Citizens of Jakarta are currently mourning the loss of one of the city’s icons; its first-ever McDonald’s outlet. On Sunday, 10 May 2020, hundreds flocked over to Sarinah to witness the symbolic closing of this fast-food restaurant, ignoring the current social distancing restrictions. Social media was also flooded with messages of happy memories from its 30 years of operation in the heart of Jakarta. Its prime location, amidst government offices, elite residency, and historical sites, has made it a strategic place for Jakartans to meet up and grab a quick bite. 

A Symbol of the Fast-Food Culture

Setting aside its sentimental value, McDonald’s Sarinah is considered a symbol of the popular fast-food culture that has been embedded in Jakarta since 1991. Fast food is defined as quick, easily accessible, and cheap alternatives to home-cooked meals. It comes as no surprise that many people prefer the effectiveness and efficiency of pre-made food that comes at a lower price. 

Though the idea of “grab-and-go” food has been around since times of Ancient Rome, the culture was said to have boomed in the United States of America during the late 1950s (yes, along with the birth of McDonald’s itself!). The soaring use of automobiles for driving and dining out brought along the need for restaurants that offer fast-served food to be conveniently consumed.

As the 1990s rolled in, Indonesia was rich with foreign investment flow, marked by an average economic growth of 6-7%. The opening of the famous American franchise that is McDonald’s in Indonesia was considered a sign of achievement regarding the country’s ability as a contender in the global free market.  

Introducing a Damaging Diet: Harrowing Health Effects 

Thanks to our humid climate and volcanic soil, Indonesian cuisine is actually in an abundance of tropical fruits, vegetables, and spices that are much sought after around the world. With rice as our staple, we are lucky enough to have easy access to thousands of combinations of ingredients, and traditionally eat only small amounts of meat. However, little did we know that thanks to the presence of a new culture in the form of fast food, our country would also fall into the ever-growing hole that is the Standard American Diet. 

Ironically abbreviated as S.A.D., the Standard American Diet is one that contributes to epidemic levels of otherwise avoidable diseases such as obesity, hypertension, diabetes, and heart disease. How so? Well, for one, it’s an eating pattern that’s mostly made up of excess sugar, refined carbohydrates, saturated fat, and trans fats, all of which can be conveniently found in fast food. They have even been proven to fuel the growth of fat cells and even tumors. So even though it might save you time and money, dependence on fast and processed food could cost you your life in the long run.  

The Issue of Animal Welfare: Speedy Production, Suffering Produce  

The emergence of fast food culture has also brought up the issue of animal welfare. Being in the business of mass-produced, pre-cooked food means being reliant on swift production. In order to provide an extensive and consistent amount of food to each of its restaurants, fast food businesses tend to only care about being able to keep up with demand. This means almost completely ignoring the quality of its products, which sadly includes animals. Though not all animal-based food consumption is derived from fast food, it’s widening spread across the globe has made animal-based food easily accessible and affordable to more and more people. 

However, more people are now becoming aware of the torture that happens to animals prepped for fast food. One issue that is continuously raised here in Indonesia is the mistreatment of egg-laying hens trapped in battery cages. In these cages, they are subjected to small, crowded living spaces, in which they can’t even spread their wings. They become so stressed that their feathers start to fall off their skin, and they are constantly living in their own waste. Once these egg-laying hens are no longer able to produce eggs, they are slaughtered for food. 

Campaigns and protests have taken place in front of restaurants in order to raise awareness of this cruelty. Though McDonald’s and other fast-food chains have released statements on their attention to animal welfare, the fact still remains that their approach to animal welfare is still poor on average… and this is only one of the many species of animals that get mistreated daily for the fast-food industry. 

Supporting the Shift from Processed to Plant-Based 

With the spread of awareness regarding both human health and animal welfare, people are starting to open their eyes towards the sad reality of the S.A.D., which is closely linked to fast-food culture. This can be seen by the rising number of plant-based versions of traditional items on the menu. With the world heading towards a population of 10 billion human beings, the World Economic Forum white paper titled “Meat: The Future Series - Alternative Proteins” has advocated for a transformation in the animal-based protein system to sustain global food and nutrition supply. 

In addition to saving innocent animals from slaughter, by opting to eat plant-based, we’d be protecting our Earth from accelerated effects of climate change, and fellow humans from starvation. So perhaps it’s time to stop the S.A.D. and rejoice in a win-win solution for all by going vegan!