In “McDonald’s in Taipei,” Wu describes the radical changes to Taiwanese culture that took place during the 1980s. The introduction of to Taiwanese markets symbolized the nature of the changes to Taiwanese culture that ensued. McDonald’s is not singularly to blame for the decimation of the diversity of from the mainland, but prior to its introduction, there was a cornucopia of independent eateries boasting food from various regions. However, Wu also discusses the symbolic role of McDonald’s in Taiwan in relation to the development of .
According to Wu, Taiwanese identity has formed largely in response to its need to politically and culturally distance itself from mainland China. As Taiwanese people sought new ways of expressing its food culture as being distinct from the mainland cuisines that once flourished there, it turned to the indigenous foods of the island as well as to foreign foods. These two in Taiwanese food culture therefore converged in interesting ways. Whereas the rural traditions of Taiwan, McDonald’s represents all that globalization and capitalism has to offer. Taiwan embraced these two seemingly disparate food cultures in meaningful ways, ways that helped the nation assert and maintain its identity.
In “Rituals at McDonald’s,” Kottack examines the subtext of McDonald’s and the role it plays in the rituals of American society and its food culture. Americans seek out McDonald’s restaurants while they are abroad precisely because eating at a McDonald’s reconnects the person to the culture of their origin in a ritualistic manner similar to the ways a person brings their religious icons with them. Because McDonald’s restaurants all function in similar ways, and the eating experience is standardized, they are like religious institutions. Kottack focuses on the specific emblems of ritual culture in McDonald’s, including the attire worn by employees, and the coded words and phrases used by employees when interacting with customers. The imagery used to market McDonald’s is also ritualistic in nature, especially the Ronald McDonald character. Kottack also points out that Americans ritualize their dining habits by refraining from eating at McDonald’s on certain holidays like Christmas. McDonald’s has positioned itself as a family restaurant that promotes family values, which is especially important at a time when American traditional social institutions have dissolved.
Both Kottack and Wu agree that McDonald’s occupies a specific role in its social arena, and that is to provide a new set of religious or cultural symbols and rituals. In Taiwan, McDonald’s arrived as the first foreign food enterprise permitted in the nation and also at a critical time for Taiwan’s national identity creation. As such, McDonald’s has come to symbolize modern Taiwanese life and its commitment to Western values, thus distinguishing itself entirely from mainland China. Paradoxically concurrent with Taiwan’s reversion to folk cuisines, McDonald’s represents “fun, modernity, and presige,” (Wu 123). Just as Taiwanese families converge in McDonald’s as a modern social and religious arena, families do the same in the United States, as Kottack points out. Moreover, McDonald’s serves as a “security and safety” symbol for both Americans and Taiwanese people.” (Wu 123). It has become a “home away from home,” (Kottack, 372). The most notable difference between the function of McDonald’s in Taiwan vs. The United States is status and prestige. In the United States, McDonald’s does not enjoy the same level of prestige that it has in Taiwan, where it represents youth culture and modernity. However, food and culture are intimately entwined in the best of times; even McDonald’s occupies a role in sociology and anthropology of food.
Kottack, Conrad P. “Rituals at McDonald’s.”
Wu, David Y.H. “McDonald’s in Taipei.”