With western markets saturated, McDonald’s has expanded to eastern markets and exported heart disease as well has hamburgers. But after selling billions of burgers, McDonald’s is planning to open two vegetarian restaurants in India next year. Religious leaders in India are protesting the vegetarian McDonald’s outlets, saying their location near sacred pilgrimage sites is humiliating to Hindus.
McDonald’s in India
McDonald’s opened its first fast food outlet in India in 1996 and sees the potential of billions and billions of rupees from the world’s second most populous nation. About 80 percent of India’s population is Hindu, a religion that forbids the consumption of beef. Meat has still been the focus of the McDonald’s menu in India, including chicken McNuggets, lamb sausage muffins and fish burgers. But one of its biggest sellers is considered vegetarian: the McAloo Tikki burger, a fried mashed potato patty sandwich.
India pilgrimage sites
McDonald’s wants to use the McAloo Tikki burger and other “vegetarian” fare such as McSpicy Paneer cottage cheese burgers and the vegetable and cheese Pizza McPuff to lure Hindu pilgrims into its fast food world. It’s proposing two vegetarian outlets in India. One is planned for Amritsar, home of the Golden Temple, a holy site for Sikhs. The other would be in Katra, located near the Hindu Vaishno Devi shrine, India’s second busiest pilgrimage site.
The grueling 3,000-foot, 10-mile climb above Katra to the Vaishno Devi shrine is an act of purification for nearly 8 million devotees to the “Mother Goddess.” Hindu leaders aren’t happy about having McDonalds, a multinational corporation built on the slaughter of cows, as a neighbor.
Hindu outrage familiar
Swadeshi Jagran Manch, an influential Hindu nationalist group, is opposing McDonald’s plans to exploit the holy sites. A spokesman for the group told The Daily Telegraph that the vegetarian McDonald’s is an attempt to “deliberately humiliate Hindus.”
Apparently this isn’t the first time McDonald’s has offended Hindus. In 1990 McDonald’s made a big deal about switching from beef fat to ”100 percent vegetable oil” to cook its French fries. But in 2001, the newspaper India West revealed that McDonald’s French fries were seasoned with beef flavoring before being sent to restaurants to be cooked in vegetable oil.
Outraged Hindus sued McDonald’s in the U.S. for “deliberately misleading its American customers.” In India, McDonald’s restaurant windows were smashed, statues of Ronald McDonald were smeared with cow dung and Hindu nationalist politicians demanded that the fast food chain evicted from the country.
Western fast food invasion
More than a decade later, McDonald’s is still there. And it’s unlikely that religious protests will hinder the Western fast food invasion. McDonald’s has more than 270 outlets and counting. Yum Brands has opened about 479 Taco Bells in India and plans to open 100 more within the year. Domino’s Pizza has about 500 stores there and hopes India can be its second-largest market in three to five years.