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Business Case Study Sample In Philippines Difference

Project Year



Southeast Asia



Project Description

This study seeks to examine the financial and economic lives of Philippine indigenous peoples, particularly their gendered utilization of new technologies, such as money as a form of exchange, in ways such as saving, storing, and spending, giving special analytical attention on indigenous women’s economic (in) dependency from men. In addition, this study will investigate the IP’s perceptions about, and experiences with, the burgeoning micro-financial institutions in their communities, with emphasis on the contribution of micro-finance on women’s economic empowerment.


Mary Janet Arnado

About the Researcher(s)

Mary Janet Arnado earned a PhD in Sociology from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University. She is the founding president and CEO of Research Institute for Gender and Women, Inc. Dr. Arnado is the recipient of the REPUBLICA Regional Award in Social Sciences given by the Commission on Higher Education. She also won the Miguel Febres Cordero Research Award in Social Sciences, the highest research honor bestowed by De La Salle University to its faculty. Arnado has held teaching appointments at De La Salle University, Virginia Tech, Xavier University, and Bukidnon State University. She has received grants from national and international organizations, such as the Ford Foundation, Social Science Research Council, and Asian Scholarship Foundation. Her research work has been presented in various conferences in Asia, North America, Europe and Australia.

Synopsis of Research Results

Modernity, gender and money in traditional societies

This paper explores the relationship between modernity and gender in a traditional society, using as a case the informal storing of money among indigenous populations in the Philippines. It examines 1) gender as the interface between tradition and modernity; 2) money as the interface between tradition and modernity; and 3) money as the interface between men and women. In particular, the paper examines the ways modernity reshapes and reworks gender relations by looking at informal money storage which provides evidence of rationality and individualism that are characteristics of modernity; and also indications of tradition such as the house as a site of storage, and relationships and livestock as forms of money. In addition, this study examines money storage as a social process whereby modernity and tradition are inherently intertwined and gendered. Finally, the paper investigates gender as a class and a site of bargaining observed in the ways men and women store their money, where relations can be harmonious or antagonistic inasmuch as men and women share or conceal money from each other to protect their gendered interests in the family.




A descriptive exploratory research employing qualitative strategies was conducted in three selected indigenous communities in the Philippines. These communities include the Bontoc in Sadangga of the Cordillera region, the Tagbanua in Palawan, and the Higaonon in Bukidnon, representing northern, western and southern regions of the country, respectively (see Figure 1). In-depth interviewing with 69 informants is the primary research technique, supplemented by participant observation by three research associates who have worked or were currently working with these three indigenous groups.  Using purposive sampling, 23 informants with the following characteristics were interviewed from each of the three communities: four elderly (2 males, 2 females), two adolescents (1 male and 1 female), three from microfinance organizations, and the remaining 14 informants were household heads and their spouses.


Money as the interface between modernity and tradition

In this study money is defined both in modern and traditional sense, to include cash, cash-convertible assets, and non-monetized relationship of exchange. Cash is in the form of Philippine currency consisting of bills and coins. Cash-convertible assets consist of livestock which are mostly chickens and pigs; cash crops such as rice, corn and vegetables, and forest products such as almaciga resin which is very popular among the Tagbanua. The last category of money, the non-monetized relationship of exchange involves the barter of goods (labor for food; orchids for clothes; rice for salt) and reciprocal social obligations manifested in thanksgiving, wedding, and death.

All households across indigenous groups in this study possess money in these three forms. While cash is not always available, they address their economic needs by using their other stocks of money. Gift and payment of goods and services are expressed in cash and in kind. Sometimes, both are practiced, for example, in addition to cash wage for a day’s work in the farm, the laborer and his family are provided supper by the host in Sadangga. Harvesters may also be paid with a percentage of the harvest. Even cash loans are sometimes paid with goods.


Traditional methods of storing money and wealth

Storing cash among the Philippine indigenous peoples in this study is not a common practice, as they hardly possess sufficient amount of money to get by. Individuals frequently store small amounts of money for short durations. The concept of “lugi”, a Visayan term synonymous to what is generally referred to as “piggy bank” defines the informal cash storing practices of the indigenous peoples. The lugi is made of a wide array of materials, stored in various durations depending on purpose, and provided with different levels of safety measures based on its value.

The informants are more likely to store durable goods, cash crops, and livestock than cash. More important than its monetary value, possesson of carabao or pig among Bontocs is linked to one’s self-worth, as animals are necessary for slaughtering for ritual, celebration, and mourning, as well as for gifts during these occasions. Spending for festivals and celebrations is another mechanism of storing money, this time in relationships.  By spending for others in festivals, weddings, birthdays, and burials, families deposit their money, in the form of food or gifts, in the people within their community. Social spending on food, through festival, wedding, and death, allows individual households huge savings due to the economy of scale.


Figure 2. Money was hidden underneath the plastic wrapper, then covered with lid and the green floor mat. Photo taken by Genevieve Labadan

Gender, modernity and the informal storing of money

The informal storing of monies among the Philippine indigenous peoples is embedded in household gender relations of power, in the same way that gender relations are affected by informal storing. According to Georg Simmel, storing money sustains the potentiality of power associated with the usage of money: “the significance of money coincides with that of power; money, like power is a mere potentiality which stores up a merely subjectively anticipatable future in the form of an objectively existing present” (Simmel 1982, 243). This establishes the potentiality of power by men and women towards each other. Concealment of money from one’s spouse is a strategy to assure oneself of this power, for example, to control the use of material resources for the family.

Money is on the top cause of conflict among Higaonon and Tagbanua couples. In the absence of money, the Higaonon couples are drawn to argument resulting from stress of not being able to provide for the family’s basic needs. When money is available, conflict may also ensue because of gender differences in preferred allocation of money, indicating that indigenous wives actively negotiate with their spouses. Money-related quarrel also deals with blaming each other how money was spent and differential strategies on how to look for money. In addition to the concerns above, marital conflict among Tagbanua couples usually stem from men using their money to get drunk and to engage in gambling.


