Globalization is a worldwide scale of growth, an ongoing process where economies, cultures and societies are being increasingly integrated. Today, it has become a very controversial issue. Globalization has both positive and negative effects on the world. Positive effects include the reality that large scale companies that once only outsourced to western countries are now trading their goods all over the world. People can also now be connected to any part of the world due to instant internet connections, making communication faster and easier with webcams and instant chat as oppose to paper mail. Increased media coverage is also drawing attention to human rights and violation issues all over the world, which ultimately leads to a larger scale of improvement of these concerns. Negative effects of globalization show third world countries losing their local culture because of western style clothing becoming more easily and cheaply accessible. Globalization has also led to the exploitation of labour, meaning that child workers and prisoners may be working in inhumane conditions as the safety standards are ignored to produce cheap goods. The internet has its negative impacts because terrorists can communicate amongst themselves and take faster actions. There is one large issue, however, that relates to an aspect of globalization that also is the cause of many negative effects on a society. This is the growth of the western fast-food economy, especially in China. The spread of these fast-food chains is having an adverse impact on the Chinese economy and the health of the Chinese population. The number and diversity of fast-food restaurants across China has expanded at an increasingly fast rate, and if it continues then the negative trends we are seeing now will only get worse. (Pillai, 2010).
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The western fast-food industry in China was nonexistent just a few decades ago, leaving China limited to only a few fast-food choices. These choices were those amongst traditional Chinese restaurants, street side wonton, pulled noodle and tea egg merchants, and small fast food vendors in five-star hotels. The two largest fast-food industries; McDonalds and Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC), have been heavily introduced into the Chinese society and continue to move into as many regions in China as possible. The first KFC opened in Beijing in 1982 to a 50-meter long line of customers. Even though KFC foods were not affordable to most of the Chinese population at that time, sales on opening day still managed to exceed the company’s expectations due to the major attraction that this Western chain had on the Chinese (PseudoPoetic, 2010). The success of this first store laid the foundations to the expansion of KFC and the penetration of the Chinese market due to expansion of well-known Western fast food chains. Three years after KFC’s grand opening in China, the first McDonalds opened, also with the constraint of overly high prices for the average Chinese person. However, the expensive price worked in McDonalds’ favour because it was considered a luxury. Chinese people made an event out of eating at McDonalds, to the extent that some families even held wedding banquets in these fast food chains. This image was depicted to the Chinese population as being desirable and unique. China currently has 326 McDonald locations; ranking 9th in countries with the most McDonalds, and KFC has 3,400 locations in China, meaning that 20% of the world’s KFC restaurants are located in China alone (Goodman, 2004).
The escalating western fast-food industry in China is linked to changing aspects of the Chinese society, including shifting eating habits, large impacts on the Chinese economy, as well as how Chinese engage with the globalization of the western fast-food industry shaping China into a more modernized country. The dominance of the western fast-food industry interrelates with the Chinese culture in a way that is even making fast food viewed as more a product of China rather than the west.
Obesity is a medical condition that is currently becoming a bigger issue in China due to the expansion of easy accessibility to fast-food restaurants. The Chinese population is becoming progressively more overweight and the largest blame is being put on the intake of western style fast-foods and the adoption of the “simple and fast” middle-class western lifestyle. Chinese culinary traditions and cultural food has always been recognized as a rice and vegetable diet, along with various sauces, spices and flavourings. To the Chinese, food is a symbol of health, luck and prosperity. A Chinese quote states that “heaven loves the man who eats well”; meaning that sticking to the healthy diet of rice and vegetables is very important to the Chinese culture (Chinese Cuisine, 2006). However, with the plan to increase the number of fast-food joints such as KFC and McDonalds in China, so will come the increase of the amount of times the Chinese population consumes these foods. Eating out more often has begun to take away from the healthier alternative like home cooked meals, and will also ultimately contribute to mass weight gain. Obesity in China is not only resulting in the country to have a ‘fatter’ reputation, but is also having a huge negative impact on the Chinese economy. With the increased number of overweight people comes the greater demand for treatment and health care. Citizens may not understand the salient point that unlike communicable diseases such as tuberculosis, which can effectively be cured within six months, diabetes mellitus, which is caused by over-consumption of fast foods, requires lifelong treatment, and can ultimately lead to death (Hannily, 2009).
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Chinese people are already eating less vegetables and more meat in their diet. The China National Nutrition and Health Survey compared data between 1982 and 2002 to show that the intake of fruits and vegetables in China has decreased drastically from 276.2g to 45g. In that same time frame, the intake of meat and dairy has more than doubled. Fast-food was found to be the main reason for this, because prior to 1982 the market for cheese in China was non-existent. The Chinese population did not like the taste of it and did not use it in their Chinese cultural diet. (China National Nutrition and Health Survey, n.d). However, with the globalization of fast-food in China, and franchises containing cheese-burgers, pizza, chicken burgers with cheese, and poutine, the cheese market is now growing and stocked in Chinese grocery stores.
