McDonald's to Iceland: You're the biggest loser

Don't bemoan the fast food chain's decision to close up shop in Reykjavik. Celebrate it!

Published October 27, 2009 5:01PM (EDT)

How did our world become so screwed up that a decision by McDonald's to close three restaurants in Iceland is deemed by the international press an embarrassment so great that it must merit blanket coverage?

Here's the Financial Times' lead sentence:

Iceland edged further towards the margins of the global economy on Monday when McDonald's announced the closure of its three restaurants in the crisis-hit country and said that it had no plans to return.

Even worse: Look at the company Iceland is keeping. The only other European countries without a McDonald's are "Albania, Armenia and Bosnia and Herzegovina." The shame. The shame! Bar the door and pull the curtains down, Sigrid, we can't let the neighbors see us like this!

Iceland's economic woes are no secret. The country's banks tried to play with the big boys of international finance and got burned by the meltdown. The nation's currency, the krona, has collapsed, causing great hardship for a small island nation that had become accustomed to importing all manner of goods. That's no joke.

McDonald's sourced the ingredients for its fast food menu mostly from Germany, so the collapse of the krona savaged its bottom line. But doesn't that mean that McDonald's, operating with a business model that couldn't adjust to currency shifts, should be the one hiding its face in shame?

I understand the symbolism here, which suggests that if even McDonald's can't make a buck in Iceland, then Iceland's economy is totally fubared. But let's turn that around. McDonald's specializes in producing the lowest possible cost Big Macs and Fries by economizing on such a huge scale that it has warped the entire structure of global agriculture and food production away from anything remotely resembling healthy sustainability. McDonald's only "works" in the context of a system that wreaks intense environmental havoc and sacrifices family farms in favor of industrial agribusinesses.

The very same FT story that suggests that McDonald's departure signals the marginalization of Iceland also notes that the owner of the three former Mickey D's franchises isn't actually closing shop, he's just changing the name and taking a new path.

Lyst plans to rebrand its three restaurants -- all in the Reykjavik area -- under a new name, Metro, and adapt the menu to use more locally produced meat and vegetables after its McDonald's franchise ends on Saturday.

Mr Ogmundsson admitted that some customers were alarmed by the symbolism of such a recognizable brand abandoning Iceland but others have reacted positively. "People are pleased that we will be sourcing more goods locally," he says.

We should all be so marginalized.

By Andrew Leonard

Andrew Leonard is a staff writer at Salon. On Twitter, @koxinga21.

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