Money storage as the interface between men and women

Gender shapes practices on informal storing of cash, particularly in terms of duration, location, and purpose of storing. Indigenous women tend to store for short-term duration while men for longer term, as the former address the immediate needs of the family, whereas the latter, the intermediate ones. Women tend to store money within the house, which is their realm of authority and their comfort zone. Women’s stored money is more visible than men’s, and hidden in less fixed state as they often open it to pay for daily needs. On the other hand, because men tend to store money for longer duration than women do, they tend to hide it in more permanent locations, inside their house, in a nearby empty lot, or in the rice granary. Aside from time, the value of money is also considered when storing. The more valuable the money, the more difficult it is to find the stash. Higaonon men for example kept monies in their house under dug cemented floors, inside bamboo house columns, or a well-secured chest.

As their house structure can easily be transgressed by unwanted intruders, such as thieves, spouses, and children, men and women weave a cunning strategy of secrecy, deception, and lies to protect the money they store. Women’s strategies diverge from visibility to invisibility. Coins are stored in a “lugi”or a piggy bank in various forms such as a coke bottle or short bamboo pole. Lugi is more or less stored in visible places in the Higaonon house. Shifting to invisibility mode, indigenous women hide more valuable money bills by mixing them up with other household items and keeping them in clusters, to deceive the prospective thief on the exact location of the money and avoid losing money all at once.

For lack of control on money spending and to keep it safe from the daily money requests of family members, women resort to lying, in a way deceiving family members to believe that there is no more money. Concealment enables the woman to dictate spending, while keeping the man appear outwardly dominant (see also Eroğlu 2009). Indigenous men also conceal money from their wives to maintain the status quo of their dominance over women, and as a strategy in securing the financial future of their family   (see above Figure 2). 


Figure 3. A Higaonon woman storing money in different locations in the house.
*Photo taken by Genevieve Labadan


The paper has examined the relationship between gender and modernity in a traditional society through a case study of informal money storage patterns among the Philippine indigenous population. The study showed that even as indigenous communities are gradually integrated into the mainstream financial system, they continue to maintain an elaborate gendered system of informal storing of money, by hiding cash in various locations inside and outside the house, by raising livestock and planting cash crops, and by fulfilling reciprocal relationship of social obligations through gift giving and spending for celebrations. As such, money is an interface of tradition and modernity in which traditional forms (livestock, relationships, gifts) of money are used side by side the modern form (cash), using one or both types to fulfill the requirements of a purely traditional, purely modern, or both modern and traditional transaction.

Money storage is also the interface of man and woman whereby money is stored in different ways according to gender. Money storage patterns, such as location, duration, mobility and visibility usually differ according to gender. Differences in gendered storage pattern arise from men and women’s varying comfort zones, frequency of spending, and amount of money stored.


Gender is accomplished in the everyday life of storing or saving money, maintaining the traditional culture with gradual input of modern ideas of individuality and empowerment. In this sense, gender is the interface of tradition and modernity, in which modernity subtly reworks traditional gender relations between spouses where money becomes the major source of conflict and where husband and wife conceal money from each other. Concealing money is mostly a woman’s practice, but a few men do it as well, probably an indication of a wife’s influence on the money allocation in the household. Women’s secret kitties and men’s undisclosed dug holes are aimed to protect their gendered interests in the household. With money as an instrument of control, whoever holds the money, controls.


  Figure 4. Visibility and invisibility of money
Bills and coins are displayed in the sari-sari store to facilitate monetary transactions. Below: Money is hidden somewhere between clothing and inside the pillows. Photos taken by Jae Estuar (above) and Anthony Aquino (below).


See Mary Janet Arnado's working paper: Hidden in a Coke Bottle: Modernity, Gender and the Informal Storing of Money in Philippine Indigenous Communities


List of Tables

1. Introduction: Theory and Method

2. American Influence in East Asia

3. McDonald’s in East Asia — The Philippine Example
3.1. Traditional Fast Food in the Philippines
3.2. McDonald’s Enters the Philippines
3.3. Jollibee and McDonald’s Today
3.4. Jollibee and the McDonald’s System
3.5. Fast Food Marketing and Filipino Values
3.6. Jollibee, McDonald’s, and the Philippine Consumers
3.7. Taste – Standardization and Adjustment
3.8. Bread, Rice, and Filipino Politics
3.9. Consumption Patterns: Rice vs. Wheat

4. Findings and Conclusion


Books and Academic Articles

Newspaper, Magazine, and Periodical Articles

Philippine Cookbooks

Appendix in Separate Volume


1. Table 1: McDonald’s and Jollibee Birthday Parties

2. Table 2: Evaluation of Hamburger Meals

1. Introduction: Theory and Method

“Everyone is into fusion now. Interior designers, fashion, food, everything is so fused, no?”

(A Filipino Chef. 28 October 2003)

Two central concepts are relevant to define for the topic of this thesis. Firstly, the connection of food and culture needs to be clarified. How significant is food in the realm of culture? What cultural characteristics can be examined through the study of food? Secondly, the notion of cultural influence needs to be resolved. What determines cultural influence? What effects does the process of cultural influence have?

