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Mexicans resisting McDonalds
Fast Food Invasion

McTaco vs. Fried Crickets: a Duel in the Oaxaca Sun

August 24, 2002
By TIM WEINER
NY Times

OAXACA, Mexico, Aug. 22 - The town square in this old city
is a kind of sacred space. Beside a cathedral, under
ancient shade trees, people sit for hours on cast-iron
benches, passing time slowly, framed by stone arches
glowing golden in the afternoon light.

Two new golden arches may be rising soon.

A certain
corporation known throughout the world for its hamburgers -
and as a symbol of American culture - plans to open an
outlet on the southeastern corner of the square. The
proposal has set off a lively debate about food, money and
power in Oaxaca (wa-HA-ka), where the favorite snack is
fried crickets, not french fries.

"This is the center of our city, a place where people meet,
talk politics, shop and spend time," said Francisco Toledo,
61, a native Oaxacan and perhaps Mexico's best-known living
artist. "It's a big influence on art and creativity. And we
are drawing the line here against what the arches
symbolize."

McDonald's, which sold $40 billion of food last year, has
faced down opposition all over the world, including
American communities from Ft. Bragg, Calif., to the Bronx.
The protests have sometimes turned to political theater,
most famously in 1999, when a French farmer, Jose' Bove',
dismantled a new McDonald's in Millau, a citadel of cheese
in southwestern France. But McDonald's marches on: more
than half its 30,000 branches are outside the United
States.

Since 1985, it has opened 235 outlets in Mexico, including
one on the outskirts of Oaxaca, across the highway from a
Mercedes-Benz dealership. Though Mexicans sometimes have a
hard time pronouncing the name - it usually comes out as
"Madonna's" - many have no trouble downing McBurritos and
jalape~o-topped McMuffins.

The fast-food giant says it will respect the cultural
identity and architectural traditions of Oaxaca's old
square. But Oaxaca is a world capital of slow food, based
on recipes that go far, far back in time.

It is famous for its seven varieties of mole, a painstaking
sauce that can take three days to make; tamales baked
slowly in a banana leaf, and those crickets, which take a
long time to catch but have far more protein, fewer
calories and less fat than ground beef. (They taste like
grass-fed shrimp - an acquired taste, perhaps, but a very
popular one.)

Public opinion in Oaxaca's zo'calo, the town square, favors
those old tastes. "The zo'calo's a place with colonial
arches and a colonial rhythm - not the place for
McDonald's," said Sara Carre~o, 39, who runs the ancient
wooden telephone switchboard at the Hotel Se~orial. "The
difference between fast food and Oaxacan food is too
great."

Mr. Toledo led hundreds of marchers to the zo'calo, where
they feasted on tamales, but the protests have not struck a
universal chord. The State of Oaxaca may be the poorest in
Mexico, and some people wonder whether they can afford to
reject any form of foreign investment.

"Oaxaca was so isolated from the world for so long that any
change feels like an onslaught," said Iliana de la Vega,
42, who runs El Naranjo, an acclaimed restaurant off the
zo'calo. "Now, I'm not in favor of McDonald's. But there are
people who want their business. And if they follow the
rules, pay taxes, give people jobs - you can't outlaw that,
can you?"

The argument now lies in the hands of the city government.
But this may be less an issue of politics and power than of
taste and time. Can a company that prides itself on speed
and uniformity fit in a place where people value taking
their time and making food by hand?

"Real food is not frozen meat," said Jacqueline Garci'a, 24,
who runs To~ita's, a food stand in Oaxaca's old market.
"It's fresh cheese and crickets. Fast food's unnatural. The
people who make it are incompetent. And McDonald's belongs
in the United States, not our zo'calo."

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