New Internationalist

The Real Thing

Issue 135

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THE FOOD INDUSTRY [image, unknown] Manipulating women's roles

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The real thing
Big corporations are not generally very interested in the poor. But between 10 and 20 per cent of people in the developing world now have incomes large enough to tempt the multinational food and beverage producers. Backed by elaborate advertising campaigns, the rich world’s junk food is fast becoming the high status food of the poor world. Alan Lindquist reports from South East Asia.

Photo: Claude Sauvageot
A handful of food and an armful of Fanta orange drink in Thailand. Spending money on soft drinks means there is less available for food. The government of Zambia recently banned Fanta advertising after it was discovered that 54 per cent of seriously malnourished children in one hospital had 'Fanta baby' written on their notes because they had been fed Fanta instead of food.

HUNDREDS of white-uniformed American sailors on shore leave in the Philippines from the visiting battleship USS New Jersey walked across Roxas Boulevard into Manila’s ‘entertainment’ district, Proceeding tentatively, stopping occasionally to peer into souvenir shops, the tide of white turned down Mabini Street, For the time being they ignored the bars and brothels further down the street and, driven by a different hunger, spotted Shakey’s Pizza parlour - one of many in Manila - and headed straight for it Relief! Home away from home; the taste known, the prices fixed, the atmosphere familiar.

Shakey’s pizzas, Kentucky Fried Chicken, McDonald’s hamburgers, Dairy Queen ice cream, Coca Cola and Pepsi draw their Filipino customers too, but for somewhat different reasons, For them this food is a little taste of America, vicarious participation in a way of life that’s fun, free, fashionable; one that even suggests sophistication, The US marines’ white uniforms confirm that this is ‘real American Food’, And real American food is made by real American corporations - either directly or under local franchise.

The Third World Studies Centre at the University of the Philippines has recently completed a report of such corporations in the food and beverage industry in the Philippines. The report focusses on two giant American companies, whose products, more than any others, are the epitome of the junk food industry: Coca Cola and McDonalds,

‘Transnational corporation beverage giants like Coke and Pepsi,’ says the report, ‘have virtually wiped out all traces of indigenous beverages like kalamansi (local lime juice), buko (coconut water), gula man (seaweed gelatin with sugared water or coconut milk). Traditional drinks now only manage to surface during special holidays or in tourist restaurants as part of the native exotica that every tourist must sample, On the other hand, Coke and Pepsi have become standard fare for all occasions, from the most affluent communities to the humblestbarrios of the country.

Traditional food has suffered a similar but less dramatic decline, According to the

report: ‘Whole generation of middle-class Filipinos in the post-war years were raised virtually on the G.I, diet pork and beans, frankfurters, corned beef and luncheon meat, vienna sausages, canned fruit cocktail and sweet biscuits’. The prestige associated with processed foods has now diminished somewhat in the cities but in the countryside village folk still tend to offer their important guests corned beef and fruit cocktail, regarding their own fresh fruit, vegetables, fish and snails as second-class fare,

The report goes on to point out that what it calls the ‘homogenization’ of the Filipino diet

- ‘its standardization under the aegis of canned products’ - is limited in rural areas largely by the prices of processed foods, But in towns and cities, where incomes are higher, this homogenization has been unabated and ‘is dominated by international food giants whose strength rests primarily on massive and aggressive advertising. What they sell in the form of licenses and franchises are really brands, carefully nurtured and popularized by enormous expenditures in global advertising’,

The penetration of US junk food companies in the Philippines is within the context of general US economic domination established during the colonial period. As the Third World Studies Centre notes: ‘Historically, Filipinos never really enjoyed the opportunity to independently chart the direction of their own economic development. As a colony of Spain the Philippines was forced to produce cash crops for European and American markets, Under American rule it became tied to the US market as an exporter of raw materials and as an importer of US manufactured goods’,

Meanwhile, continues the report, the mass media exposed the Filipino public to the good American life, The daily bombardment of the senses with American advertisements, movies, pop music, magazines and other cultural products resulted in the Americanisation of the Filipino consciousness. Consequently what was carefully nurtured was an addiction to American goods and a consumption pattern more suited to the style of living in a developed country rather than in an undeveloped one,’

The process of Coca-Colanization has gone so far in the Philippines that you can now buy Coca Cola in tiny roadside shops in the foothills of Mount Apo, a remote 2953-metre-high volcano in Mindanao, During the rainy season this area is accessible only by four-wheel drive jeeps with snow chains on all four wheels and a couple of pushers along for good measure, A spoof of Coke’s advertising has also appeared there, I saw one young woman stallkeeper on this rough dirt mountain road wearing a blue t-shirt on which, in standard Coca-Cola cursive, was written in red letters: ‘Cocaine: It’s the real thing!’