Food, Culture, and Identity

Food is a day-to-day activity that involves every human being. Daily nutrition intake is essential to keep the vital body functions intact and is therefore a biological necessity. But food is more than that. Unlike animals, human beings transcended the stage in which instincts of survival determine the action of satisfying hunger. Food is bought, prepared, and consumed in every society around the globe. Food is not only basic principle of every economy, the activities around food have created a tremendous spectrum of different ways and meanings amongst all the peoples of the world. This makes food a particularly interesting topic for cultural anthropologists, as Carole Counihan and Penny Van Esterik conclude, “food is life, and life can be studied and understood through food.”[1] Indeed, food as subject is of such interest that Alan Davidson recently published the extensive reference work “Oxford Companion to Food.”[2]

According to anthropologist Ulrich Tolksdorf, the ways and meanings created by humans in-between hunger and its satisfaction are connected in a rather complex manner.[3] Following Talcott Parsons’ system theory, he understands food as open cultural system. This system is constituted of two main parts, the culinary system around the kitchen, and the system of human action in which individuals and groups communicate and interact with each other. In Tolksdorf’s opinion, the importance of this cultural system becomes clear by looking at the enculturation process. A human being is influenced by skills, norms, values, and tastes. Table manners, food practices, and spices educate and form children already during a very early stage of life. According to Tolksdorf, the impact of the cultural system of food is actually more significant than influences of other cultural systems:

Das Ernährungssystem [ist] viel stärker während des Enkulturationsprozesses in der kulturalen Persönlichkeit verankert … als andere kulturelle Systeme (wie z.B. Sprache, Kleidung, Brauchformen usw.).[4]

The deeply rooted connection of food and culture is also observed in another peculiar characteristic.

Although the cultural system of food is a subsystem of the general social system of a society, the mechanisms of food as a social system are neither functionally connected to, nor do they reflect the general social system. As Tolksdorf found out, the cultural system of food is characterized by a “cultural drift,” and thus follows rules determined within the system itself. Changes within society such as industrialization and urbanization, for example, do not directly affect food and food behavior of the people.[5] In contrast, other aspects of material culture such as clothing, housing or means of transportation, have been certainly more affected by industrialization and urbanization. Due to the enculturation process, Tolksdorf argues further, a strong affinity to learned food ways and acquired tastes is formed which is often referred to as “taste conservatism.” This concepts is encountered all over the world and explains, for instance, why German tourists end up craving for their bread and beer during vacations in Italy, and Filipino overseas workers often try to smuggle some bottles of their native shrimp paste bagoong through American and Middle Eastern customs. The adherence to familiar nourishments can also be observed in the process of immigration, as Harvey Levenstein and Stephen Mennell show for the example of European immigrants to the United States (US).[6]

Besides the importance of food in the socialization process of the individual, food is also significant in the formation of group identities. In “We Are What We Eat,” Donna R. Gabacci identifies food habits “as concrete symbols of human culture and identity”[7] and shows how certain foodstuffs and particularly food ways have constituted ethnic and regional identities as well as a national identity in the US. The significance of food and group identity was already mentioned by Russian ethnographer S.A. Tokarev. According to Tokarev, food not only connects people through collective eating, but also segregates them.[8] Food taboos, for example, are encountered in religious contexts, Hindus do not eat beef, Muslims and Jews do not eat pork.[9] Further, and for this study also of relevance, Pierre Bourdieu shows how taste correlates with social class and determines its affiliation.[10]

The study of food in conjunction with group identity is particularly interesting for the topic of this thesis. Since an “American” influence on “Filipino” food culture is examined, the link of food and national identity is of importance. In the formation of a national food culture, the concept of “national dishes” has been of special interest. Eszter Kisbán, for example, found out for the case of Hungary that sauerkraut with meat has played an important role for the construction of a “Hungarian” national identity, whereas the stereotypical dish goulash only characterizes a region.[11] However, an American influence on Philippine “national dishes” is not analyzed, because regional and ethnic culinary influences seem more significant than foreign influences here.

Another very important concept in the study of food was introduced by anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss. According to Lévi-Strauss, food of the “endo-cuisine” is prepared within the domestic sphere and “destined to a small closed group,”[12] such as the family. On the other hand, food prepared in the “exo-cuisine” is meant for public consumption and is, for instance, offered to guests. In his attempt to determine norms that are generally applicable in the social world of cooking, Lévi-Strauss particularly focuses on cooking methods and associates boiling as a method closely connected with the “endo-cuisine,” whereas roasting is mostly used in the “exo-cuisine.” In Tolksdorf’s opinion, Lévi-Strauss’ structural differentiation emphasizes more on the analysis of universally valid conditions of the human mind rather than concrete effects of food in social relations.[13] Thus, Tolksdorf correlates Lévi-Strauss’ definition with the idea of Tokarev who equates the opposition of family and social environment with the distinction of home and outside of the home.[14] This approach narrows the broad idea of Lévi-Strauss’ concept down to the distinction of meals prepared for domestic day-to-day consumption and meals eaten at special occasions and in restaurants. For ethnologist Klaus Roth, this definition of “endo-cuisine” and “exo-cuisine” also helps to analyze the stages of indigenization of foreign nourishments into local cuisines. According to Roth, new and exotic dishes are usually at first encountered in the “exo-cuisine” while adoptions in the “endo-cuisine” are strongly adjusted to the local palate and occur much slower.[15]

Therefore, this study focuses especially on the “exo-cuisine,” food consumed outside home. Albeit influences on the “endo-cuisine” are signs for a deeper cultural impact, the “exo-cuisine” provides a field where a case of cultural influence might be more obvious.

