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Fast Food: Can Russians Afford It? Posted by on Sep 3, 2014 in Culture, Russian food, Russian life

When I was growing up, I had heard of McDonald’s but had never been to one. When I first returned to Russia back in 2006, I was greatly surprised at the number of fast food restaurants that could be found. You may expect to see them in a large city like Moscow – they have everything there – but to see them in smaller cities was strange.

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According to Euromonitor International, “in 2012, fast food was the fastest growing channel in current value terms with Russian value foodservice.” Russia now has a rapidly-growing taste for western fast food. This means that for some Russians, disposable income is now in their possession. As I stated in an earlier blog, this is a double-edged sword because, we in the west are well aware of the dangers that fast food possesses; Russians may not be as aware yet. They likely understand that eating this type of food is not a wise choice, but they may not understand just how dangerous the food is. They may also not understand what the fast food industry has done to farming in terms of genetically modifying the food to produce higher yields.

Not too surprisingly, McDonald’s was the first fast food chain to plant itself into the fertile Russian soil back in 1990. Pushkin Square, located in central Moscow, saw huge lines filled with eager citizens. Ronald McDonald now has hundreds of establishments set up all over the country. Other fast food chains like Burger King, Domino’s, Taco Bell, Papa John’s, Carl’s Jr., and more, are all expanding as quickly as the Russian waistlines.

According to a New York Times (1) article in 2011, Russians earn less money than Americans each year, $7,236 compared with $43,529, but they have more money left over after paying expenses because they do not carry the high level of debt that many Americans do. This means that the fast food franchises can often charge more money than they otherwise would in America for the same products. The Business Insider (2) posted an article in which they stated that the average American spends $6.50 on a fast food meal and a Russian spends $8.92. A pizza with “the works” at Papa John’s costs almost $7 more in Moscow than it would in America. Ironically, according to a Moscow Times (3) article, Wendy’s is pulling out of Russia due to problems with the new management’s “lack of interest in the Russian market.”

As one that has been in America for over 10 years, I have eaten at many of the fast food franchises, but I do not really enjoy the experience. If I do eat fast food, it is simply for convenience – as it is for many. I can see why so many Americans eat as these places. People have long and arduous commutes to work; they have families to feed after working long hours. In many cases, it is simply cheaper and more convenient to feed a family at McDonald’s than it is to buy groceries and cook dinner. Even though I would not feed my family this type of food very often, I can understand why many Americans do so. Things are not quite the same in Russia though. Though Bob Dylan poetically stated, “the times they are a changing.”

Normally when I travel abroad, the local cuisine is one of the pleasures I cannot wait to indulge in. On a recent trip to Moscow, I saw so many fast food franchises that I could have mistakingly thought I was in America. Though I do not know if this is happening yet, I could foresee the vast array of fast-food franchises growing in number to the point that they force many privately-owned restaurants out of business – in a similar manner to how Walmart has done its part in helping close small businesses in American communities. It would be a sad day when you have to search far and wide to find local Russian cuisine in Moscow. It makes me wonder what will happen in Russia as the population, which already ranks fourth in obesity in the world, grows more and more unhealthy. Would the government make the Russian people pay for their own healthcare? Russians may be willing to pay the price to eat the food but do they count the cost?
1. http://www.nytimes.com/2011/08/04/business/global/russia-becomes-a-magnet-for-american-fast-food-chains.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

2. http://www.businessinsider.com/russia-fast-food-mcdonalds-2011-8

3. http://www.themoscowtimes.com/business/article/u-s-fast-food-chain-wendy-s-leaves-russia/504237.html

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About the Author: Jenya

Born in Russia, I spent the first twenty years of my life in Orenburg, Russia and Mogilev, Belarus. For the last eleven years, I've lived in New Hampshire and Michigan, US. While I continue to absorb and adapt to American culture, I am always thrilled to share my Russian heritage with those who find it interesting. Travel, photography and art play a special part in my life. Twitter: @iamnx2u