Empire and McFalafel
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Few corporations are so identified with America as McDonald’s is. This isn’t because of its main product - after all Burger King sells the same items and isn’t perceived in such a way – but because of its widespread presence almost all over the world. Despite recent crisis and upheavals, McDonald’s is still one of the largest landlords on the planet. While at the MBA studies, I heard a lecture seriously claiming McDonald’s business is real estate; the burgers just pay the overhead costs. As such, McDonald’s mimics and represents the Empire.
On October 2003, violent protests erupted in Bolivia, eventually bringing Evo Morales to power in the 2005 elections. Two organizations left the country during the violence: the Israeli Embassy and McDonald’s. Burger King kept its stronghold. The ultra-fortified American Embassy (a truly scary building) stayed, but later on the American Ambassador was expelled. McDonald’s and Empire behaved similarly.
Thus the presence of McDonald’s in Israel is interesting. It entered the market very late (in the 1990s), thus it was forced to adapt to products introduced years before by local competitors. McDonald’s Israel sells full sized hamburgers, not the cookie-sized meat patties sold in the States. Even so, it was accepted only due to its French fries, which were much better than those served by others.
Two tentacles of Empire meeting overseas. Would they cooperate peacefully or compete to death?
Despite some issues at the beginning – especially around kosher certificates, it ended with an agreement specifying the client must specifically ask for cheese in order to get a non-kosher cheeseburger - McDonald’s made a successful entry into the Israeli market. Businesses expanded and many branches opened to the horror of Middle Eastern cows. Then – in 2010 - McDonald’s introduced the McFalafel.
It isn’t odd for McDonald’s to introduce local dishes into international branches in order to make their menu more palatable to foreign tastes. I saw in its Thai branches burgers served in rice-buns. But when introducing the McFalafel, McDonald’s crossed a political redline.
Falafel is the name of fried balls of a paste made with chickpeas, fava beans and spices. It is very popular in the Middle Eastern cuisines – including the Palestinian one – and very healthy. The picture at the top shows a typical serving in a Palestinian restaurant, with tahini sauce and pickles (the red ones are tiny eggplants). When Empire arrived in Palestine, it needed fast food. Falafel was the victim; it got upgraded into such by stuffing it inside a sliced up pita bread together with salads, French fries and spicy sauces. The Israeli falafel was born. Both sides use the word “falafel” for the different dishes. Another symbol of the conflict was born.
Under the circumstances, it is not surprising the Americanization of the Israeli version of the falafel by McDonald’s was seen as a provocation by the Israeli public. They were losing their own theft. Moreover, McDonald’s made a small error in the design of their product. They used a lettuce leaf in each McFalafel. Lettuce is omnipresent in Palestinian salads, but Israeli salads use chopped cucumber instead. Big mistake; it looked as an attempt of McDonald’s to ingratiate itself towards the Palestinian population. McFalafel’s fate was sealed. In July, McFalafel disappeared from McDonald’s Israel.
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