Living in China

Is It Wrong To Go To McDonald’s?

When I first came to China I was traveling in Beijing, Pingyao, Xi’an, Chengdu and Guilin. I thought that all the time I have to be out experiencing everything, including Chinese food. But soon I realised that my situation was different, I was going to live in China. After that I relaxed and started reading books instead going out, I went to eat Big Mac instead trying chicken feet at a local restaurant.

I understood that it is important to find out as much as possible about China, but this is now normal life to me and not an adventure. After that decision I’ve met people that refuse to eat anything else than Chinese food. But they are here to travel just for few weeks or maybe few months. Of course they can wait and eat Western food when they go back home. Of course they want to experience as much as they can during their short visit.

Last summer in the hospital I hated Chinese food. I could maybe eat few wontons (yuntun 云吞) but I really wanted something familiar. There were no western restaurants nearby. There are no Finnish food in Guangzhou. So what did I want my boyfriend to get me? A Big Mac of course! And it tasted so good and I could almost forget that 10 per cent of my body looked like – – (first I wrote it here, but maybe you are eating right now).

In my opinion traveling abroad and living abroad are completely different things. You want different things from them. And right now I want a hamburger.


  • Emilia

    But McDonald’s is BAD. :( Bad, bad, bad!
    It’s a bad company that exploits natural resources and people, plus the food is very unhealthy. So I’d personally say that yes, it is wrong to go to McDonald’s. I’ve boycotted the company for years now.
    But I can also understand why western people will rely on McDonald’s as some sort of a familiar link when they’re abroad. I just wish it was a better company that all these people relied on.

    Sara Reply:

    I don’t know much real facts, but McDonald’s really is considered a bad company. Also a friend of mine was dissapointed that I didn’t wrote critically about all the waste I helped to produce by going there (well he didn’t use these words actually). And it is true that I could do more and do better choises. But I have to say that there are so many bad things in China that where should I begin? With protecting nature, or human/animal rights?

    I also feel that if I wanted to boycott McDonalnd’s I also should boycott lots of other companies as well. Sure a small step into the right direction is also a step. Right now I also doesn’t have enough information to know what I should buy and what shouldn’t. Also finding out seems to be like a full time job. I’m happy that there are people who are doing this and help to spread the information to more lazier people.

    The thing about McDonald’s is that it tasted the same everywhere and it tastes good. Sure it’s very unhealthy, but so is many other stuff I eat. It’s also cheap compared with other Western restaurants. And are KFC, Pizza Hut etc any better? How can I find out?

    In China sometimes I just close my eyes and hope for the best. I can’t think all the bunnies in a small cage. I can’t think how that dog’s eyes looked like before I ate it. I eat chicken but don’t want to kill it myself. Sure this doesn’t have much to do with McDonald’s but your comment Emilia just made me think so many other things as well :) (Sign of a very good comment!)

    What do you other guys think? Should I boycott McDonland’s and if yes, then where should I go? Where can I find information about which company to trust and which not?

    Thank you Emilia for bringing this up! It is very important to discuss about these kind of issues.

    Emilia Reply:

    It is true – when one is faced with problems and questions like these, one often becomes quite hopeless and confused. It seems that even if we try to avoid certain bad things, other people will always come and tell us that we’re still doing many other bad things. It’s really hard to live completely ethically these days, but it’s always worth trying and every little thing does count.
    I’m not saying you absolutely must start boycotting McDonald’s, but just consider it as a very good option. :) This is a pretty good article about why McDonald’s is so bad:

    I actually saw his comment on FB and I agree, the waste issue is just terrible with fast-food companies.
    I also agree with you on the fact that information about good and bad companies, healthy and environmental choices etc. should definitely be more easily accessible for everyone! People need to be educated about these things, but the food industry tends to prefer keeping certain things in the dark. It sucks for us.

    Sara Reply:

    It is absolutely true that it’s “always worth trying and every little thing does count”. But what little things should I do? I feel like if I start this road there’s no end, no limits. I think I am already doing some good choises ecologically wise, but sure I could do so much more. When have I done enough? Never? And if I choose to boycott one fast food place, could I choose KFC instead of McDonald’s? Or is it all or nothing? And what kind of company is the Finnish Hesburger, should we boycott that too?

    I read the link you gave me and it had lots of reasons not to go to McDonalnd’s. Most of the reasons are the same with any other fast food restaurant I think. And many of them is the same with other unhealthy food. Of course I shouldn’t eat it, but I eat it anyway. The waste issue is a problem and absolutely not ok to produce so much paper waste, this is also a problem of all the similar restaurants.

    Well, this isn’t really the topic of my blog anymore, but really interesting and important stuff to discuss about. Maybe later on I’ll post something new about this, with a China connection, but first I have to do a little bit more research.

  • Tom

    Sara, I’m sure McD’s isn’t a perfect company (not sure of any multi-national companies that are), but living in China we aren’t always presented with many other options for comfort food. I know when I was in the hospital in rural China the last thing I wanted to touch was more Chinese food like the stuff that put me in the hospital in the first place.

