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Current Affairs - January 25, 2022

... Fast food is as global as capitalism itself, as the industry’s biggest players now earn most of their profits outside the United States. McDonald’s entered the Caribbean and Latin America via Puerto Rico in 1967 and Costa Rica in 1970, and Asia, via Hong Kong, in 1975. In 1971, KFC became the first foreign fast food chain in Africa, opening a restaurant in apartheid South Africa. KFC now operates in 24 countries across the continent, having added Rwanda to the list in 2020, and Sudan, Gabon, Senegal, and Madagascar the year before.

Raw materials are essential to the industry’s success, and every place it goes, the industry depends on state intervention to ensure steady supplies. In developing countries, fast food has been both a beneficiary and a proponent of both industrial agriculture and liberalized trade agreements which make it cheaper to buy goods from the far side of the world than from up the road. Every chain now dabbles in protein alternatives to meat. (The McAloo Tikki burger has been a bestseller in India since it was introduced in the late 1990s.) But meat remains the industry’s primary offering to the public, and tracing meat production reveals a vast system upon which the fast food industry rests. From farmers who grow corn and soy, to factory farms that buy those crops and feed it to chickens and cows, to slaughterhouses that turn those animals into meat, to franchise-owned restaurants that fry that meat and serve it to customers, the stages of making a McPicanha in Brazil or a Colonel Burger in Kenya are remarkably similar. The world’s biggest fast food companies, like McDonald’s and Yum! Brands (the parent company of KFC, Taco Bell, and Pizza Hut), lie at the center of an immense web of trade and finance, most of which is utterly invisible to the typical customer, and all of which depends on government support.

Because of—not despite—consistent government intervention in the industry, we might call fast food the quintessential neoliberal cuisine. Tracking how the world’s public institutions have lined up to aid the industry’s expansion, while at the same time having rolled back their support for the people they are responsible for protecting, can help us understand how one of the most destructive ideologies of our time has shaped our world.

But to start, let’s consider the most obvious component of the entire fast food web: the restaurants—specifically, the restaurants in inner-city America. ...
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