Cultural Influence and American Culture

The intense discussion about the meaning and effects of globalization has resulted in an increasing interest for cultural influences. Within this context, the theory of cultural imperialism has received a lot of attention. Following Immanuel Wallerstein's categories of “core” and “periphery,”[16] economically dominating industrial countries influence developing countries with “First World” messages via the mass media. Due to the media power of the US and its multitude of globally known icons such as Walt Disney’s Mickey Mouse, Hollywood movies, and the NBA, the role of American popular culture has been of particular interest in this process.[17] With the advent of such popular notions as “Coca-Colonization” and “McDonaldization,” the discussion about cultural imperialism also enters the realm of material culture. Although apprehensions of increasing standardizations of local food cultures — resulting in a “world cuisine”[18] — have become popular, anthropologist David Howes supports the thesis of “creolization” or “localization” of material culture. In Howes opinion, standardized and globally marketed products from the “First World” are creatively adapted by “Third World” consumers:

Although Third World people may seem to be manipulated into buying consumer goods which are to, and destructive of, their cultures, in fact, they are actively employing consumer goods to express and forge their own unique cultural identities.[19]

These adaptations and adjustments are very common in the world of food. As Berndt Ostendorf shows for the case of New Orleans, the “creolization” of cuisines also takes place in small regional contexts and always depend on geographical situations and historical developments.[20] In order to determine cultural influences, anthropologist James L. Watson provides a useful definition of culture:

Culture … is not something that people inherit as an undifferentiated bloc of knowledge from their ancestors. Culture is a set of ideas, reactions, and expectations that is constantly changing as people and groups themselves change.[21]

The concepts of cultural imperialism and “creolization” are both significant for the analysis of an American influence on Philippine food culture. Has American food culture taken over local food culture? Are American influences visible in the “exo-cuisine” of the Philippines? Have American dishes even found their way in the local “endo-cuisine”? Or is American culture localized and adjusted to a Filipino national food culture? What aspects of American food culture have been adapted? What aspects have been rejected? On which case can an American influence be illustrated?

Method and Sources

In order to answer these questions, the method of cultural interpretation was applied. According to Clifford Geertz, the analysis of culture “is not an experimental science in search of law but an interpretative one in search of meaning.” However, there are plenty of cultural meanings in a cultural system. Thus, Geertz emphasizes the importance of the systematical analysis of meaning. In Geertz’ opinion, a solid interpretation of culture implies “guessing at meanings, assessing the guesses, and drawing explanatory conclusions from the better guesses.”[22] Ethnographer James P. Spradley also emphasizes the importance of cultural meanings and provides a methodology for their investigation. According to Spradley the researcher must learn how people think and “get inside their heads.” Since everybody learns their own culture “by making inferences,” the researcher has to observe “cultural behavior,” “cultural artifacts,” and has to listen to “speech messages” in order to apply the “same process of inference.” In doing fieldwork, these cultural inferences form the basis for hypotheses which are constantly developed “until the ethnographer becomes relatively certain that people share a particular system of cultural meanings.”[23]

For this cultural analysis various qualitative research methods were employed. Fieldwork was conducted in Metro Manila, the Philippines, from August 25th, 2003 until December 17th, 2003 and from January 25th, 2004 until March 7th, 2004. During this time, data was gathered from various sources: Academic literature about Filipino food culture; open, semi-standardized, problem-focused group discussions and interviews; participant observations, including formal and informal interviews, and surveys; articles from the Philippine press; and Philippine cookbooks. Starting point for the research was Filipino food expert Doreen G. Fernandez who wrote that an American influence on Filipino national food culture is above all visible in “hygienic and scientific foodways” and in popular culture, “lifestyles portrayed in magazines, movies, and newspapers.”[24]

These aspects were followed in semi-standardized group discussions and interviews with members of the Manila upper class. In order to determine the social affiliation, most respondents of individual interviews were asked about their socio-economic class. If not asked, the researcher categorized the respondents according to occupation and material wealth. This was done for all group discussions. Affiliation to social class was determined by socio-economic status. Since this study deals with consumers, a categorization used for market research is helpful. The most widely used method is the socio-economic distinction of AB, C, D, E.[25] While AB are “rich” household, class C is the middle class. D, and E are the “poor” households which comprise about 91 per cent of the population. For this study, the upper class consists of AB, upper C. A second aspect was also considered in this study, the demographic factor age. The focus on the upper class was set since the researcher encountered difficulties otherwise. Firstly, a language barrier was noticed which made formal interviews in English with members of lower classes problematic. Secondly, a foreign researcher seemed too obtrusive and thus caused unnatural interview situations.

5 group discussions and 14 interviews were conducted with a total of 39 respondents (1 group discussion and 2 interviews were not considered due to bad recording).[26] Amongst the interviewees were males, females, mothers, fathers, students, businesspeople, artists, employees, teachers, and chefs — a randomly selected profile of the Manila upper class. 2 respondents were from a province outside of Manila, and another 2 respondents were not Filipino citizens. These semi-standardized group discussions and interviews serve as source for qualitative statements in the search for cultural meanings. They provide information about attitudes, values as well as food habits and preferences of the Manila upper class; particularly group discussions are a useful tool to find out more about collective attitudes, ideologies, and prejudices.[27] Six topics were recurrently addressed: (1) Filipino food and foreign influences in the Manila restaurant scene, (2) food preferences at home and outside, (3) nutritional value of Filipino food, (4) food advertising in the Philippines, (5) language, and (6) food and cultural identity.

In the beginning of the fieldwork, eating-out places of all kinds were frequented during participant observation. After a while, the observation was focused at outlets of McDonald’s and the Filipino fast food chain Jollibee. Although the business concept of McDonald’s is copied by local imitators in various countries, the Philippine company Jollibee seems to be particularly interesting for this study. Jollibee not only sells hamburgers, the enterprise is actually undisputed market leader and one of the biggest companies in the Philippines. Therefore, a comparison of these two restaurants chains was conducted in order to illustrate an American influence on Filipino food culture.

During field observation, two McDonald’s and two Jollibee outlets in Metro Manila were intensively frequented.[28] Various informal conversations with McDonald’s and Jollibee customers were taken into account. Besides observations, four McDonald’s and four Jollibee store managers were questioned about store sales and policies.[29] Moreover, information about current developments were inquired during telephone interviews with public relations officers. Although there is no web-site of McDonald’s Philippines, the McDonald’s international web-site was also helpful to describe general policies of the company. For information about Jollibee, the company’s web-site proved as a detailed source. Information about the marketing and advertising strategies of both companies were given by marketing expert Majo Tomas who worked for both accounts. Interviews with McDonald’s and Jollibee marketing representatives could not be conducted. The possible respondents mentioned not to be familiar enough with the history of McDonald’s and Jollibee. Therefore, magazine and periodical articles provide additional information about the history of these two companies in the Philippines.

