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Do Food Snobs Hate Franchises?

Recently, I spotted this article in the Irish Times on food franchise giant – McDonald’s. We’ve known for quite a while how diverse the Golden Arches franchise are when it comes to their international operations and also how dynamic they can be in terms of adapting their menus for different cultural traditions and customs, and for their increasing awareness of healthy eating. So news that McDonald’s in Ireland are to completely revamp all 82 McDonald’s outlets across Ireland in the coming months, in order to incorporate their new healthier image came as no surprise.

Following controversy and negative media which resulted from a series of productions such as the SuperSize Me movie and the book - FastFood Nation, McDonald’s overhauled their image and menus. This has led to a number of other food franchises following suit including Domino’s Pizza, Subway and KFC. This hasn’t protected them from receiving criticism however. Michelin Star chef Anthony Bourdain has called McDonald’s “The Evil Empire” and has taken drastic measures to discourage his two and a half year old daughter against the franchise by demonising Ronald McDonald and is also threatening to “dip something decidedly unpleasant in an enticing chocolate coating and wrap it carefully in McDonald’s paper”, leaving this somewhere he knows his unsuspecting daughter will find it so that she can experience “an early, traumatic, Ronald-related experience [which] can only be good for her.” The first time I heard about Bourdain was when my brother, a chef, gave me his copy of Bourdain’s autobiography Kitchen Confidential to read. So yesterday when I saw Bourdain’s comments, I immediately contacted my sibling chef via SMS who replied “K*&b end. Can’t beat the occasional big mac. Been known to slip one past the lips”. He later went on to cook for 50 people on a fancy yacht in Sydney Harbour, but refrained from serving them Big Macs.

So, is it the view of all food snobs that if food is “mass produced” then it is therefore completely unworthy of consumption? In saying that, McDonald’s meat is 100% Irish which is saying a lot more than other burger outlets in Ireland. I would never suggest that a trip to your local franchise restaurant is anything like a trip to Maxim’s, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be an example of bad eating.

Some foodies seem to believe that franchises eliminate the creativity involved in creating food and lack the diversity that a stand alone restaurant can offer, as they change menus every week in some cases while franchises tend to stick to the same menu for a longer length of time with no deviation. However, a lot of franchises adapt their menus for new markets and often source food locally and only what is in season. My fellow franchise blogger Donny recently visited India and commented that McDonald’s, after issues with the cooking of fries in beef fat caused riots outside their outlets, have become quite culturally sensitive and feature a varied menu with no pork or beef to respect religious beliefs.

I think perhaps education and moderation is key, too much of something is never good and I’m pretty sure that even McDonald’s and Domino’s wouldn’t recommend eating their products every day.  Enjoyed as a treat every now and then, food franchises offer lots of families across the UK the opportunity to eat out as a family and to eat from a relatively healthy and low cost menu.

In comparison, it’s a well known fact that a significant number of gourmet chefs add unknown amounts of butter and salt to their food to add to the flavour, except you don’t know how much because that information is not freely available in restaurants, yet it is with an increasingly amount of franchises. Visit the website of most of the leading food franchises, and I bet you will find details of the nutritional information for their products, Subway in particular have been very proactive with this freedom of information tactic. Domino’s recently carried out focus groups in the US and used the feedback to redevelop their recipes, see the video below to see the redevelopment in action:

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