World wide, Coca-Cola sold nearly six billion dollars worth of its products in 1981, And nearly five billion dollars of that was soft drinks. On those total sales the company reported a gross profit of over two and a half billion dollars - gross indeed! In the same year 62 per cent of Coke’s total soft drink sales and 63.2 per cent of its income was made outside the US, principal foreign soft drink markets being Mexico, Germany, Japan and Brazil, The average American is said to consume 40 gallons of soft drinks a year, Germans drink about half that at 21 gallons, the Japanese put away a mere 7 gallons a head but the Mexicans go through 26 gallons per person - that’s a staggering 14 billion bottles each year, or nearly five a week for every man, woman and child in Mexico, Coca-Cola came to the Philippines in 1927, teamed up with the San Miguel

Corporation - the exclusive franchised bottler of Coke - and now has 17 bottling plants in the country, selling six hundred million pesos worth of soft drinks a year. But even that figure was more than doubled by Coke’s global rival Pepsi, which reported one and half billion pesos worth of sales. The Philippines is said to be one of only two countries in the world (the other being Venezuela) ~vhere Pepsi outsells Coke.

McDonalds is much more of a newcomer than Coke. The fast food hamburger chain, started in 1955 by Ray Kroc in Chicago, spread like wildfire until, by the end of 1981, there were 6,739 outlets, of which 5,554 were in the US, By 1980 the compatty had

Western fast food has not penetrated nearly as far in Thailand as it has in the Philippines, Singapore or Malaysia. Perhaps this is partly due to the fact that Thailand was never formally colonized. It is also because both Thais and local ethnic Chinese are traditional fast food masters, turning out rice and curry, noodles and a nearly endless variety of other dishes, both savoury and sweet, at a moment’s notice on the curbside.

Since 1977, however, a number of Western-type fast food restaurants have opened in Bangkok with donuts, pizzas and hamburgers top of the list, Besides these, McDonalds and Big Boy burgers both recently announced that they will soon open their first outlets. in Bangkok. According to the Bangkok Bank Monthly Review, ‘the marked success of a number of foreign franchises and local fast food businesses designed on modern, Western lines, has shown that a combinatin of air-conditioning, pop-music, bright decor, fast service and Western favourites like hamburgers, pizza and donuts definitely has appeal in this city of six million picky eaters.’

On the beverage side, as in much of the rest of the world, Pepsi and Coke dominate the market. The Serm Suk Company - producer of Pepsi Cola, Miranda, Teem and Mountain dew, and the Thai Pure Drinks Company, which produces Coca-Cola, Fanta, Sprite and Mello, control between them 90 per cent of the Thai soft drinks market. Sales of all soft drinks in 1983 are reported to be up ten per cent over the previous year to an estimated 105 million cases, or more than two cases of soft drinks for every man, woman and child in the country. Profits of just one company - the Serm Suk producer of Pepsi Cola - were reported to be over three and a half million dollars, Meanwhile UNICEF reports that more than half of all Thai children suffer from some from of malnutrition.

Meanwhile in Beijing, China is about to open its first US-style fast food restaurant, using Donald Duck to lead the new revolution. ‘We think we can sell 3,000 hamburgers a day’, said the Director of the Beijing Food Industry office. Hot dogs, chips, fried chicken, ice cream and pancakes will be on offer too and large posters of Donald Duck, brandishing a chicken leg and a fizzy drink, look down at the customers.

Alan Linquist is a journalist based in Bangkok, Thailand, who is a correspondent for the Inter Press Service and the American Friends Service Committee.


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