McDonald Ka Pakistan
Pakistan has much to be proud of. It is therefore strange that it places so much emphasis on displaying missiles and McDonald’s restaurants, as if these were its only two major achievements. Emerging from Karachi Airport. even before one can spot one’s friends or relatives, one is greeted by the sight of a monstrous junk food joint , plonked right in the middle of CAA’s most prestigious real estate – the airport parking lot. Likewise, the finest opening spot on the Clifton Beach is occupied by an environmental sore thumb, a McDonald’s restaurant, merrily multiplying the vehicular traffic, noise and emissions at the beach. Landing at Islamabad on the other hand, one would find the militant replicas of ‘Ghouris’ and ‘Chagais’ , that stand out in sharp contrast to what would other wise be a quiet and peaceful city. Recently it dawned upon the city’s care taking authority, the CDA, that it has more missiles than McDonald’s, and needs to provide at least one McDonald’s for each installed missile replica. It has therefore decided to upgrade the Capital by installing on priority basis, a McDonald’s restaurant at Islamabad’s most serene and beautiful location, the F-9 Park. Clearly the Missiles and McDonald’s, like the two sides of the same coin, have much in common to offer. Both give an artificial feeling of satiation, both give a false sense of power and progress, both are a burden on foreign exchange, both are bad for health and both cause environmental degradation.
Before we come to the specific issue of why the Islamabad F-9 Park in particular and Pakistan in general should stop planting McDonald’s, let us look at some basic facts. The food-industry’s global advertising budget is $40bn, a figure greater than the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of 70% of the world’s nations. For every $1 spent by the World Health Organization on preventing the diseases caused by western fast food diets, more than $500 is spent by the food industry promoting these diets. For countries with transitional economies (such as in Eastern Europe), for every $100 invested in fruit and vegetable production, over $1,000 is being invested in soft drinks and confectionery. So the people of this globe are under a mammoth life-threatening attack by high-calorie, low-nutrient foods and drinks operators, whose sole aim is to generate enough profits for themselves and enough downstream business for the pharmaceutical industry. After all some one must treat the resulting obesity, diabetes , cardiac arrests and the diet related cancers. The less industrialized countries and the teenagers are the special targets, as indicated by the phenomenal growth of McDonald’s restaurants between 1991 to 2001. ( 0 to 103 in South Africa, 11 to 503 in the Middle East / North Africa, 1,458 to 6,748 in Asia, 212 to 1,581 in Latin America and 15 to 631 in Central and Eastern Europe.)
Equally hazardous ( if not more) are the sugar laden fizzy drinks. With every one glass of a benign looking social drink (a Pepsi or a Coke), you are also unconsciously pumping in 6 teaspoons of pure sugar. Together, Pepsi and Coca-Cola spend over $2.2 billion on advertising in a single year. Recognising that advertising directed at young children is per se manipulative, many countries are putting in place preventive (in fact protective) regulations to avoid the onslaught of junk foods and drinks. Canada has banned all fizzy drinks in schools and replaced them with milk and juices. The Canadian province of Quebec has for the past two decades prohibited all advertising directed at children under the age of 13. Sweden does not permit advertising aimed at children under 12. In Australia there is a ban on all advertising during pre-school children’s programmes, while schools are ad-free zones in Japan. School canteens in UK, are no longer allowed to serve cheap bangers or burgers, and vending machines have to sell healthier options instead of crisps, chocolate and fizzy drinks. Many neighbouring Indian states ( Karnataka, Gujrat, Central Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhatisgarh) have banned soft drinks from schools, state offices, hospitals and canteens, while Kerala has gone a step ahead by placing an embargo on sale and production of Pepsi and soft drinks.
The F-9 Park does not deserve to be disfigured by addition of a McDonald’s restaurant. The Park is already being messed-up by the raw sewage effluent coming from the affluent E-9 sector. Why are we in a rush to inaugurate yet more junk food joints, and convert our finest public spaces into icons of corporate greed. Does the public know that these burger and fizzy drink restaurants earn in local currency and remit money to their corporates in dollars. So every burger that we eat and every soft drink that we drink, results in a part of our foreign exchange promptly flying back to US. Finally there is the issue of environmental degradation caused by setting up fast food joints at public places. Has an Environmental Impact Assessment study been carried out for the McDonald’s restaurant proposed for F-9 Park. Has it incorporated inputs from community and the stake holders. Thousands of households in Islamabad chuck their untreated sewage into nearby slopes or ‘nullahs’. Instead of creating more sources of pollution, should the CDA not give first priority to collection, treatment, re-use and disposal of its sewage, hazardous and non hazardous wastes. Can the citizens of Islamabad come together to push for a ban on Coke, Pepsi, McDonalds, KFCs, and other high-calorie, low-nutrient foods and drinks from all schools, hospitals, parks and government offices of this great capital city.