The most affected demographic of the obesity epidemic in China are rich, young, and educated consumer groups living in urban settings. This market has the highest chance of being attracted to the westernized lifestyle because they can afford this so called ‘luxury’. Another major factor that contributes to the more obese generation is the ‘one-child policy’ in China. Since Chinese families are only allowed to have one child due to overpopulation, the immediate parents, grandparents, and great grandparents will be more obligated to spoil and pamper that child with the fast-food luxury. Food that would normally be divided amongst siblings is now enjoyed by just one child. Instead of taking a larger family with more children out for fast-food on just special occasions, they can afford to take their only child out for fast-food on a more regular basis. Chinese consumers need to be aware of excessive consumption and the negative effects it has on the future generation as well as the Chinese society as a whole.
Another major concern that is caused by this globalization of fast-food is the decrease of its’ opposite: slow-food. Slow-food is the movement that describes the traditional and cultural cuisine, and encourages farming of plants, seeds, and livestock to supply a society with food. It is the idea that sustainable food production and consumption enhances the economic, environmental and social health of a certain region. However, it is clear that this epidemic is having the opposite effect on China. China’s cuisine is progressively being altered by the increase of the consumption of fast-food. According to a survey conducted in 2004 by ACNeilson, a marketing firm, China is now even more likely to order fast-food meals than Americans. The results show that 97% of the Chinese population are eating fast-food, 41% of them consume it at least once a week in comparison to 35% in America. By comparison, the survey also showed that only 11% of people in Europe order fast-food weekly (Psudopoetic, 2010).
Fast-food corporations (such as Pepsico Restaurants International) are studying globalization and how they can most effectively make the Chinese population adapt to it. This includes aggressive marketing campaigns and studies on their target market to better meet the consumer’s needs and wants. For example, KFC is highly popular in China because of its featured fried chicken, all flavoured either spicy or mild. This is because Chinese local tastes heavily include fried chicken items and spicy food items. KFC just provides a more modern atmosphere and edge to the Chinese cultural menu. McDonalds on the other hand, is popular in China for the unique western taste of fast-food French fries, with more specialized ingredients such as ketchup and sweet and sour sauce. The western lifestyle is admired by the majority of the Chinese population. They are eager to learn the advanced western technologies, such as internet, and the media also depicts the western lifestyle as having many opportunities, including professional athletes and high education. Fast-food industries such as McDonalds use the globalization of western lifestyles through the media to their advantage. For example, the Chinese basketball icon, Yao Ming, is used on many advertisements for McDonalds’, showing the image of a westernized Chinese man who is eating McDonalds (Zeng, 2004).
Fast-food advertising in China can be classified into four groups in regards to how the Chinese population adapts to this globalization: social status, romance, traditional customs/values, and the happiness of children and youth. The social status type of advertising promotes fast-food restaurants as a lifestyle for the middle-class society, for modern people and workers who can enjoy the luxury of relaxing in a clean fast-food environment. Examples of these advertisements in China include the image of a Chinese man in a business suit starting off his day with a McDonald’s meal and a smile, along with the slogan: “a relaxing morning starts with McDonalds.” Fast-food restaurants also ensure that they can be seen as an ideal place for couples, with double-seat tables. The latest advertisement in Hong Kong also represents this image with a married couple, where the wife is surprised by her husband with a box of McDonalds fries, and the couple enjoys them happily. Fast-food corporations also include the traditional Chinese customs and values to appeal to the population and make their business more acceptable to their cultures. For example, advertisements as well as the decor of the restaurants will resemble China with the Spring Festival celebration, good wishes at the beginning of the New Year, the art of Chinese calligraphy, as well as the moral to respect elders (Zeng, 2004).
In China, the only-children become the center of the family whose wishes are always first to be fulfilled and parents will try every way to satisfy them. Children are the largest market for fast-food restaurants because they are exposed to many fast-food advertisements such as McDonalds with lively colors, cartoon characters, and recognizable symbols such as the big “M”. Children and youth are also attached to brand names because they are in the stage of trying to ‘fit in’ with popular trends. With children and youth being the largest market for the fast-food industry, the businesses are placing more and more locations near schools giving them more control over the decisions of youth than adults. In China, fast-food businesses also employ mostly youth, attracting them with under-the-counter means (Goodman, 2004). This gives them the opportunity to eat there more often and thus this large market will have a big impact on the overall health of youth in China. The Chinese society is attracted to these western fast-food restaurants because they bring a new and different, more modern eating experience in midst of some of the most unhygienic and frenetic countries in the world for fast-food restaurants.
The booming trend of western fast-food in China is related to the economy. With western fast-food eateries considered a luxury in China, citizens will resort to something cheaper in the event of a bad economy. With a weakening economy, Chinese fast-food operators will gain the business of the western customers because western franchises will become unaffordable to them. Overall sales numbers will fluctuate in different economic times and the more western fast-food restaurants that China is expecting; the more they will have an impact on the overall Chinese economy.
The lives of Chinese people are shaping due to the globalization of western fast-food restaurants because they are experiencing the issue in American to be a foretaste of what is happening to them. Obesity and health related issues are becoming a serious problem due to this expansion, but the issue is occurring so fast and to such a large extent that the Chinese have no choice but to engage with the western lifestyle. The changes that are can be blamed on the globalization of western fast-food industries in China. With open communication to the country, the Chinese government allows for this globalization to occur, and by purchasing western products, the population are allowing the changes to their cultural identity. Together, the western and Chinese cultures are interacting more and more every day to create a modern and globalized China.
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