Fast Food in China

McDonald's

China may boast a 5,000-year-old culinary tradition, but when it comes to fast food, Western-style outlets rule. Western expansion of fast food in China has been happening so fast that it seems that Roland Macdonald might have actually been Chinese. This change of taste is much thanks to (or because of) Chinese consumers themselves, who seem to prefer Western fast food.

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The expansion of Fast Food in China has been massive, and companies such as McDonald’s or KFC want a bigger slice of the the country’s estimated annual 260 billion yuan ($40 billion) fast-food market. The first big American fast food chain to open a store in China was KFC in 1987. Many of those who were in Beijing at the time of the opening remember that the line that stretched out of the three-story building of 1,100 square meters in Qianmen, about a five-minute walk from Tian’anmen Square, almost reached Tian’anmen Square itself. McDonald’s was not late to respond and opened its first store in Shenzhen in 1990. Its Ronald McDonald clown, yellow M logo and Big Mac helped attract many local consumers. A plaque on the store’s wall testifies to its historic significance in Chinese culinary cultural history.

Watch how Fast Food in China changes the eating habits of Chinese people:

Both companies (KFC is held by Yum! industries) aim high: Yum! now operates 3,200 KFCs and 500 Pizza Huts in 650 Chinese cities --stretching from the tropical southern island of Hainan to the North Korean border and the desert oases of the ancient Silk Road. KFC’s target: to lift that number fivefold to 20,000 stores in mainland China. As for McDonalds, it plans to have 2,000 restaurants across the nation by 2013, up from its existing 1,300.

Health Consequences of Fast Food in China

Love for Fast Food in China has consequences, and China is getting overweight. If not long ago it were rare to see overweight Chinese people in the streets of big cities such as Beijing or Shanghai, today such sights have become commonplace. Many health problems, such as diabetes, can be linked to the growth of the fast food industry. Zha Jian Bing, a researcher in the Chinese Nutrition Society, says that “Western fast food has an impact on the lives of Chinese people, because it is high in salt, in protein and has a lot of calories. In developing countries such as China, fast food can cause numerous chronic illnesses such as heart disease, high cholesterol and diabetes.”

The opinion of Mr. Bing accords with an estimate of the World Health Organization that states that more than 30 percent of Chinese adults are now overweight. It is estimated that there are more than 92,000,000 people who have diabetes in China -- more than any other country world wide. “To eat fast food once a month is OK” says Mr. Bing, “But there is a tendency for some people to eat fast food frequently; a situation which has severe impacts on people’s health.”

It is understandable why people in China are drawn into Western, fast food chains: The food is affordable and offers a refreshing change from the flavors of the local Chinese cuisine: stores are often bigger, cleaner and air-conditioned during the hot summer months. The food is served quickly and efficiently and is adjusted to fit local tastes.

The phenomenon of Fast Food in China has many consequences. Not only people are becoming less healthy, but fast food is also eliminating many of the small, local restaurants. China must educate people about fast food and the consequences of eating too much of it. Should it fail to do so, the world might have to deal with yet another obese nation.

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About the Author

Lior Paritzky is the Editor in Chief and Manager of Laowaiblog, an internet platform that provides opinion and views about social phenomena in modern China. Look for Lior on Twitter: Liorpari