Furthermore, articles from newspapers, magazines, and periodicals were used as sources. They provide information about debates and opinions in the Philippine public. Several consumer studies published in periodicals support observations made during participant observation. Finally, Philippine cookbooks were examined to support observations.

Ethnographic research is a field in which the generation of empirical data is highly dependent on the individual perception of the researcher. As James Clifford writes about the aspects of subjectivity and objectivity: “In cultural studies at least, we can no longer know the whole truth, or even claim to approach it.”[30] This research was conducted in the English language and is limited to consumers around Metro Manila. The Filipino language is not spoken by the researcher. Therefore, an important conveyor of cultural meaning was difficult to access.

This study is divided into two main parts. Chapter 2 provides a discussion about the symbolic meaning of McDonald’s, the companies influence in other East Asian countries, and historical aspects about the United States and the Philippines. Chapter 3 deals with traditional Filipino fast food, the comparison of McDonald’s and Jollibee, the localization process of McDonald’s in the Philippines, and food preferences of the Manila upper class.

2. American Influence in East Asia

“McDonald’s culture slowly wiping out indigenous knowledge.”

(Headline in Today. 04 December 2002)

“McDonald’s is also introducing food that has rice combination. They were able to realize that if you want to make money in the country, you have to put rice on it.”

(A Filipino Businessman. 01 December 2003)

The Symbolic Power of McDonald’s

The two citations at the beginning of this chapter indicate what symbolic role the American fast food restaurant chain McDonald’s has today. In short, McDonald’s has become a globally recognized icon, a symbol for “Americana.” The symbolic meaning of its prefix Mc is so powerful that it is, for instance, used to describe other businesses such as Mc Paper for the newspaper USA Today.[31] In Germany, the prefix has even found its way into labor market terminology: Mc Job stands for low-skilled employment in the service sector. Since McDonald’s has become a symbol for American popular culture, the transnational enterprise also faces resistance. In France, for example, McDonald’s has been frequent target for protesting peasants.[32] For globalization critics, McDonald’s is also a symbol for American dominated global capitalism which threatens cultural diversity by spreading a form of “standardized culture.”

Hence, the McDonald’s phenomenon is increasingly noticed in the academic world.[33] Many works focus on the impact of the McDonald’s system on society. In his elaborated study, sociologist George Ritzer analyzes the system of McDonald’s along Max Weber’s theory of rationalization. In Ritzer’s opinion, McDonald’s is deeply intertwined in American means of production like Fordist assembly-line mass production and Taylorist efficiency. Ritzer sees the process of “McDonaldization” very critical and concludes: “I hope that we are able to resist ‘McDonaldization’ and can create instead a more reasonable, more human world.”[34] This outlook of homogenization has become particularly interesting with the entry of McDonald’s into other countries and shifted the attention from analyzing the company to studying its consumers.

Two examples illustrate the anthropological discussion about the effects of “McDonaldization” on cultural diversity. Whereas Gordon Mathews argues that the McDonald’s system of standardization contributes to the development of a “global culture,”[35] his colleague James L. Watson identifies the transnational company as “multilocal corporation” which acts in various “local cultures.”[36] According to Watson, McDonald’s International holds around 50 per cent stake in its East Asian businesses. Further, the local enterprises are basically run by native managers. Watson’s particular interest, though, is the localization process of McDonald’s amongst East Asian consumers. Instead of forming a “global culture,” Watson argues that McDonald’s encounters “local cultures” which adjust the meaning of McDonald’s. Watson defines a “local culture” as “the experience of everyday life as lived by ordinary people in specific localities.”[37] This definition implies that by exporting McDonald’s, the philosophy of its system as well as the hamburgers and French fries meet people shaped by different attitudes, values, and tastes. Since Watson’s concept of local culture particularly involves historically shaped conditions, it is also very useful for this study.

Hence, McDonald’s is interesting in two ways for this work. Firstly, the brand “McDonald’s” has evolved from a business concept to a unique symbol of American culture which incorporates American means of production. Secondly, McDonald’s is still a restaurant that sells food and has therefore meaning for material culture. Thus, this study looks at the production side of McDonald’s in the Philippines as well as the consumer side.

McDonald’s in East Asian Local Cultures

With the end of the Second World War, the United States of American emerged as a superpower on the global political arena. Ever since, American culture, namely American popular culture, has been increasingly exported to other countries.

One important contribution to the export of American culture deals with the localization process of McDonald’s in East Asia. In Watson’s “Golden Arches East” five anthropological case studies, conducted in Beijing, Hong Kong, Taipei, Seoul, and Japan, describe the reception of McDonald’s by local consumers.

One basic finding of Watson and his colleagues is that “societies in East Asia are changing as fast as cuisines — there is nothing immutable or primordial about cultural systems.”[38] New trends are adopted quickly, on the other hand, people get bored just as fast. In these contexts, commodities of popular culture, like Mickey Mouse, Ronald McDonald, or Asian martial arts movies become “deterritorialized”, the place of origin becomes insignificant, the distinction of what is “local” and what is “foreign” becomes impossible.

The key factor for the popularity of McDonald’s in this region is the change of family values assumed by Watson. Through rising incomes, children have become increasingly important as consumers. Financial matters are treated within a smaller family, the conjugal unit, where children receives more attention and thus more purchasing power. McDonald’s in East Asia is, as in many other countries, very popular amongst the youth. In Tokyo, Taipei, and Hong Kong McDonald’s is the most favorite place to meet and be with friends and family for the majority of young people.

Fast food restaurants present themselves to the consumer in a distinct manner. There is a high degree of standardization and industrialization in the production process which means that the selection of food is standardized, the service becomes fast. Watson specifies the producer/consumer relationship of a fast food restaurant as a contract.

