Mike Steinberger has a new book out, Au Revoir to All That: Food, Wine, and the End of France.
Excerpt in Slate:
In the battle for France, Jose Bové, the protester who vandalized a McDonald’s in 1999 and was then running for president, proved to be no match for Le Big Mac. The first round of the presidential election was held on April 22, and Bové finished an embarrassing tenth, garnering barely 1 percent of the total vote. By then, McDonald’s had eleven hundred restaurants in France, three hundred more than it had had when Bové gave new meaning to the term “drive-through.” The company was pulling in over a million people per day in France, and annual turnover was growing at twice the rate it was in the United States. Arresting as those numbers were, there was an even more astonishing data point: By 2007, France had become the second-most profitable market in the world for McDonald’s, surpassed only by the land that gave the world fast food. Against McDonald’s, Bové had lost in a landslide.
As reprehensible as Bové’s tactics were, it was difficult for a food-loving Francophile not to feel a little solidarity with him. If you believed that McDonald’s was a blight on the American landscape, seeing it on French soil was like finding a peep show at the Vatican, and in a contest between Roquefort and Chicken McNuggets, I knew which side I was on. But implicit in this attitude was a belief that McDonald’s had somehow been foisted on the French; that slick American marketing had lured them away from the bistro and into the arms of Ronald McDonald. However, that just wasn’t true. The French came to McDonald’s and la malbouffe (or fast-food) willingly, and in vast and steadily rising numbers. Indeed, the quarter-pounded conquest of France was not the result of some fiendish American plot to subvert French food culture. It was an inside job, and not merely in the sense that the French public was lovin’ it—the architects of McDonald’s strategy in France were French.
Carey Jones in Serious Eats
Veronique de Rugy in The Corner
Mark Hemingway in The Corner
Michael Goldfarb in TWS:
In the course of Donald Morrison’s review of Au Revoir to All That by Michael Steinberger, we learn that McDonald’s is the largest private employer in all of France, which is sort of like being the largest provider of health insurance in North Korea, but nonetheless, it feels like a major triumph for American culture and cuisine. I once ate at the McDonald’s right next to the Arc de Triomphe. My quarter pounder tasted like hegemony.
UPDATE: Matt Y on Goldfarb:
It’s worth pointing out that this is not hegemony at all, but rather the dread soft power. When I was in Finland, I saw an episode of Medium dubbed into Swedish on television. There was a Starbucks near the hotel I stayed at in Geneva. I’ve shown you my photo of Dunkin Coffee in Barcelona before. I’m told that an American-style Santa Claus is popular in Japan. They play basketball in China and baseball in Colombia. And of course Microsoft Office and iPods are ubiquitous wherever you have people rich enough to own modern information technology.
UPDATE #2:Will Ferroggiaro and Judah Grunstein doing Bloggingheads