restaurants will be near two Hindu holy sites, the Vaishno Devi cave shrine in Kashmir, one of its Hinduism’s four holiest sites, and the Golden Temple in Amritsar, the holiest shrine of Sikhs in the Punjab. Sikhs are not banned from eating meat but their temples only serve meatless food to pilgrims (for free).
McDonalds is presumably planning to latch onto the tourist trade by opening outlets at these holy sites. As Vikram Bakshi, who manages McDonalds restaurants in east and north India, says in the Economic Times, “We see a huge potential [for vegetarian outlets] as, by nature, Indians are religious.”
But isn’t it a bit culturally insensitive for a company that relies on slaughtered cows for much of its profit to open restaurants near such sacred sites? Controversy over religious objections to McDonalds food has been widespread: As the New York Times notes, it was just over a decade ago that reports about French fries cooked in beef fat nearly saw McDonalds having to end operations in India entirely.
Hindu activists have protested McDonalds outlets, sometimes vandalizing them.
Photo: Shira Golding/flickr
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