Month: September 2014



Barcelona. Istanbul. Paris. Rome.

I’ve visited these four cities in the past two years, and sampled for myself each with their own distinctive and rich food cultures. Each is filled with a plethora of markets, restaurants and cafes. As a food enthusiast, I have trawled through spice bazaars, lamb kebab in hand, sat on the end of piers eating sea-fresh crab, sampled authentic Roman pizza while wandering alongside the Coliseum and scooped out of their shells garlic-scented snails in a French bistro.

And on day 2 I walked into a McDonalds and ordered a Big Mac.

Why do I do this? What possesses me to forgo all that authentic, local cuisine for a meal I am so accustomed to? I can (and do) have a McDonalds any time I want in the UK. As I write this, I am a mere 20 minutes away from a McDonalds. Yet surely, when I am on holiday, I should experience the native food of the country I’m in, and not succumb to the Golden Arches? Does it not speak of my cultural ineptitude, the fact that I can’t last so long as a week away from my beloved burgers, French fries and chicken McNuggets?

The tendency for me to walk into a McDonalds despite myself on these occasions has often amused and baffled me. Could it be that I am simply scared of trying new foreign food? On seeing a McDonalds in another country, it becomes more than a fast food chain- it becomes a symbol of a reliable food. McDonalds is the wearer traveller’s comfort blanket- a safe haven from the uncertainty of foreign tap water, poorly translated menus and unaccredited hygiene standards. The core to the McDonalds brand is its reliability. Whatever time, wherever you are, when you see a McDonalds, you can rely on the fact that a Big Mac will taste like a Big Mac. And that is true for any McDonalds, anywhere else in the world.


Think about that. This reliability of product delivery in food is unique and unprecedented- think of the logistical difficulty of being able to deliver exactly the same product across cultures, across market conditions, and with different levels of local resources. It is truly impressive.

Now the thing is, I love trying new foods. I have no real issue with eating off the beaten track- in side-street restaurants, from market stalls and all that malarkey. I don’t run to McDonalds because I don’t feel safe eating anywhere else. So I don’t think that’s the reason.

Some would argue that the ubiquity of McDonalds globally is a symbol of cultural homogenisation, and the fact that I can be in almost any country in the world and have almost exactly the same food experience is a bad thing. The reason I enter into such establishments, the logic goes, is because I am culturally naive and, further, arrogant that nothing I sample locally could ever usurp the superiority of my beloved Filet O’ Fish. I am a Western traveller with an unsophisticated palate and no more.

I don’t really buy that either. I don’t eat McDonalds as a replacement to a local meal, rather in conjunction with it- swinging by a McDonalds to refuel rather than actively choosing it instead. McDonalds is simply there, when I’m hungry, and will suffice. And, well, what is really wrong with there being McDonalds restaurants across the world? If the demand is there, does it not seem reasonable for McDonalds operate? Even the mighty McDonalds will have to open a few more restaurants around the world before they risk threatening the global food landscape.

Of course I go on holiday to eat food I’m not used to. Of course the whole point of going abroad is to broaden your horizons, experience new things and come back home renewed, refreshed, and with a new perspective.

But sometimes, I just can’t help myself. Call it cultural fatigue. Call it capitalist dominance. Call it whatever.

Screw it- I’m supersizing the next one.




Living and consuming in the 21st century is a minefield of moral dilemmas. On the one hand we have an urge to buy the latest, greatest and cheapest products available, but must also contend with nagging doubts about the environmental and ethical impact of our consumption. Therefore the rise of the virtuous consumer, someone who aims to buy from companies that are “the good guys”, is a phenomena which all brands should be mindful. Consumers are looking for guidance as to which goods they can consume “guilt-free”; and in a world of increasingly long and complex supply chains, brands which can offer consumers a clear indication of their credentials could build a loyal following.

Below are three companies which are helping to assuage feelings of guilt and enable us to lead more virtuous lives:

Reducing environmental impact: Miya’s Sushi

Miya’s Sushi in Connecticut, US is a great example of a restaurant living by the mantra of only serving what is local. Chefs at this restaurant create dishes made from plants and animals which are non-native and invasive to their local ecosystem. By using these ingredients, customers are in fact engaging in a form of gourmet pest control and are helping to reduce the destructive impact these creatures have on local habitats! On the Invasive Species Menu includes dishes such as Kiribati Sashimi, which is made from Lionfish, Le Soupe du Mean Greenies, made from European Green crabs, and Knot Your Mother’s Lemonade, containing the notorious Japanese Knotweed.

Reducing human rights violations: Sustain condoms

When a clothes factory in Bangladesh collapsed due to shoddy construction in April 2013, killing 1,129 people, the impact our buying habits have on workers in other countries was brought into sharp relief. Sustain condoms, are the first sustainable, fair trade, Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified condom brand released in the United States. In what may be news to many, traditional condom production is rife with child labour and human rights violations associated with latex production. By marketing a product that solves these previously unheard of issues, Sustain condoms may encourage other big name condom brands to improve their ethical policy too.

Reducing animal cruelty in food production: Chipotle

Chipotle released this enchanting advert in September 2013, designed to highlight their superior animal welfare practices. In the ad, the Scarecrow protagonist is disheartened by the way food is made, and decides to grow and sell produce himself. Chipotle here are positioning themselves against the big fast food corporations and highlighting their superior animal welfare standards, which would certainly make me feel less guilty when tucking into a burrito!

(Originally posted on The Value Engineers blog on November 25th  2013)


On hearing the news that TFL may sell off the names of some stations to corporations, I wondered what a tube map covered in brands would look like. I’ve put together this tube map (positioning as far as possible brands which seem appropriate to the locations they would be taking over!) and would love to hear your thoughts on whether you think I’ve got it right. Is Burberry an appropriate sponsor for Knightsbridge? Is Google the Euston of brands?





And what kind of tube experience would you expect from Harley Davidson? Jack Daniels? Samsung? Would you prefer having a station sponsored by Aston Martin on your doorstep or one by Marks & Spencer?

(Originally posted on The Value Engineers blog on November 19th 2013)