No McDonalds in Glebe? It's Not So Simple

Now, I've spent a lot of time in Glebe over the years, including an 8 month stint living in the place. So when I heard about the proposal for McDonald's to set up a pop-up outlet in the old Valhalla cinema on Glebe Point Road, with a view to a possible permanent store, my first reaction was to think "no! No way! Glebe doesn't want McDonalds. Keep your rampant multinational commercialisation out of Glebe".

So I went to join up with the opposition campaign on Facebook, and what I saw there actually changed my mind.

Comments against the commercialisation encroaching on Glebe, sure. But there were also comments that McDonalds is just too downmarket. Glebe has a sophisticated café culture, wrote one poster. We don't want the likes of McDonalds in our suburb. Well, sure, a sophisticated café culture is great...if you can afford it.

Glebe is a very socio-economically diverse suburb; or as the Sydney Morning Herald put it, "an almost schizophrenic mix of wealth and poverty". Glebe is home to some of Sydney's most expensive harbourview properties, and also to a large concentration of public housing. These people are often elderly, disadvantaged and living with disabilities; many of them have been living in the area since Gough Whitlam purchased the former church properties for public housing in the 1970s. A lot of them find it difficult to travel. And what they see, right under their noses, is Glebe's sophisticated café culture, enjoyed by people who come from all over Sydney to experience the good life that they themselves, the residents, cannot afford.

There's a Dominoes on Glebe Point Road that does a roaring trade. I've often heard outsiders question how Dominoes can thrive in the area when there are so many better options for pizza close by. Well, it's simple; Dominoes charges $5 for a basic pizza, compared to around $22 for a pie at a traditional pizzeria. And a lot of people who could never afford the pizzeria like Dominoes from time to time. Poor people like treats too! (And Gary Johns can kiss my patootie.   "The poor in Australia are so poor that they can eat, drink, and smoke themselves to death"? How many packs of cigarettes do you think a disadvantaged person can give up for financial security? But that's a subject for another post).

It's easy to say McDonald's would ruin the cafe culture of Glebe when you can afford the $22 for breakfast at one of these cafes. But the less well off might like a chance to go out for a meal, too. There's no loose change menu at Badde Manors or Well Co. Hipsters and gentrifiers can sneer at McDonald's for the terrible food, but there's a massive streak of classism in it too, and I wonder how much of the opposition to McDonald's will come from outsiders who think they know Glebe because they venture in on the weekends for brunch and the markets, and have no idea of the lived reality of the residents of the estates.

Look, I'm not saying McDonald's should be built in Glebe. There are a lot of issues to consider - the all-pervasive rubbish the chain invariably leaves wherever it goes is a prime one for me. But there's a lot more going on here than just the cafe set turning up their noses at the encroachment of fast food; big questions about the fallout from  gentrification, the true cost of food and who owns a community. But I know that if a McDonald's was opened, whilst some locals would moan and denigrate, a whole different group of locals would be grateful. And which group should we privilege in the decision?

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