cM Donald’s (2022)


cM Donald’s (2022)

Food Design (Fast Food) / Critical and Speculative Design 




Background


The long-lasting post-colonisation of Western culture and worldwide homogenisation of food cultures are becoming increasingly problematic due to globalisation and global McDonaldisation, where all our societies seem to adopt the characteristics of McDonald's restaurants. Meanwhile, in the post-pandemic era, with growing tensions between China and the Western world, widespread hostility and narrow nationalism veils the planet.

McDonald's is 69 years old now, and COVID-19 is fading away. It is a great time to think about how we can critically reflect on the prevailing cultural norms and challenge the current Western hegemony. Besides, it is crucial to probe a possible food industry and envision an alternative fast-food culture.




Project Overview


cM Donald's reimagines the McDonald's franchise through a speculative, counterfactual lens of Traditional Chinese Medicine. It aims to challenge Western dominance by constructing an alternative world to bring heterogeneity to the fast-food culture. cM Donald's also embodies the concept of "food remedy" from Traditional Chinese Medicine and other practices in Chinese culture (such as Feng Shui, Qi, etc.)

This project depicts a parallel universe where the Opium Wars acted as a cultural turning point for this counterfactual timeline. Instead of China being defeated disastrously, my counterfactual history imagines a civilisation where there is a balance between Chinese and Western cultures. Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), a conventional medical practice in China, rather than being viewed as pseudoscience, becomes held in parallel to dominant Western medicinal practices. "Food as medicine", as one of the fundamental principles in TCM, would bring about a shift in food practices and our bodies' relationships with food in cM Donald's world.





McDonald's is chosen to be the space where cultural collisions happen. There are mainly two reasons why I have chosen McDonald's as the experimental site. One is about the metaphors of McDonald's. Having a burger was even a luxurious event, which usually happened on my birthday when I was little. However, as time went by, the rates of visiting McDonald's increased, which could represent more household income. My family's financial improvement can be a microcosm of China's rapid economic development during these 30 years. The other is that McDonaldization has become more problematic. All our societies seem to adopt the characteristics of McDonald's restaurants. Sociologist George Ritzer developed McDonaldization to describe this phenomenon. The essential characteristics of a McDonald's restaurant are efficiency, calculability, predictability and standardisation, and control. These characteristics allow me to invite "Food as medicine" to break the rules and imagine what TCM can do to shape the modern food culture.

In my project, McDonald's is shifted from a restaurant that represents efficiency, calculability, and predictability to a place where people seek "Qi", balancing the quality of vital energy and pursuing every individual's compatibility with food. I've designed some artefacts from cM Donald's as tangible glimpses of this alternatively present McDonald's. They are a series of maps, trays, and utensils.




Counterfactual History


In this project, I used counterfactual history as a tool to raise a series of what if?questions and construct a fictional narrative for cM Donald's. Here are my counterfactual history narratives. What if China didn't lose the Opium War? What if China didn't become remoulded by the West from this point onwards? What if Traditional Chinese culture parallels Western practice and comes together to form modern food culture? What if McDonald's is based on Traditional Chinese Medicine concepts and theories?



The full counterfactual history timeline


Diegetic prototypes


In this project, there are three dietetic prototypes to visualise and materialise this fictional McDonald's, cM Donald's. They are a series of maps, trays, and utensils.


Maps

In this parallel universe, these cM Donald's restaurants are distributed according to Feng Shui theories, also known as Chinese geomancy. Based on Feng Shui, the chosen locations are places that accommodate better energy. There are two Feng Shui rules. One is that all the cM Donalds face the river and mountains on the back, in the North. The other is all the cM Donald's restaurants are located near vital prosperity like forests and parks and facing the rivers.





Tray

I found a similarity between the behaviours of how people hold the tray to look for where they sit and how a Feng Shui practitioner holds the feng shui compass to look for the proper energy in time and space. Therefore, I chose the tray to raise a question about how customers decide where to sit.

The tray paper kept the essential components which are the compass, diagrams and aesthetics of the Feng Shui compass. The concentric rings on my tray paper illustrate the relationship between the Qi, food and our bodies.





Drinking and Burger Utensils

The burger and drinking utensils try to create a balance of Qi on the tray. The shape of the drinking utensil represents the river, whose nature is Yin. The burger utensil's shape means the mountain, whose nature is Yang.




The patterns on the utensils are a series of combinations of traditional patterns and some original designs, which I extracted from the existing McDonald's visual languages and reinterpreted. The development of patterns, refinement of symbolism, and application of symbolism want the object wasn't a form of cultural appropriation.

The jade-like material is selected based on the Jade culture, which is part of traditional Chinese medicine and the artistic medium in traditional Chinese culture. From the appearances of jade and light green acrylic, the latter can be viewed as the easily accessible, cheap and modern form of jade.





Summary


cM Donald's uses a fictional historical background to free people from the current cultural conditions and invites them to look for unfamiliarities in seemingly familiar cM Donald's. This counterfactual narrative can open up more historical possibilities for people, help them recognise the weak ??legitimacy of the present cultural norms and envision an alternative world where non-western cultural notions and beliefs are fully adopted and transmitted.







Media & Press:

Finger Food Magazine,  “cM Donald’s”, Finger Food Mag Issue2

DAMN° Magazine
, "cM Donald’s", DAMN°84, The Everlasting Hunt for Money
https://www.damnmagazine.net/leyu-li-cm-donalds











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