Subway Surpasses McDonald's, Conquers World

What is American mega-fast food doing to local food? How and why do consumers in countries with delicious local breads even bear to eat American fast food with its horrific cringe-worthy breads?
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Slovenia's first Burger King opened today in Ljubljana.

According to the Slovenian Press Agency, "Fast food chain Burger King will open its first restaurant in Slovenia in Ljubljana's commercial district BTC City on Thursday. Burger King restaurants are expected to spread to other major cities in Slovenia already this year."

Meanwhile, the Wall Street Journal reported yesterday that Subway has just surpassed McDonald's in the number of restaurants it has opened around the world.

Subway now has 33,749 restaurants in 95 countries, compared to McDonald's 32,737 outposts worldwide. These figures were revealed in a Securities and Exchange Commission filing late last month, according to the WSJ.

Having already outnumbered McDonald's restaurants in the US nine years ago, Subway went global -- way global. With 199 restaurants in China now, Subway plans to have 500 by 2015. The WSJ adds:

Subway has achieved its rapid growth, in part, by opening outlets in non-traditional locations such as an automobile showroom in California, an appliance store in Brazil, a ferry terminal in Seattle, a riverboat in Germany, a zoo in Taiwan, a Goodwill store in South Carolina, a high school in Detroit and a church in Buffalo, New York.

Should we be happy or horrified when American fast-food chains expand exponentially around the world? Yes, it creates jobs. But in the bigger picture: does every new Subway, BK, or McDonald's supplant some humble mom-and-pop that was not only indie but sold local food? We already know that the insurgence of American fast food has demonstrably raised obesity rates far and wide, creating obesity-related public-health problems in parts of the world where none existed before.

China is now fighting obesity... In Beijing, 27.8% of children surpass the standard weight guidelines. By the end of 2000, the obesity rate of male students in Beijing reached 15%, doubling that of 1990... Currently, there are tens of millions of people suffering from obesity in China; the number of diabetics is increasing by 3,000 a day; and that of hypertensive patients, who exceed 100 million, is rising at an annual rate of 2.5%. The latter is undoubtedly the result of the high sodium content contained in fast food.

That's bad enough. But -- burger by burger, sub by sub -- what is American mega-fast food doing to local food? In my own travels, I have eaten at a McDonald's near the Spanish Steps in Rome (because it has a salad bar) and at another in Shenzhen, China (to avoid a sudden downpour), and at several Burger Kings in Germany (because at the time, I couldn't afford actual German restaurants). All of them used the exact same types of buns as do American fast-food places: limp, faintly sweet, hyperprocessed, mass-produced. It seems extruded, rather than actually baked.

How and why do consumers in countries with delicious traditional local breads even bear to eat -- much less embrace -- American fast food with its horrific cringe-worthy breads? Slovenia, for example, is home to scrumptiously flaky nut bread known as potiza, braided wedding bread, and other yeasty delights. What will Slovenians think as they bite into their first Subway sandwiches, made with comparatively soulless and squashy bread?

Yes, with over a dozen varieties on offer -- from garlic bread to oat bread to "Italian" bread and beyond -- Subway tries. But if I had grown up eating real baguettes or ciabattas or roggenbrot or crusty Greek psomi instead of Wonder Bread and supermarket bagels, what could ever compel me to buy sandwiches made on these sad surrogates?

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