The picturesque Île d’Oléron off the coast of France finds itself in a battle with one of the worlds biggest fast food corporations. But not everyone supports the battle.
The island, connected to France by a land bridge is home to around 22,000 people. This number swells to around 300,000 during holiday season as the island fills up with tourists. It’s traditional housing and postcard worthy sights attracting thousands from France and beyond.
Île d’Oléron seems like it has everything you could want, that is unless you’re craving a “Le Big Mac” or a few McNuggets. While McDonald’s has been a success story in France since opening, serving around 2 million meals a day, they still find resistance from the countries more rural places that try and maintain french tradition.
Next month a four-year legal battle over whether a McDonald’s should open on the island will come to a head. Leading the fight against the fast food giant is Grégory Gendre, the mayor of the small town of Dolus-d’Oléron, where the winter population is about 3,000. Gendre first refused planning permission for a McDonald’s drive-through restaurant in 2014.
Last autumn, a court in Poitiers ruled that the town had no legal basis to stop McDonald’s and must grant permission for it to start building or face fines of €300 a day. The mayor appealed, and a verdict is expected in September. Meanwhile, tensions are rising.
The main arguments seem to be the traffic that a drive through would cause but also that McDonald’s is symbolically a bad thing. The Golden arches may excite some but many french residents think they are a symbol of unhealthy “fast food” and American corporatism.
It’s not the first time that France has had a problem with a major American Corporation; Famously mass protests were held against Walt Disney opening Disneyland Paris or “Euro Disney.” The problems were not only environmental and economic, but that an American corporation could plant it’s flag so gratuitously in French soil.
Of course it’s easy to side with the protesters. For those that like traveling, exploring and seeing new places there is a certain malaise that pervades the modern tourist as that spend 12 hours on a plane, just to be greeted by the same brands and chain restaurants at their destination.
The homogenization of the world is in full swing. Not only internally do we find the same places again and again within the cities of our own nation, but now even venturing a-far seldom seems to save us from the grip of Ronald McDonald, the Starbucks Siren or Colonel Sanders.
There is an argument that they can be comforting, McNuggets are pretty much similar the world over, but that isn’t what travel is meant to be. I do personally find myself visiting McDonald’s often when I travel. Firstly because I know what I’m going to get and secondly out of habit, it’s a safe choice in a foreign land, one last thing to think about.
In Île d’Oléron it’s hard to argue that it will even ruin the picturesque parts of the Isle, as it will be located in a industrial area, it isn’t going to be next to a french bistro or cafe, the mystique and pull of the island will still be intact.
Islanders however, are a funny bunch, and often have a siege mentality. Its unsurprising to see the locals of a small Island demanding a say in who does business on their little paradise.
A petition to stop McDonald’s opening has so far raised 81,000 signatures, more than three times the amount of people who actually live on the island. In a quote from the petition page a local says the the following
Fabrice Roux, restaurateur on the island : “A McDonald’s on the island, it is not necessary, compared to the image that carries the sign, characteristic of junk food.
The restaurants of the island, with small menus of the market, will suffer. We are trying to sell dreams, taking advantage of the nature image of our little island. The image of McDonald’s does not stick with this kind of development. “ (Translated from French)
Indeed the argument from the locals is that McDonald’s just has no place there. Who on the Island would want to work a minimum wage job for a American corporation when you could instead be involved in local, meaningful, projects and be more successful.
Not everyone agrees though and some of the Island have argued that you should have freedom of choice, if someone want’s a Big Mac they should be allowed to have one, if they don’t just don’t go.
It seems unlikely that the Islanders will win this battle, McDonald’s has amazing amounts of power and influence and doesn’t seem like it would back down.
The saga is not surprising, perhaps more surprising is the fact that there isn’t already a McDonald’s there. The pervasiveness of American food chains is massive. It reminds me of the time I visited the pyramids, Turn your head one way and you see the sphinx, the other and you see Pizza hut.
When all is said and done though, King Tut probably would of enjoyed a stuffed crust