The company promises to provide fast, reliable, inexpensive service if the consumer agrees to pay in advance, eat quickly, and leave without delay, thereby making room for others.[39]

Consumers in society unfamiliar with this contract might behave differently.

An important aspect of consumer discipline is the queue on the counter. In East Asia, this social institution is generally followed by McDonald’s customers. In fact, standing in front of the counter actually provides a sense of equality. In Taipei, Hong Kong, and Beijing this “egalitarian model of fast food service” is favored, because it sets an informal atmosphere.

Friendliness has become a commodity of American fast food chains. According to Watson, this is not necessarily expected and appreciated by customers in Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Korea. In contrast, cleanliness and hygiene are more significant for McDonald’s clientele in East Asia. In urban areas, McDonald’s is highly acclaimed for its sanitation standards. This puts high pressure on traditional eating places in Taipei, Beijing, Seoul, and Hong Kong. Local street foods have been increasingly refused by the upper and rising middle class due to sanitation concerns.

In all five cases, Watson concludes, McDonald’s was perceived at its introduction to the market as “exotic import.” After some time, consumers were adjusting to the foreign food and distinct experience McDonald’s offers. Main features of the fast food system, like the queue, self-service, and self-seating are adapted by fast food consumers in East Asia. Rejected, on the other hand, is fast consumption. Space is treated differently. Children and teenagers appreciate the fun and familiarity McDonald’s offers and use it as “leisure centers.” Parents value predictability and sanitation standards. However, the McDonald’s philosophy is interpreted differently in each setting.

Watson’s contributor Yunxiang Yan sees McDonald’s in Beijing as a “classical case of the ‘localization’ of transnational systems.”[40] In the beginning, McDonald’s advantage is the reception of Chinese consumers as something new and exotic. Although the McDonald’s policies in sanitation and cleanliness are welcomed, the company has to adjust to the local taste.

According to Watson, McDonald’s in Hong Kong displays how the transnational can be local. However, transnational culture is not only consumed, but increasingly produced. Hence, Hong Kong’s lifestyle “can be best described as postmodern, postnationalist, and flamboyantly transnational.”[41]

In Taiwan, as David Y.H. Wu concludes, McDonald’s has not threatened indigenous food ways. With the entry of McDonald’s the local restaurant scene has changed, particularly the standards in hygiene and sanitation. Although hamburgers and French fries are already “local” to Taiwanese youth, “the two modes of consumption — hyperlocal versus transnational”[42] — coexist.

In Sangmee Bak’s opinion, the consumption of McDonald’s hamburgers in South Korea is “related to a general ambivalence toward achieving a globalized lifestyle and in the process losing one’s identity as a Korean.”[43] Yet, Korean consumers transformed McDonald’s outlets into “local” institutions.

According to Emiko Ohnunki-Tierney, McDonald’s has hardly had an impact on Japanese food preferences. Although eating at McDonald’s certainly was a fashion amongst the Japanese youth, it has become “a routine of everyday, working life.”[44]

A Shared History: The United States in the Philippines

The historical connection of the US and the Philippines is quite long and rather deep. In 1899, the US annexed the Philippines as colony after the Spanish-American War of 1898. In 1935, the Philippines were granted a Commonwealth status and in 1946 the country gained full sovereignty and became independent. New institutions were established in Philippine society under American rule. Besides the political system, the educational system was re-modeled after the American example in the early 1900s. This form of colonial education showed early results, as the amount of students increased 500 per cent in one generation. By the 1930s, 27 per cent of Filipinos already spoke English, the new formal language of instruction.[45] For political scientist David Wurfel, this colonial education has had a mutual effect on Filipino political culture. Although the American efforts to promote a national identity through the educational system resulted in intense “emotional ties to Americans” amongst Filipinos, increasing disappointment about American policies after the Second World War has led to anti-Americanism. Thus, Filipino nationalism evolved amongst middle-class intellectuals and political elites which spread to the masses in the early 1980s.[46]

The most prominent and radical cultural critic is Renato Constantino who speaks of the “Miseducation of the Filipino” by the American colonial master.[47] In Constantino’s opinion,

education became miseducation because it began to de-Filipinize the youth, taught them to regard American culture as superior to any other, and American society as the model par excellence for Philippine society.[48]

According to Wurfel, the impact of nationalism on another important aspect of Filipino political culture is questionable. “Patterns of trust and obligation” are decisive in Filipino politics. These patterns are very strong in family and kinship relationships. Therefore, “nationalism has not created a sense of community strong enough to foster mutual trust between persons without dyadic ties” which means that the people in power also remain in power.[49] Wurfel argues similarly in the case of language. In 1970, English as language of instruction was constricted and Filipino (the national language based on the regional Tagalog) was promoted in public schools. Since “without an effective command of English no Filipino can enter the upper middle class,” Wurfel sees a widening gap in the social strata. Indeed, elite private schools continued to teach mainly in English.[50] Therefore, the Philippine upper class, the ruling elite in politics, economics, and culture, is frequently criticized by pro-Filipino intellectuals to “downgrade the Filipino” and aspire after “Western” culture.[51] An aspect which recurs in the description of marketing strategies in the Philippine “exo-cuisine.”

The deep American impact certainly also plays a role in Philippine national food culture. But does McDonald’s threaten the local food culture? A first step to answer this question is to take a closer look at traditional Filipino fast food and its social world.

3. McDonald’s in East Asia — The Philippine Example

“I took up in history that people before went to school because the Americans told them that you can be higher.

(A Filipina Student. 10 October 2003)

3.1 Traditional Fast Food in the Philippines

“Actually, your common Filipino really eats anything that moves.”

