Fast food world domination


It’s probably no surprise that industry research firm Technomic just listed McDonald’s as the nation’s top fast food restaurant, with more than $34 billion in sales in 2011. But I can honestly say, the number of times I have eaten meat products from a McDonald’s restaurant you could count on a chicken finger.

I know that’s hard to believe, given there are more than 14,000 McDonald’s in the U.S. Even if you travel overseas, it’s difficult to miss the fast-food chain; their restaurants are everywhere. In fact, according to the lyrics of the 1992 Pink Floyd song, “It’s A Miracle:” “They got McDonald’s in Tibet.”

Well, it turns out that wasn’t exactly true when the song was written. And even today, while there are now a number of McDonald’s restaurants in China, I don’t think there are still any in the Himalayan hideaway of Tibet. I base that on a short phone conversation I had with a McDonald's representative:

Rep: Good McMorning, how can I McHelp you?

Me: Can you tell me if there are any McDonald's in Tibet?

Rep: What state is that in, Sir?

Me: No, Tibet the region in Asia.

Rep: Let me check ... There are currently no McFranchises there. Have a McWonderful McDay!

Of course, the great tragedy of Tibet is not the absence of Ronald McDonald. It’s the brutal invasion by China over half a century ago. China has claimed sovereignty over Tibet since the 18th century. But it wasn’t until around 1950, when Mao Tse-tung’s Chinese troops invaded, that the gentle people of Tibet lost their freedom and independence.

Like China, the McDonald’s corporation also knows how to conquer a country, albeit somewhat more benignly using Ronalds instead of rockets, and buns rather than guns.

To date, McDonald’s has “invaded” some 120 countries and is now the world’s largest restaurant chain boasting over 30,000 restaurants worldwide. In fact, look out your window; there’s probably a yellow arch within view from your backyard right now.

So maybe it’s just a matter of time until Ronald McDonald and his hamburger helpers grab their long underwear, and head for the Himalayas.

Despite the absence of McDonald’s, the resourceful people of Tibet have managed to survive. For centuries, they have relied on a local resource to provide much of their essential food and services: the yak.

Some 12 million domesticated yak inhabit the Himalayan region. They live comfortably in the rarified atmosphere at altitudes of 15,000 feet, and in temperatures that would freeze Ronald McDonald’s McNuggets.

Being sturdy and well insulated, the yak is ideal for transporting heavy loads through the deep snows. But it also provides milk to drink, as well as butter, cheese and meat.

Yak wool is also used to make thick blankets and clothes, which are essential in the chilly climate. So pound for pound, the yak is much better value for the people of Tibet than Ronald McDonald ever could be. You couldn’t even make a decent pair of socks from one of Ronny’s hairpieces.

The domesticated yak cuts an imposing figure on the misty Tibetan slopes, too, standing around six feet tall and weighing about 1,000 pounds (a scrawny Ronald McD – not so impressive). And with millions of animals that size roaming the countryside, well, that’s a lot of yak dung.

But once again, the resourceful locals let nothing go to waste. They collect the yak droppings, mold them into compact shapes (some bearing an uncanny resemblance to Chinese leaders), and dry them for fuel to burn in their homes.

So along these lines, for those of you planning ways to keep warm next winter, I suspect you could do the same with a stockpile of dried chicken McNuggets.

Thomas' features and columns have appeared in more than 200 magazines and newspapers, including the Washington Post, LA Times, Chicago Tribune, Boston Globe, San Francisco Chronicle, and Christian Science Monitor. He can be reached at


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