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The McAfrika Burger
April 18th, 2010

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Dear John,

In a radio interview that I heard part of, you mentioned the McAfrica burger. What’s McDonald’s up to now?

Julie

Dear Julie,

In something less than an act of great cultural or humanitarian sensitivity, McDonald’s has introduced a new sandwich in their Norway restaurants called the “McAfrika.” They did this in the summer of 2002, at a time when 12 million people were facing starvation in southern Africa. The company says that the concoction of beef, cheese, tomatoes and salad in a pita-style sandwich is based on an “authentic African recipe.”

Aid agencies trying to raise funds to stave off famine in southern Africa were appalled. “It’s inappropriate and distasteful to launch a hamburger called McAfrika when large portions of southern Africa are on the verge of starvation,” said a representative of Norwegian Church Aid.

Faced with mounting protest about the new product, McDonald’s said it didn’t intend to offend anyone. I’m sure the starving people in Africa appreciate the company’s thoughtfulness. However, the company refused to share any proceeds from the sale of the sandwich with aid agencies. Nor has McDonald’s agreed to withdraw the product from sale.

Meat eating in a hungry world is problematic to begin with. Today, more than a billion people on this planet do not have enough to eat. Nearly one-third of the children in the developing world are chronically hungry, making them vulnerable to infectious disease and diarrhea, which often lead to permanent mental and physical impairment or death. Meanwhile, McDonald’s is opening five new restaurants a day—four of them outside the United States.

We have to question the role of meat in a world where an estimated one in every six people goes hungry every day. Meat production is an inefficient use of grain — the grain is used more efficiently when consumed directly by humans. McDonald’s meats come from animals fed enormous quantities of grain, in the process creating competition for grain between affluent meat eaters and the world’s poor.

We are seeing the McDonaldization of the world, and it’s not a pretty sight. Throughout the Third World, the production of meat is monopolizing the best local land, undermining the local food supply, and undercutting the efforts of the people to become food self-reliant. There are today millions of people in less-developed countries who are going hungry while their land, labor, and resources are being used to feed livestock so wealthy people can eat meat.

It’s painful that as a species we can put a man on the moon, but haven’t come close to ending the scourge of hunger. In a world where a child dies of hunger-caused disease every two seconds, only our own ignorance allows us to continue to view meat as a status symbol.

Thanks for asking,

John

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