The Anthropology of Food course took its first field trip of the fall 2018 semester to a perhaps surprising venue: McDonald’s. On October 19, the M.A. students were taken on a tour of a downtown restaurant led by Dario Baroni, Chief Marketing Officer of McDonald's Italia, to learn how the company operates in Italy. The students quickly realized that Italian McDonald’s is quite distinct from the American prototype and were intrigued to learn about the company’s local sourcing efforts.

McDonald’s Italia embodies the idea of glocalization, being a multinational corporation – arguably the symbol of international fast food – while having flexibility to engage local producers and cater menus to Italian consumers. The Rome restaurant’s ambiance is at once comfortable and high-tech, family-oriented and sleek. Baroni demonstrated how electronic ordering machines are not only profitable to the company but also beneficial to customers by facilitating food customization, translating the menu, and reducing time pressures to make decisions. Furthermore, the virtual menu identifies local products, such as the 100%-Italian chicken nuggets, with a bright label. The students were surprised to hear that McDonald’s Italia is supplied by 15,000 Italian farmers and that most of the menu items, like the Crispy McBacon, are not global offerings but rather designed for Italian consumers. Similarly unexpected was the fact that McCafé seems to serve as its own institution, functioning as a leisurely Starbucks-like coffee shop and accounting for a quarter of the McDonald’s business.

Getting a behind-the-scenes tour through the restaurant and kitchens made quite the impression on the M.A. students. In an extensive Q&A, students had Baroni and his colleagues discuss labor conditions for McDonald’s workers, contracts with local farmers, food waste, nutrition, and public perceptions of fast food. The experience was both fun and eye-opening to the possibilities for big corporations to encourage, in Baroni’s words, “local freedom in a global frame.”

Author: Eva Reynolds