(A Filipino Chef. 28 October 2003)

The term fast food certainly became universally known with the worldwide spread of McDonald’s. However, McDonald’s solely stands for the American interpretation of convenient quick service food. Countries and regions have distinct fast food traditions in their culinary landscape, sold at markets and on streets. For instance quesadillas in Mexico, ramen noodles in Japan, or bratwurst in Germany are served fast and meant to be eaten on the go.

In the Philippines, there is a very vital traditional fast food scene. The streets of Manila are filled with vendors who carry all kinds of snacks in aluminum containers and baskets. Further, small food stalls are lined up one after the other on busy streets. These vendors are active during day and nighttime. Food that is sold on Philippine streets is commonly known as streetfood.[52] According to food expert Fernandez, streetfood in the Philippines is more than just a practical need, it is a “lifestyle.”[53] Although paintings of the early 19th century are the first historical evidences of the streetfood tradition, Fernandez assumes that this cultural form was practiced already in pre-colonial times. In Fernandez’ opinion, the nature of quick and convenient food offered and consumed in the street is deeply rooted in Philippine culture. The Filipino understanding of a meal is neither specifically bound to time, space, nor character. Thus, it is not unusual to eat out in the open. Since the meal at home has not to be consumed indoors, a restaurant meal is neither. The agricultural nature of the Philippines has left the spirit of a strong sense of commensality. Due to high dependency, the idea of family and community is understood as equal in the rural setting. This communal mentality was frequently expressed by extending the home to the streets in order to socialize with the community. This provincial idea is still present in Philippine urban areas which are the centers of the streetfood lifestyle.[54]

Nowadays, there are many kinds and varieties of streetfoods. According to food expert Edilberto N. Alegre, streetfood is meant to be eaten on the spot, either as “stand-up” or “sit-down” food.[55] Food that is consumed while standing is usually not considered as a full meal, but as a snack. The two most common snacks are fishballs and barbecues. Fishballs are prepared on a pushcart equipped with a stove. The customer pins the deep-fried fish chips, dips it into the preferred sauce, and eats it right besides the cart. A satisfying snack of ten fishballs only costs P20.[56] On the streets of Manila, small steaming barbecue grills are encountered at every street corner. Mostly pork, and all parts of the chicken are offered. One of the most popular items, isau (grilled chicken or pork intestines), is also the cheapest. One stick costs P10. A whole culture has developed around the street barbecues which became popular during the economic recession in the early 1980s. “Pop euphemisms,” to use Alegre’s term, were assigned to the various barbecued items. Chicken feet, for example, are called “Adidas,” chicken wings “PAL” (Philippine Airlines), and pigs’ ears “Walkman.”[57]

Sit-down eating places are more expensive than the stand-up food, a regular meal costs between P30 and P40. The places usually have some sort of fixed structure, although quite often dilapidated. The stalls are commonly know as carinderias and offer snacks, but especially regular meals that are prepared in advance and re-heated after ordering.[58] The usual fair are native Filipino dishes like adobo, sinigang, and longganiza served with rice. Small carinderias are an extension of the household. Home cooked food is sold to earn an extra income. What is not sold can be used for home consumption.[59] Streetfood vending is an economic need in the Philippines. It is a small enterprise in which little money is invested to buy the products for the day. At the end of the day, enough profit has materialized to purchase the supplies for the next day, plus a little extra cash. Thus, this accepted informal sector of the economy provides important income, especially for the urban poor.[60]


[1] Counihan, Carole, and Penny Van Esterik, eds., Food and Culture: A Reader (New York: Routledge, 1997), 1.

[2] Davidson, Alan. The Oxford Companion to Food (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999).

[3] Tolksdorf, Ulrich, “Strukturalistische Nahrungsforschung,” Ethnoligia Europaea 9 (1976):64-85.

[4] Tolksdorf, Ulrich, “Nahrungsforschung,” in Grundriß der Volkskunde, edited by Rolf W. Brednich (Berlin: Reimer, 1988), 237. For a detailed psychological study on the enculturation process of food see Capaldi, Elizabeth D., ed, Why We Eat What We Eat (Washington D.C.: American Psychological Association, 1996).

[5] Teuteberg, Hans J., and Günter Wiegelmann, Der Wandel der Nahrungsgewohnheiten unter dem Einfluß der Industrialisierung (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1972). This example is used by Tolksdorf (1976).

[6] Levenstein, Harvey, “The Food Habits of European Immigrants to America: Homogenization or Hegemonization?” in Essen und kulturelle Identität, edited by Hans J. Teuteberg et al. (Berlin: Akademie, 1997), 465-472; Mennell, Stephen, “The Culinary Culture of Europe Overseas,” in Hans J. Teuteberg et al. (1997), 459-464.

[7] Gabbaci, Donna R., We Are What We Eat (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1998), 8.

[8] Tokarev, S.A., “Von einigen Aufgaben der ethnographischen Erforschung der materiellen Kultur,” Ethnologia Europaea 6 (1972): 165-166.

[9] Harris, Marvin, “The Abominable Pig,” in Carole Counihan and Penny van Esterik, 67-79.

[10] Bourdieu, Pierre, Die feinen Unterschiede: Kritik der gesellschaftlichen Urteilskraft (Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, 1982).

[11] Kisbán, Eszter, “Dishes as Samples and Symbols: National and Ethnic Markers in Hungary,” in Hans J. Teuteberg et al. (1997), 204-211.

[12] Lévi-Strauss, Claude, “The Culinary Triangle,” in Carole Counihan and Penny van Esterik, 30. The original publication is published as “Le triangle culinaire,” in L’Arc 26 (1965): 19-29.

[13] Tolksdorf, “Strukturalistische Nahrungsforschung,” 73-74.

[14] Tokarev, S.A., “Von einigen Aufgaben der ethnographischen Erforschung der materiellen Kultur,” 175.

[15] Roth, Klaus, “Türkentrank, Gulyás, Joghurt, Döner: Stereotypen in der europäischen Esskultur,” in Vom Schwarzwald bis zum Schwarzen Meer, edited by Valeria Heuberger et al. (Frankfurt a.M.: Lang, 2001), 47.

