Bolivia: A Country With No McDonald’s
June 10, 2013
If you traverse the South American nation of Bolivia, from the heights of the Andes Mountains to the Amazon Jungle to the urban streets of Santa Cruz, you’ll never once find a Big Mac or a McNugget. They don’t exist there—and haven’t for about a decade. McDonald’s couldn’t survive in the mountainous country, so in 2002 the global fast-food chain closed its last store.
This is ancient news in Bolivia, of course, but a 2011 documentary about the oddity sent the story around the world and caused many to ask, “What’s Bolivia doing so right that McDonald’s couldn’t make it there?”
The documentary pointed out that one of the main reasons the Golden Arches went bloated belly-up in Bolivia (the first McDonald’s-free Latin-American country) is because Bolivians preferred their traditional foods and food ways to fast food. But Tanya Kerssen, who leads food sovereignty tours in Bolivia and serves as a Research Coordinator for Food First/the Institute for Food and Development Policy, says Bolivians still love hamburgers—definitely not a traditional food—they just prefer to buy them from the thousands of indigenous women (called cholitas) hawking food on the streets.
“People line up eating hamburgers on the street. It’s sort of like a massive, decentralized McDonald’s, controlled by all these indigenous women, mostly,” Kerssen tells TakePart. “They look on these foreign entities with suspicion—and rightly so. They prefer to purchase from, to have a relationship with, people from their own country or community or family.”
Kerssen says this spirit of reciprocity is one of the core principles underlying a nation that has always prioritized local control of its food system. As is the case in peasant cultures around the world, she adds, for Bolivians, food is not a commercial space as it is in developed nations—Bolivia’s food relationships often don’t involve money. Growing a diverse range of crops in the numerous microclimates that comprise the Bolivian Andes—from corn at the lower elevations to potatoes and quinoa above 12,000 feet—farmers take care of each other. Trade flows freely, equipment and labor are shared, and seeds are saved. (Read more)