I walked into a McDonald’s in Shanghai and was told they din’t have any food. Here’s what happened.
I am in Shanghai, China’s model city for mallification. Yesterday I had a choice of cheap, beyond disgusting mall food or expensive, though still not very appealing mall food. I went for McDonald’s, the nearly ubiquitous last resort of the modern traveler. I walked up to the counter.
“We only have fish burgers,” the girl behind the cash register said.
I thought I misunderstood her — or maybe I just couldn’t believe that her words translated to mean what they actually meant.
“Give me a double cheese burger.”
“We only have fish burgers,” she said again.
There was no misunderstanding. “Really?”
“Yes.” She then pointed to the menu and meiyou’ed each food item one by one, sparing only the photo of the square chunk of jaundiced rubber wedged between two buns.
“Your fish burgers are very disgusting, I don’t want to eat that.”
The girl giggled. She could have one up’ed me by saying everything on the menu is disgusting, and that was exactly why she couldn’t sell it to me.
“How can you not have any food, you’re McDonald’s?!?” I almost roared . . . but then it sunk in. I read an excerpt of an article on my phone earlier in the day while riding a bus to Shanghai about this: McDonald’s got busted. KFC, Starbucks, Burger King, Pizza Hut, and pretty much every other international food outlet in China are also being throttled.
A journalist for a Chinese news network spent two months investigating Shanghai Husi Food, a branch of the OSI Group LLC, which is based out of the USA. This is an incredibly massive food production center which supplies a wide range of fast food chains and convenience stores with meat and other products. They seemed to have essentially been the link that all branches of the international fast food invasion of China are connected to. The reporter took video of staff in the facility repackaging and shipping out expired meat and picking up food that had fallen on the floor and putting it back into the mix. The amount of contaminated food that was being shipped out by the supplier measured in the tons and was being sent all over the country.
The report aired on Shanghai’s Dragon TV, and Chinese government regulators quickly sprung into action. All fast food chains implicated in the report have now claimed to have removed all products from Shanghai Husi from their offerings, and many have declared that they’ve cut off ties with the supplier altogether. Which was why McDonald’s restaurants in Shanghai not having any food other than fish sandwiches — which I’m unconvinced is a food quality improvement.
The question of whether this was an honest, quality piece of investigative reporting or a move to intentionally sabotage a thriving foreign industry in China has been raised by many parties, and so far no solid answer has arisen. On the one hand, this can be a good example of a Chinese media source actually allowing a journalist to do what they’re supposed to be doing, on the other hand they chose an easy, safe target to hit — a foreign company that supplies foreign companies.
It may be difficult to comprehend this from outside of China, but fast food joints like McDonald’s and KFC have a reputation of maintaining a higher degree of food quality than domestic Chinese food outlets. With an almost never ending chain of food safety scandals rippling through the country, the population here is incredibly nervous about where and what they eat. Up until now, foreign brands have acted as a bandaid for the country’s food contamination problems.
Perhaps the real question is whether or not most other food processing plants in China are doing anything differently than Shanghai Husi. When you can walk down just about any street and find restaurants intentionally placing food that’s to be given to customers directly on the ground and regular reports that meat here is not what you think it is, I seriously doubt it.