Food from the ends of the earth

4313199005_02bb7d026fOne of the many blessings I receive by working for a Roman Catholic organization is that I visit Rome occasionally.

I’ve been there more than a dozen times.  I mention this not to suggest I’m important, but to establish my credentials for what follows.

McDonald’s has been in Italy since 1985.  That was more than a decade before my first visit to that beautiful country.  So by the time I arrived, it wasn’t unusual to see the golden arches peeking out from behind a famed architectural treasure or mundane subway station.

As shocking as this may seem to some folks, Italians are buying lots of burgers and fries.  And if they were not, McDonald’s wouldn’t be building restaurants around the Eternal City.  The company is an American, capitalist institution.  (I don’t say that as a criticism.)

To some Italians, having McDonald’s in their midst is culturally insulting.  Sort of like drinking California wine in Paris or eating a Hersey Bar in Switzerland.

However, one of my well-placed informants in Rome tells me that most McDonald’s customers are, in fact, card-carrying Italians.  The tourists typically want local cuisine.

According to my source, Italians have several solid reasons for patronizing McDonald’s:

  • Inexpensive
  • Air conditioned
  • Ample seating
  • Clean and functioning bathrooms

Frankly, my experience in Rome would suggest that those attributes would be absent from many non-McDonald’s establishments.  But since I rarely enter a McDonald’s at home, I don’t seek them out in Rome (usually).

The Rome/McDonald’s controversy heated up this week with the opening of a burger joint practically on the Vatican’s front porch.  To many people, this seems so inappropriate, like putting a nightclub next to an elementary school.

But I think it is only a matter of time before priests, bishops and even cardinals are sneaking into McDonald’s for a Big Tasty.  I don’t expect the Pope to show up, but he does come up with a surprise now and then.

One of his most surprising – and beautiful – moments was when he greeted the crowd in St. Peter’s Square shortly after his election.  Among his many beautiful reflections was that the Church had gone to the ends of the earth to find a new Pope.

Well, Rome has gone to the ends of the earth (Oak Brook, Illinois) for the newest restaurant near the Vatican.  The world will survive.


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