McDonaldizing Croatia

Formerly a part of Yugoslavia, Croatia has a complex heritage dating back to the seventh century. Because of its diversity, traditional Croatian gastronomy is referred to as “the cuisine of regions.” From the Austro-Hungarian influence of intensive meat consumption in the north, to the Mediterranean-inspired coastal cuisine of the south, culinary traditions differ significantly across the country’s cobblestone streets and pebbled beaches. A typical meal in the north consists of mixed meat and fried potatoes, whereas in the south, seafood risotto is more frequently on the dinner table.

Today, globalizing processes are challenging Croatian food culture—in sociologist George Ritzer’s terms, “McDonaldization,” a process aiming to increase efficiency, calculability, predictability, and control. The end of communism in the early 1990s left a vast and open land of opportunity for McDonald’s and other corporations to take over and rationalize Eastern European eating. The uniformity of fast food and its predictable dining experience are among the reasons why Croats are consuming such food in increasing quantities.

While eating at McDonald’s is rather expensive by Croatian standards, particularly when comparing gross domestic product per capita—$47,200 in the United States versus $17,400 in Croatia—more and more Croats are choosing Americanized foods and dining experiences. Not only is this changing Croats’ taste buds and cultural patterns—American fast food restaurants are facilitating new spaces for socialization, particularly for women and children—it is also altering agricultural and farming systems.

Croatian supermarkets are also McDonaldizing. Until the second-half of the 1990s, Croatia’s retail sector was dominated by socially-owned chains. In the 2000s, foreign direct investment transformed the market and the share of supermarkets in food retail increased from around 25 percent at the end of 2000 to 51 percent two years later.

During socialism, a wealth of natural resources and well-developed manufacturing and service sectors enabled the Croatian government to satisfy food demand. Today, small, family-owned farms are experiencing diminished returns on investment, due in part to Croatia’s entry into the European Union and the enactment of Common Agricultural Policy.

Deep-rooted taste preferences for traditional foods such as pljeskavica (a ground meat patty) are weakening; Western-style fast food restaurants are contributing to Croats’ globalizing palates. According to the Croatia Food and Drink Report of 2013, Croats are also snacking more frequently, and the sale of canned and frozen food items is on the rise. Croatian meals, in contrast, are traditionally prepared with fresh ingredients.

This rapid transformation of food, culture, and economics will lead, some critics predict, to a massive national stomachache.