A little backstory: Why we stopped eating McDonald’s
I don’t know who was more shocked! Me- to learn that almost every single one of my friends (circle of mommy friends in France) took their kids to eat at McDonald’s or…… my French friends when they learned our then 5-year-old daughter had never eaten at McDonald’s because our entire family had not eaten fast food or McDonald’s in almost a decade.
I wish I never read that damn book!
BEFORE: They say ignorance is bliss because before I read Eric Schlosser’s Fast Food Nation, I was blissfully content with my ignorance concerning McDonald’s and the fast food industry. I knew intuitively it wasn’t healthy or the best choice in sustenance but it wasn’t compelling enough for me NOT to take my two young sons to McDonald’s once in a while. My reasoning was that it was bad to eat fast food but not ‘THAT” bad. Besides, it was cheap, it was fast and it was a treat for the kids- like giving candy to a little kid even though you know it’s not good for them.
AFTER I read Fast Food Nation, I half wished I hadn’t because that is when my attitude towards fast food changed. The book not only confirmed many things I suspected or already knew but didn’t want to believe, it also opened my eyes to other horrors I could not have imagined if I tried. It was like reading some kind of bloody horror story. From animal cruelty to chemical additives in McDonald’s meat. Never mind all the tax shelters and other unethical things going on in the McDonald’s corporate giant. That book was the tipping point in my decision to leave fast food behind me forever- or so I thought.
Convincing the kids to STOP EATING McDonald’s
My boys were just seven and six years old in 2003 when I decided we would go cold turkey and quit fast food all together with the exception of an occasional visit to subways which was the lesser of two evils in my mind. It was difficult for the boys to comprehend why mommy didn’t want to take them to get a happy meal anymore but I stayed strong.
A few years later when they were old enough, I read the kid counterpart of the Fast Food Nation book called “Chew On This: Everything You Don’t Want to Know About Fast Food”to them. I hoped learning certain things about the fast food industry and McDonald’s might shock their little brains and hopefully create a lifelong habit to eat less fast food or NO fast food whatsoever. And it worked for the most part.
My eldest son refused to eat McDonald’s and our daughter who would be born later never knew what she was missing because we never went to McDonald’s. We left the US when she was 3 years old. All that hard work ended when we moved to France within a year.
Do the French really love Mickey D’s?
To be honest, I think I was naive to think the pressure of eating at McDonald’s would not be an issue for our children in France.
Our daughter’s first foray into fast-food at McDonald’s was when her schoolmate Enzo invited her to one of those all inclusive birthday parties at McDonald’s. She was the only one out of the 13 kids invited who didn’t know what a happy meal was (pronounced “Appy Mill” in French) but she learned real fast.
Between the toy, the happy meal, the Disney effect included in Happy Meals she was hooked before she even took her first bite into a fast-food burger. Everything was undone after that first bite. She was invited to several McDonald birthday parties per year and she constantly asked us to take her there but we told her it was only for special events like birthday parties which she begrudgingly accepted.
My then two teenage sons faced similar pressures from their friends who constantly wanted to eat at McDonald’s or Dominos. My eldest son resisted for the first 3 or so years but my middle child caved right away.
I knew I could not do much about this peer pressure and I suppose they would have eventually done the same thing had we lived in the US or Canada.
I guess I naively thought that ALL French people were above eating at McDonald’s. Silly me. I know better now. McDonalds far reaching hand knows no borders.
Why we believe French people don’t eat fast food
“With books like “French Kids Eat Everything” by American mom and author Karen Le Billon, a book which puts ALL French eating habits on a pedestal and talks about how she cured her kids picky eating by adopting more French attitudes on eating it’s no wonder the myth of superior French eating habits is so pervasive.
“French kids eat everything” including fast food from McDonald’s.
Maybe there was a time when the French had far superior eating habits but those days are slowly falling by the way side especially with the influence of super mega fastfood chains like McDonalds who have penetrated almost every international market.
How popular is McDonald’s in France compared to the US and the rest of the world
See chart detail below. for data collected.
I set out to discover exactly how popular McDonald’s was in the world. No surprise, the US had the most McDonald outlets in the world. Over 14K as of 2013 while France had only 1,300. Pretty big difference however it’s not a fair comparison. France is roughly the size of Texas so comparing 14K US outlets in the US which has a population of over 315 Million people vs. 1,300 outlets in France with a population of almost 65 million is not meaningful. I needed to figure out how many McDonald outlets there were per capita or in this case per 1,000,0000.
McDonald’s serves roughly 68 million customers daily in 119 countries across 36,538 outlets. Almost half those outlets, 14k are in the US
My suspicions were confirmed. The French loved their McDonald’s. France had the 5th most McDonald’s per capita in the world. (20 McDonald’s outlets per 1 million people). Maybe not as much as America which had 44 per 1 Million people but considering the US opened its first outlet 30 years before the one in France opened, the French are catching up fast.
The US , Canada and Australia are almost neck and neck with 44, 40 and 39 outlets respectively per capita.
Then the number drops by almost half to 23 for Japan and finally 20 MacDo’s (as the French call them) for France until we reach the 10th country which is China.
China has a mere 1.5 outlets per 1 Million people.
# Of Outlets
San Bernardino, CA
Créteil / Strasbourg
Yagoona, New South Wales
Rio de Janeiro
Pushkin Square, Moscow
How popular is McDonald’s compared to the rest of Europe?
If you look at just Europe, the only other European country which loves McDonald’s more than France is Sweden Map courtesy of https://jakubmarian.com/number-of-mcdonalds-outlets-per-capita-in-europe-by-country/
French people still eat better than most North Americans on the whole
20 years ago McDonald’s wasn’t as popular in France as it is today. 20 years from now McDonald’s may be as popular in France as it is in the US today.
I am in no way saying French people ALL have bad eating habits.
I merely want to make the point that Mcdonald’s is much more popular than the world thinks.
The French are not always this perfect picture of fine dining and gourmet food and that McDonald’s is actually very much a part of many French peoples lives just as it is in the US and Canada.
On the flip side, I still think most French people do eat better on the whole than most North Americans. The French also do a better job of institutionalizing better eating habits by giving kids excellent meals in school starting with preschool which I talk about in this article about our experience with preschool in France.
My daughter has never been served a revolving menu of pizza, burritos or tacos like my boys were served at their schools in California. And you certainly do not see McDonald’s or Taco Bell being served at schools in France like it was served in some US High Schools.
Instead you will find things on school menus in France which you might find in a restaurant like Moules et Frites (mussels and fries), baked fish, steamed veggies, blue cheese and yogourt. At Christmas they even had paté. Oh and by the way, children are not offered milk on the school menu. Instead they have good old water.