    Sara Reply:

    Thank you for stopping by Tom! It’s true that living far away from our own countries sometimes puts as in a situation where we need comfort food. And it has to be something familiar, some taste we are used to and absolutely something we know is safe to eat.

  • Ivy

    Don’t worry, I think almost any expat living in China can understand your craving for McDonald’s. Fact is, it may not be an ethical corporation but the restaurants are pretty clean and sanitary.Also, like you said, are Chinese corporations better? How do we find out? In the meantime, I don’t think you need to feel guilty for getting a little homewick and craving a hamburger.

  • Ivy

    As far as being explotative goes, I am willing to bet that McDonald’s employees are working under better conditions than your average employee in a Chinese restaurant.

    I’m not a McDonald’s fan, but sometimes you have to have persepctive- not everything is black and white.

    Sara Reply:

    Thank you for joining the discussion Ivy. Yes, I think so too that workers of McDonald’s are actually better off than workers in some Chinese companies. And for travellers the toilet in McDonald’s is usually the best and the closest you can find. Even people who don’t eat there, want to use their toilet.

    For example take an ordinary restaurant here in Guangzhou. They work maybe 12 hours a day and live in the dorm with other workers. There are maybe 10 guys in same room and the only thing the boss gives you is a bed.You have to buy pillow, blanket and mattress if you want to sleep little bit more comfortably. Besides cooking you also have to kill the chickens you cook. And your salary is about 1000-1500RMB per month. That’s about 115-170 euros.

  • peter jiang

    it’ll be fine when you get used to it. i think the authentic traditional chinese dishes is more nutritious and delicious, even though i am a regular McDonald’s customer.

    Sara Reply:

    Peter, I really do like Chinese food and many kinds of it, but sometimes I want something else too. Luckily I have a kitchen so I can cook Finnish food.

  • Brian LaBarthe

    I totally understand ur situation.Even though I am such a big burger fan,I can hardly imagine the life without any Chinese soup or even rice.So same idea.
    And like,I know the fact that tons of local restaurants suck at a lot of aspects.For instance,not clean 9 times out of 10,teriible service ect.So,totally understand what ur talking about.
    Have a good day!

    Sara Reply:

    Thank you for commenting Brian! I know, it would be awful if I couldn’t eat Finnish food. Maybe I wouldn’t miss hamburgers if I started boycott McDonald’s, KFC etc, but it just tastes good. And some places it’s the only Western food available. Oh and I don’t even want to know how many unclean restaurants I have visited and in which kind of conditions my food have been cooked. I would go crazy if I would know. Luckily haven’t got food poisoning, yet. Have a nice week Brian!

  • Zacky

    omg, what was wrong when you were in the hospital, Chinese food is great if you go to the right place, you don’t have to go to those dirty, filthy Chinese street restaurants, they are just part of our Chinese sub-culture :p haha, KFC and McDonald in China, as far as I know they are way more a bit tastier than the same ones in the western countries, and I know they are junk food, I eat them once in a blue mood, but so what, sometimes,I think people need to get some junk food to improve their bodies’ immunity…lol

    Sara Reply:

    I got a skin burn and was in the hospital for 10 days. I wrote about it here: I actually enjoy Chinese street food too, like 羊肉串。

  • Happy in Asia

    Sarah, you have a gift for finding interesting topics!!!

    Note: I wouldn’t be caught dead in a McDo or KFC back home!!!

    First I’d like to say to anyone reading this from the comfort of their home in any Western country: Chinese food as you know it from home is NOT what we have here. Indeed, it’s a totally different thing. Yes, there is some amazing food here, but on a daily basis, specially if eating by yourself, you have to go to small restaurants and local joints, where things can get dodgy. Chinese food is more nutritious than junk food, we all know that, but more often than not it’s the freshness and quality that are questionable.

    Second, McD, KFC etc are clean, safe options here in China. Yes they do waste food, but most local eateries are going too far not to waste food and make you eat stuff that is way too stale or should just be thrown away, which is a lot unhealthier than eating junk food IMO. Plus, fast food chains have cleaner kitchen, make their employees go through health checks, and change their frying oil once in a while instead of just adding new oil, as most local places do. As far as employee management goes, these places are also a lot better to work at than small restaurants.

    Third, food safety in China is dismall. I’m sure you heard about ‘di gu you’ the oil recycled from the gutters? That’s what a lot of cheap restaurants use because they can save lots of money (it sells for 2-3 yuan per 500 gr instead of 7-9 yuan for ‘new’ oil…)

    Fourth point: KFC and McDo (pizza chains too) deliver to your doorstep, take orders in English, KFC even has online ordering when you don’t feel like talking to anyone, and most of the time have cute delivery guys ;)

    Bon appetit…

    Sara Reply:

    Thanks Happy in Asia, I try my best not to be boring! I have to agree with you that Chinese food outside Chinese is totally different than inside China. I haven’t seen any chicken legs in Chinese restaurants back in Finland and probably not so many Finnish people would eat it anyway. Luckily I seem to have a strong stomach and can eat at the small local places, but there is no doubt that kitchen at McDonald’s and KFC is much cleaner than the restaurant by the street. Oh, I haven’t heard that KFC has online ordering and of course cute delivery guys are a plus! ;)