[16] Wallerstein, Immanuel, The Modern World System (New York: Academic Press, 1974).

[17] See Schiller, Herbert I., Communication and Cultural Domination (Armonk: M.E. Sharpe, 1976); Tomlinson, John, Cultural Imperialism (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1991); Tunstall, Jeremy, The Media Are American (London: Constable, 1977).

[18] Goody, Jack, “Industrial Food: Towards the Development of a World Cuisine,” in Carol Counihan and Penny Van Esterik, 339-356.

[19] Howes, David, ed., Cross-Cultural Consumption: Global markets, local realities (New York: Routledge, 1996), 178-179.

[20] Ostendorf, Berndt, “’Jambalaya, Crawfish Pie, File Gumbo’: The Creolizing Cuisines of New Orleans,” in Eating Culture: The Poetics and Politics of Food, edited by Tobias Döhring, Markus Heide, and Susanne Mühleisen, Vol. 106, American Studies (Heidelberg: Winter, 2003), 33-51.

[21] Watson, James L., ed., Golden Arches East: McDonald’s in East Asia (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1997), 8.

[22] Geertz, Clifford, The Interpretation of Cultures (New York: Basic Books, 1973), 20.

[23] Spradley, James P., Participant Observation (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1980), 10.

[24] Fernandez, Doreen G., “Colonizing the Cuisine: The Politics of Philippine Foodways,” in Tikim: Essays on Philippine Food and Culture (Manila: Anvil, 1994), 225.

[25] Arroyo, Dennis M., “The Usefulness of the ABCDE Market Research System: A Means to Check Social Welfare and Class Attributes,” Social Weather Bulletin 90, no. 11/12 (June 1990): 1-16.

[26] The original recordings are included on a CD-ROM in the appendix along with the edited transcripts.

[27] Mayring, Philipp, Einführung in die qualitative Sozialforschung (Weinheim: Beltz, 2002), 76-80.

[28] McDonald’s at Katipunan Road and Matalino Street; Jollibee at Katipunan Road and East Avenue.

[29] In addition to the store managers of the four already mentioned stores, store managers of two McDonald’s outlets, Tomas Morato Avenue and Aurora Boulevard, and of two Jollibee outlets, Kamias Street and Aurora Boulevard, agreed to unrecorded interviews.

[30] Clifford, James, “Introduction: Partial Truths,” in Writing Culture: The Poetics and Politics of Ethnography, edited by James Clifford and George E. Marcus (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1986), 25.

[31] Ritzer, George, The McDonaldization of Society, (Thousand Oaks, London: Pine Forge Press, 1993), 4.

[32] Fantasia, Rick, “Drei Sterne für McDonald’s: Amerika in unseren Köpfen,” Le Monde Diplomatique (dt. Ausgabe), 12 May 2000.

[33] Here a selection: Barber, Benjamin R., Jihad vs. McWorld (New York: Times Books, 1995); Fishwick, Marshall, ed., Ronald Revisited: The World of Ronald McDonald (Bowling Green: Bowling Grenn University Press, 1983); Leidner, Robin, Fast Food, Fast Talk: Service Work and Routinization of Everyday Life (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993); Love, John F., McDonald’s: Behind the Arches (New York: Bantam Books, 1986); Reiter, Ester, Making Fast Food (Montreal: McGill Queens’ University Press, 1991).

[34] Ritzer, The McDonaldization of Society, 187.

[35] Mathews, Gordon, Global Culture/Individual Identity: Searching for Home in the Cultural Supermarket (New York: Routledge, 2000); for a detailed discussion of global culture see Featherstone, Mike, ed., Global Culture: Nationalism, Globalization and Modernity (London: Sage, 1990).

[36] Watson, Golden Arches East, 10-14.

[37] Ibid, 9.

[38] Watson, Golden Arches East, 10.

[39] Watson, Golden Arches East, 27.

[40] Watson, Golden Arches East, 72.

[41] Ibid., 108.

[42] Watson, Golden Arches East, 135.

[43] Ibid., 159.

[44] Ibid., 181.

[45] Wurfel, David, Filipino Politics: Development and Decay (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1988), 8-11.

[46] Ibid, 25.

[47] Constantino, Renato, The Filipinos in the Philippines and Other Essays (Quezon City: Malaya Books, 1966), 39-65.

[48] Constantino, Renato, Identity and Consciousness: The Philippine Experience (Quezon City: Malaya Books, 1974), 39.

[49] Wurfel, Filipino Politics, 35.

[50] Ibid.,44-46.

[51] Mangahas, Mahar, “The Philippine Social Climate,” Philippine Studies 44, (2nd qu. 1996): 271. See also e.g. Cristobal, Adrian, “What is a Filipino?” Philippine Graphic, 31 August 1998.

[52] An equivalent of the term in the Filipino language was not found in the literature, not one informant knew of a translation either.

[53] Fernandez, “Balut to Barbecue: Philippine Streetfood,” in Tikim, 3-13.

[54] Ibid, 13.

[55] Alegre, Edilberto N., “Stand-up, Sit-down food,” in Doreen G. Fernandez and Edilberto N. Alegre, Sarap: Essays on Philippine Food (Manila: Mr. & Ms. Publ., 1988), 171-175.

[56] Currency exchange rates during February 2004 are approximately: US$1.00 = Philippine Peso P55; €1.00 = P68.

[57] Alegre, “Stand-up, Sit-down food,” in Fernandez and Alegre, Sarap, 173.

[58] Besides carinderias, there are also turo-turos and panciterias. Since these versions are considered as extensions of the household, they are included within the term carinderia throughout this paper.

[59] Fernandez, “From Balut to Barbecue,” in Tikim, 5.

[60]“Streetfood sustains urban homes,” Business Daily, 20 August 1997.